Let this serve as an open apology to everyone I did not catch up with on my recent trip to Bali. After four years away from my former home, I looked forward to reconnecting with friends, but was madly distracted by a new one: 38-year-old American pastry chef Will Goldfarb.
This confession is not what you think. His wife Maria has no reason to worry. Instead, I found myself night after night, and sometimes during the day (when it was not even officially open), at Goldfarb’s new dessert bar, located along the road into Ubud, the Indonesian island’s artistic hub that’s set in lush, undulating highlands.
Thoroughly sated by a locavore welcome dinner on the night of my arrival, I gamely agreed to visit Ubud’s newest sweet-spot – Room4Dessert, which opened in January – imagining nothing more than a polite prelude to the restful night amid the rice paddies I had been dreaming of. Under the Mad Max scrap-metal archway and through the hefty recycled door we went, entering an artful lair of indigenous works beneath a trompe l’oeil glass conservatory ceiling. We shimmied past Yves Klein blue and red-velvet-cake hued chairs surrounding mismatched wooden tables, and took in the salvaged children’s banana seat bicycles and radios set against exposed brick walls. At 10pm on a Tuesday night, only two seats remained at the wave-shaped bar, though Ubud sits nearly an hour’s drive from Bali’s main nightlife stretch along its southern beaches.
“The first-ever crossover savoury pastries appeared in this book,” said Goldfarb, the lanky, bespectacled New Yorker in a navy-blue apron, from behind the raised countertop. Though we had not yet formally met, I found myself suddenly holding this man’s bible, Couleurs, Parfums et saveurs de ma cuisine by Jacques Maximin. It’s filled with recipes such as soupe froide de melon-pamplemousse au Sauternes, and soufflé glacé aux artichauts violets. “My inspiration comes from this book. Ferran’s too.” It would be days before I delved into Goldfarb’s history with the elBulli legend (he found his sugar-coated calling under Albert Adrià, post-Le Cordon Bleu), but in the moment, I sank a long spoon into his “Chocobubbles, The Teeenage Years”. This was a tall glass of smashed-up homemade cookies, caramelised honey and fresh lime.
Over my next three (yes) visits in two days, I heard Goldfarb – dubbed the “Prince of Pastry” by the New York culinary elite, after he opened the first manifestation of this experimental dessert lounge in 2005 – hold forth on the astonishing organics growing across his newfound home. After moving here in 2009, Goldfarb settled into the pastry kitchen at the perennially hip Ku De Ta, on Seminyak Beach, eventually establishing Mejekawi, an ultra-high-tech dessert research and development laboratory, plus 24-seat eatery on a purpose-built second-floor addition.
“I’m always trying to balance sweet and sour, sugar and salt,” my new Bali best friend explained on night two, handing me two ceramic plates, one topped with The Sugar Refinery 2.0, an edible sculpture that recalls the architecture of Frank Gehry and was developed over six months with local palm sugar, including meringue, belinjo and mangosteen bitters. Despite my sweet tooth, the other dish proved to be my favourite on the menu: a humble grilled cheese sandwich on homemade ciabatta with kemangi pesto and rosella jam. And this is a claim that I don’t make lightly, only after spending most of my Bali sojourn sampling, in a lick-the-plate-clean way, every dish on this truly game-changing menu.