Soon after he made the decision to quit working for a Seattle-based cruise company, Odeck began a mini cuisine revolution by introducing—arguably—the first ever fine dining concept to the Ubud food scene via “Ary’s Warung”. And today, thousands of Caprioska’s later, he has just launched another resto, the eclectic-looking ‘Betelnut’, only a few doors down from Ary’s. He’s calling it “a playground for new ideas”.
What’s the history of your interest in food?
Although my mom is Balinese, we lived in various places like Jakarta, Sumatra as well as Bali. As a kid I was pretty exposed to lots of different kinds of food in Indonesia. So food has always been something to enjoy and to talk about within my family.
Ary’s Warung might be the first ever resto in Ubud with a fine dining concept. What made you choose a “non-Ubudian” way, named as a warung, but not at all a warung?
Ary’s is actually very Ubudian. It’s just that, dare I say this, it was ahead of its time when first built. The creative nuance, the vision, pretty much an anomaly, has set it apart from the rest since it was opened in 1983. It has been a different type of local warung, and has evolved from a place with good music and mushroom omelettes, to vegetarian-inspired world food, to contemporary Balinese/Asian cuisine using local ingredients. These days it also incorporates slow food ideas. Ubud is a place where visitors choose alternative lifestyles, go hand in hand with the local community, with a focus on spirituality and creativity as their life foundation.
You just opened a new unique resto—my personal favourite—named Betelnut. You’ve already owned quite a few businesses, you keep expanding; business is good. Which is your priority, food or art?
Working is a tool to improve my spiritual growth, because wealth is overrated. Food is art. Food and art are both chemistry of matter, both always surprise our senses, not in a hedonistic sense but as an awakening/awareness, that supports our well being. Betelnut fell into our lap when the local government faced dilemma: they had already released a permit for an international fast food chain to be opened—at Betelnut’s current location—and the Ubud community refused it. The owner of the fast food place didn’t want to lose money, so we—my wife Tara and I, with a little help from my direct family—were supported by the community to take over the place. At first we were not quite sure what to do with it because it was too big for us. But we were eventually inspired to build a place as a playground of new ideas, creativity, art and culture; to reflect today’s transformation in Bali, to be part of the positive force of the transformation we are witnessing, triggered by digital technology and migration.
How do you find the food industry in Bali and in Indonesia? Do you have enough support from the government?
Today’s market are more educated and open to new ideas of taste and ingredients. The mecca of food is not France anymore—we are now free from the authority of French ideas. Allowing local food genius to flourish, using local ingredients, you can make almost anything, in a way it’s like a revolution of ideas, in kind. But what we are challenged with now are international food corporations, we should raise more awareness regarding this. What government should do, in their role of supporting their constituents, is to support local food and local agriculture. We don’t really need help, just don’t permit obstacles.
Now let’s get personal, please name your all-time favourite records and why?
I love most of the albums released by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Why? Because I’m an older guy with a hopeless romantic syndrome.
Your all-time favourite books and why?
When I was 12 I read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. It taught me how words can describe feelings and situations so descriptively. Horison magazine in the late 70s showed me how words can brighten our horizon. While Kho Ping Ho, a series of Kungfu novels, enlightened me with Buddhism values.
Any last nagging words?
Optimism and pessimism are both phenomenons relevant to the single person: you go out with condoms in your pocket, and it means you are being optimistic.
*This interview was firstly published on The Beat (Bali) #315, Jul 06-Jul 19, 2012