Our Southeast Asia expert Hannah speaks to Bali-based hotelier and chef Diana von Cranach about the delights of raw food, and gets some tips on what travellers should do and see in beautiful Bali.
Diana von Cranach owns and runs Puri Ganesha, a collection of luxury beachfront villas in the north of Bali, with her husband, Gusti, where you can enjoy gourmet al fresco dining by the pool (below). An acclaimed raw food chef, she often collaborates with other hotels and restaurants, particularly around Southeast Asia, to create raw or vegan menus for them. Diana is the author of Rawfully Good: Living Flavours of Southeast Asia.
What inspired your interest in raw food and eating organically?
Going to a Welsh boarding school as a child that had possibly the most terrible food I have ever had to eat anywhere in my life, on the one hand, and being able to experience the opposite at the best restaurants in Europe in the school holidays. This introduced me to the importance of food, for both physical and mental well-being, from an early age! I learned to be discerning, and never having liked meat, I concentrated first on being vegetarian.
The word 'organic' was not an issue fifty years ago- food was grown and prepared differently. My Cordon Bleu training, with its ‘meatcentric’ and rather heavy approach to cooking, sent me even further in the direction of raw food.
The breakthrough came when I read an article in US Elle Decoration about a raw food restaurant that opened in California in 2002. Wanting to know more, I took a course in Australia and went to one of the most well-known spa resorts in Asia. Not liking either of the raw food cuisines they offered, I decided to do my own thing, concentrating on using purely local recipes and ingredients. I embarked on an amazing discovery trip around the region, staying at the best hotels and working closely with and learning from their local chefs, to create my cookbook [Rawfully Good: Living Flavours of Southeast Asia, published in 2010].
What are the benefits of a raw food diet?
Because every person has a different metabolism, a raw food diet is not for everyone. It is also not an overnight miracle cure for all ills and must be approached carefully and responsibly. The benefits of feeding your body ‘living’ food- food that is eaten in a natural state, packed with all the natural goodness that ‘dead’ or over-cooked food lacks- are incalculable. The best way to begin is to aim for 60-70% raw food to 40-30% carefully prepared, lightly 'cooked' food. The long-term benefits of this kind of diet can only be felt if canned or industrially produced beverages and processed and deep-fried food of any kind are completely banned from the daily diet. Even if you discover that trying to live 'raw' is not for you, this will help you well on the way to becoming altogether more healthy.
What makes you different from other raw food chefs?
I have always only used more than 90% local products. Living and working in Southeast Asia with many local chefs has given me a first-hand insight into its many different cuisines. Opening the first raw food restaurant in Laos, trying to open one in Singapore, pioneering the raw food movement back in 2006 with chef Chris Miller at COMO Shambhala Estate in Ubud, and 'uncooking' for one of [fellow raw food chef] David Wolfe's Bali retreats, have all been amazing experiences that have made me realize how little many regional chefs know about using more traditional herbs, fruits, spices and vegetables to create a healthier local diet. Consequently, I'm on a mission to help with this!
What do you love about Bali?
When I first came here in the early 80’s, Bali was a totally magical place. It is still possible to venture out to experience incredible volcanic landscapes, rice terraces, clove and coffee plantations, hordes of laughing children on their way to school, temple ceremonies, gamelan musicians practicing in tiny hidden villages, and ancient temples- and find craftspeople who still make beautiful textiles and carvings in the traditional way. Of course Bali's magic is still here.
What cuisine do you love to cook other than Balinese?
My Balinese mother-in-law, old ladies in Solo and so many other wonderful women in Bali and Java have taught me everything I know about the different cuisines of Indonesia. Having my little restaurant in Laos, I was able to delve into the exciting, foraged-from-the-forest side of Laotian food and learned how to change Bangkok street food into healthy dishes, working with local Thai chefs. Now I'm working on a vegan cookbook with recipes from exciting journeys I will be taking with guests from September this year. Together we will discover the way in which Hinduism has influenced the culture and cuisine of the Kathmandu Valley, on through Bangkok, to Bali and to the 8th and 9th century temples of East and Central Java.
When guests stay at Puri Ganesha, they don’t have to eat a solely raw food diet, right?
No, of course not, but we do not serve any red meat, deep-fried food, burgers, pizzas, canned 'unnatural' drinks or processed food of any kind. I know exactly where all my local chicken, fish, salads and vegetables come from. We now have the 'Snail of Approval' award from the Slow Food Movement, so we are committed to using more than 75% local produce in our kitchen. We have a different menu every night and can cater for raw diets, vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free, soy-free or whatever foodie needs our guests may have. I hope that staying with us gives guests the opportunity to try a different, more natural way of eating that might help them change their diet to a more healthy one when they get home!
Other than sampling the amazing food, what other experiences do you recommend to your guests when they come to Bali?
Together with an old friend who manufactures colonial-style luxury tents just south of Ubud, we host dinners that echo days gone by called Dining within Tent. I take guests on foodie tours to find authentic Balinese cuisine, and with Penny Williams of the restaurant Bali Asli in East Bali, we offer a seven-day adventure called Culinary Alchemy of the Archipelago.
Apart from discovering local cuisine, I create tailor-made, special interest journeys for guests who would like to learn more about local textiles, Dutch colonial architecture, Balinese music, and stone and wood carving, or discover lesser-known ancient temples in Bali, East and Central Java, go antique shopping and much, much more...
If this taste of Bali has inspired you, don't forget that Exsus can tailor-make virtually any kind of trip to Bali and worldwide. Call +44 207 337 9010 or enquire now