We’re doing a series of one-on-one podcast discussions with business people, entrepreneurs, and influencers in Bali and Jakarta about doing business in Indonesia.
They share their visions and insights with us in conversations about why they do what they do, which we hope will inspire you to believe you too can have a positive impact and make a difference.
Most recently we sat down with Kieran Morland, who’s now based in Bali but has worked alongside some of the biggest names and most famous venues in the restaurant industry. He’s the inspiration behind Merah Putih, where Indonesian classics are served alongside creative dishes that experiment with traditional Indonesian spices and flavours; and the creative force driving Sangkasa, a casual 40-seat modern Indonesian restaurant using a wide range of woods and charcoal to create unique dishes mimicking the distinct flavours from around Indonesia.
And now he’s about to open his latest venture called LUMA, which will be offering Mediterranean classics complemented by indigenous ingredients from Bali and the rest of Indonesia. We managed to catch up with him for a chat.
How did you get first get into the food industry?
It’s been a lifetime passion of mine. I’ve been interested in cooking for as long as I can remember and I guess pre-Gordon Ramsay days and before cooking was “cool”. I’ve actually been cooking in restaurant kitchens since I was 16 years old. My first job was at Melbourne’s Crown Casino at an Italian place called Cervo.
What do you enjoy most about it?
There are so many different facets and I kind of love the whole thing. I obviously love the whole cooking part of it and the joy of figuring things out. It’s really a question of always learning. I like the monotonous consistency of getting the prep ready, setting up for service, and trying to cook perfectly every night, but I also like talking to guests, getting the costings correct, and making sure the whole team are happy and ready to work.
Who’s been your greatest inspiration?
I’ve been blessed to have worked with a lot of great chefs. I think Cameron Emerali has inspired me the most, but I also learnt a lot from David Chang at Momofuku and even my wife’s mother at her warung in Surabaya.
Why did you decide to build your brand in Bali?
It was all a fluke really. It was in 2009 and I was broke, as most chefs are, and working in New York. Then a friend of mine, Ben Cross, who owns Mason in Canggu, said to come to Bali and work at KuDeTa, which I did and we saw a gap in the market for high-end Indonesian cuisine for holidaymakers in Bali. I thought (and still do think) Indonesian food should be regarded as highly as going to a fancy French restaurant, so you could have a nice glass of wine with your Wagyu beef cheek rendang.
You’ve had several restaurants here in Bali and you’re continuing to expand. What’s the business strategy behind this? Is there a common theme?
I’ve been cooking Indonesian food in Bali over the last 10 years at Merah Putih (a 200-seat food factory) and Sangsaka (a more intimate passion project rather than a money project.) But my latest venture is called LUMA, which I’m working on together with Cameron, my old head chef from London.
That’ll be a bit different because we’ll be offering more of a modern European-style menu but only using local ingredients; banana flowers instead of artichokes, you know that sort of thing. The common theme that weaves through all of them is using all the things I’ve learnt over the past decade; keeping the flavour profiles traditional; focusing on cooking techniques; having meticulous attention to detail and only using high-quality local ingredients.
What’s the motivation behind the latest venture?
I was chatting with Cameron a year or so ago, right in the middle of COVID. He was saying he could do with a break from London and I thought this could be a great opportunity for us to work together again. I think his style of cooking would fit in well with the Balinese restaurant scene and this is how LUMA began. So, we found a good location in Batu Bolong – one of Canggu’s most popular areas – and we’re looking to be open within the next month.
What advice would you have for those looking to come into markets like Bali and set up an F&B business?
Smaller restaurants, I think are the way forward now. All of the big 200+ seat restaurants that used to be here, places like Merah Putih, Sarong, and Metis are all now closed because of COVID. I think Bali’s a great place to start a new business because generally things are a bit cheaper and that gives you a bit of a head start with things like rent and wages.
The people are so friendly, hardworking, and loyal. The food scene is getting better and better, which in turn means suppliers are treating products better to support the influx of quality chefs cooking here. But gone are the days when you could set up a bar or restaurant here with no hospitality experience. If you’re in hospitality though, you could definitely make it work.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities, both in location and in genre or market?
I like how the local market has embraced modern Indonesian food over the past couple of years. They’re happy to sit and have a high-end Indonesian meal, which was much harder to find a decade ago. But I think there’s still plenty of room in the market for good operators – obviously, nothing is easy, so people need to be willing to work super hard to achieve their goals.
I see opportunities in Seminyak and Petitenget because that’s where most of the good hotels are, and that means convenience and choices for tourists. Canggu is certainly where everyone seems to be heading and it can get really busy on the roads so it’s a bit of a pain to get there. If Kuta was gentrified, that could also be a possibility.
What’s the future for the food industry in Bali? Is it a foodie destination already?
If it’s not already it’s certainly getting there! There are now more than twenty quality restaurants in Bali and a lot of very talented chefs, which couldn’t have been said a decade ago. The chefs that really make things work are coming here. I really like where Bali is food-wise right now and where it could potentially go.
Any plans to grow your business beyond Bali?
Not at the moment. I’ve got enough on my plate, (excuse the pun) but never say never. I guess the last couple of years has been extremely tough, so I think it’s time to just make sure what I’ve got is working before seriously considering any plans to expand.
We’d like to thank Kieran for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to chat with us and we wish him every success for the opening of LUMA, which you should visit if you find yourself in Bali next month!
You can watch the podcast with Kieran on the Seven Stones Indonesia YouTube channel. If you’d like us to do podcasts and interviews with more of Indonesia’s movers and shakers, feel free to send us your suggestions to [email protected].