Coco chef close-up: Chris Salans
Our man in Bali on his inspirations and methods, what makes a good night out, and why his wife is the only person he'll let cook for him
Chris Salans was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in France, where the regional cuisine of his mother's native Sologne provided an early culinary influence. Following a stint at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in France he worked in a variety of places including Bouley's Bakery and Louis Carton before setting up his own restaurant, Mozaic, in Bali. For those lucky enough to have made it to Mozaic, the overriding quality behind Salans' creations is the combination of classic techniques with local, often changing, flavours. Salans was selected by Shannon Bennett - who he met by chance on a trip to Australia - as one of the most significant chefs working today for Coco, Phaidon's comprehensive book on who to watch in the culinary world.
Q: You were selected by Shannon Bennett in the book Coco as one of the most significant chefs working today. What does it mean to be included in such a book?
It is an honour for me to be included in such a book and to be able to share with others worldwide what we are doing here in Bali with Balinese gastronomy.
Q: How has your approach to cooking changed since your inclusion in Coco?
It has not changed a bit. On the contrary it has confirmed to me that the way we cook is the way to go!
Q: Which of the other chefs included in the book do you feel closest to?
I've worked with Eric Ziebold and Shannon Bennett and know Pascal Barbot quite well so I guess those are the ones that I feel physically closest too. With regards to our cuisines I think that we all have very distinct styles and therefore I feel close to all of my colleagues who spend their time behind their stoves!
Q: Which recipe are you most proud of creating or re-inventing?
All of them. There isn’t one recipe that I am more proud of than another. Any creation is a great act, especially when it is well composed, well balanced and pleases my customers...
Q: Good food and cooking is a mixture of many things, what elements do you feel underpin good cooking?
For me it would have to be good ingredients, good techniques in preparation, cooking and presentation and a little bit of sea salt! A hint of creativity can also do a lot but it is not necessary.
Q: Can you tell me about your approach to cooking and creating new recipes?
There are multitudes of ways in which new dishes are created. It could be from eating a dish on the streets of Bali or in any restaurant across the world, to smelling ingredients while browsing the markets of Bali, to reading a cookbook and getting inspired from it, to simply kissing my wife and even sometimes taking a nap! All of the above will help and affect me in creating new dishes.
Q:Can you tell me about your creative process, do you start from the same point or do different dishes always require a different approach?
As mentioned above, all dishes are created from different approaches. I sometimes think up a dish on the spot when I am in the kitchen and I have a specific request from my guest – and the dish will work! And sometimes I think of a dish, test it and it takes me months before I find it good enough to be on the menu. Sometimes I just let the dish go even it is not to my satisfaction and just let the guests comment back on it and influence me in what direction to go.
Q: How has the idea of sustainability become more important in your cooking?
It has always been at the centre of my cooking. A chef should always use ingredients that are innate to his environment, grown in an organic way, supporting the local economy, etc... In a place like Bali we are proud to use local ingredients and flavours and to bring them to the world of international gastronomy – something that has never been done before.
Q: Who do you most admire in the world of cooking today?
My wife. She cooks for me every day and never hesitates. Most people don’t want to cook for me or even have me over for dinner. But my wife she figured it all out. She keeps it simple but tasty and full of love!
Q: Who would you most like to cook for and why?
I love to cook for anyone who enjoys my food. The less important the better, so that I can enjoy myself and not stress out too much. There is no better feeling for me than that of a customer who comes running into the kitchen telling us how great a dish or his whole meal was...
Q: Where do you like to eat on a night out?
Anything that is not fine dining. Sometimes Spanish tapas or Thai cuisine and other times just a fried duck on the side of the road.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring chefs?
Make sure that you go into this career because it is a passion and a dream of yours. There is no glory in being a chef. It requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice, time away from your family, working when others are having fun, celebrating, etc... Things that younger people do not think always about at first but then realize later. The passion is an absolute requirement. Without it it is difficult to warrant all the sacrifices.
Q: What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
That there were all these chefs in the world doing amazing things with food and that I should work for all of them before starting my own place.
Q: What’s your view of today’s restaurant community and the state of the food industry at large?
It is such a big world. It is impossible to make a general comment for all the countries out there so I will answer for Bali only. Bali is continuously growing and developing. More and more quality dining options are available. More and more talented chefs are moving in. It's great and I hope that it will continue in this direction for the good of Bali.
Q: How do you see the future of cooking?
Unfortunately I can’t see the future. Hopefully things will continue to evolve – more techniques will develop, more ideas will be created. This will bring more variety. As they say 'Variety is the spice of life'. In this case it will be spice of our palates. But at the same time I hope traditional cuisine will remain (as I am sure it will) because you need to come back to your roots every once in a while to remember the basics.
Chris Salans, thank you.