They say laughter is the best medicine and if this is true, then no one heals quite like Ketut, the endearing and supremely skilled chef and brains behind the Payuk Bali Cooking School in Ubud. Let me put aside, for one moment, the Western medicine that I have trained in – there is a lot to be said for having a smile on your face, warmth in your heart, an infectious sense of humour and a work ethic that puts most of us to shame and Ketut efficiently embodies all of these traits.Ubud is cluttered with cookery classes and reminded me a lot of Hoi An, Vietnam in that respect. It was in Hoi An in 2013 in fact, where I took a cookery class abroad for the first time and after a wonderful experience out there, I had my heart set on doing one in Bali. Even in a city like London, so full of eclectic cuisine and swarming with restaurants and supper clubs, Balinese cuisine is relatively difficult to come by so I had no intention of passing up an opportunity to master it. Okay, “master” may be a little delusional…If you are wondering whether you can be bothered to wake up early for your hotel breakfast that morning, my advice would be to drag your sleepy bottom to the buffet table. Lunch is substantial but is not eaten till around 1pm and the aromatic spices will leave you with insatiable, publicly audible and rather incriminating hunger pangs if you arrive on an empty stomach. The morning class commences crisply at 8am with a tour of a local market, where we were informed about some of the most common ingredients used in Balinese cookery. Galangal, bay leaves, kaffir lime, lemongrass, aromatic ginger (white ginger) all of which are extortionately priced in England, are part of the daily grind in the homes of the Balinese. I was amazed to hear that the markets take their first breath around 2-3am. If you stroll in at 8am to buy your fish, you’ve already missed the freshest of the day’s catch and if you come at midday, you may as well turn around without stopping.
A short drive sees us pulling into a traditional family home compound, which is where our cooking class will be taking place.
But first, we are offered a refreshing and wholesome chilled ginger, lemongrass and honey tea and in keeping with Balinese traditions, we are taught how to prepare Balinese offerings with fresh flowers, pandan leaves and betel nut leaf in a small square shallow tray made of strips of banana leaves.Our class had fifteen participants with Ketut leading the session, three chefs assisting and a whole handful of others helping to clean and wash, women and men whom I can only assume are part of the same family and compound community. The cooking takes place in an airy and shaded garden area of the compound.
There is no sitting back and watching at this class. As my father has always told me, there is no free lunch and here at the Payuk Bali Cookery Class, it is hands on from the outset with an opportunity to do everything from chopping to frying, grinding to mixing. Who needs a fancy Kitchen Aid when you have the ultimate food processor like this one below to grind your spices? As you can see, its height almost exceeded mine but you really couldn’t argue with the results it was producing.Dishes included Balinese fried chicken, satay chicken with the most crunchy, peanuty sauce I’ve ever eaten, a chicken salad, steamed tuna in banana leaf, a brothy soup and steamed rice.
I exhaled in relief. Finally, feeling very much the mediocre one at the cookery class here in Ubud, I had found a dish I already knew. Steamed rice after all is the one item you would imagine needs no teaching. How wrong I was! We were so surprised to learn that even simple steamed rice is given the ultimate makeover in Balinese cooking, being steamed twice over and soaked in aromatic lemongrass-infused stock. There is such an emphasis to detail with every dish at Payuk Bali – no shortcuts and no shoddy efforts. They ooze passion for their enticing and spiritual country, its customs and cuisine and they share that with you by teaching their craft of preparing the freshest and finest food.There wasn’t one person in the room who wasn’t smiling and laughing, captivated by the vibrant energy of Ketut and his team, their unfailing enthusiasm lingering as long as the spices with which they were cooking. Aside from being kitted out with aprons and cloths, we were given as much ice-cold mineral water as we needed throughout the class and they made sure they saw to our photo-taking needs whilst we got on with learning to cook. As we left, they were full of hugs and warm wishes. The food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten in South East Asia (and no, that’s definitely NOT because I made it!) but it is the sincerity and charisma of the staff that sets this cookery class apart from many of its competitors in Ubud.
Practical Tips about the Payuk Bali Cookery Class
- free transfers from Ubud hotels
- cost of the class and exchange rate at the time of publishing this post was 350,000 Indonesian Rupiah, roughly equating to 27 USD
- Vegetarian options are available
- Duration of our course was approximately 5 – 5.5 hours
- Both morning and afternoon classes are available
- Details of the Payuk Bali menus can be found here
Have you ever taken a cookery class abroad?
Disclaimer: We received a discounted cookery class for review purposes but I am forever an opinionated little Madam and all views, good or bad, are entirely my own. Many thanks to the staff for what was to be a highlight of my trip to South East Asia.