Not all those who wander are lost; some has managed to instigate their travel experience into a successful kitchen career, such as the case of Benjamin Cross. After a satisfying start back home in Australia with several prestigious eateries in Byron Bay and Brisbane, he took all the opportunity to hone his skills abroad by accepting an offer at the country of Spain.
His cross-continent (no pun intended) journey didn’t end on the Mediterranean side of Europe, as he decides to move to Bali, Indonesia and began an 11 years stint at Ku De Ta’s Mejekawi. Now the owner of several well-known restaurants in the island, Mr. Cross shows no sign of backing down to provide his top-class intercontinental creations in Bali’s vibrant culinary scene. In this edition, he shared some fascinating perspective and background of his illustrious, travel-driven career.
1. If you have to choose between cooking and travelling, which one would you prefer?
That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child….I guess it would have to be travel, as I would get to experience food in different parts of the world. Normally when I travel I will always spend some time checking out local markets/supermarkets to see the differences in produce and if I’m staying somewhere with a kitchen (not a hotel) I love to spend a day cooking. I guess that’s cheating saying both?
2. Could you elaborate more about your time at KU DE TA’s Mejekawi Restaurant; how did you think it defines your career?
I opened Mejekawi in 2013 and designed the menu around a small wood fire grill which we imported from Grillworks Inc in the USA. My style of cooking changed a lot over the years I was at Mejekawi, I simplified my food a lot to make it more minimal, yet more flavorful. I also wanted the food to look more natural and not over-plated. This was a great stepping stone to where I am with my cooking today.
3. Tell us one aspect about you that not many people know. What is your wildest dream that you wish you could achieve?
One of my biggest dreams has always been to own a boutique hotel. I love the idea of having a place in the Mediterranean somewhere, with amazing food, produce and a communal dining aspect.
4. You started your career in Indonesia (Bali) after a few years stint in Spain (Mallorca and short time in Barcelona. Do you find any similarity between the two in term of the food and ambience?
There are a lot of similarities in the fact that they both have a strong food/eating & family aspects tied into their culture and a lot of the cooking is based around what is available at the local markets. In terms of ambience, both have a very laid back approach to life which is based around family and food.
5. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
Other then working at my favorite restaurants Mason & Fishbone (laugh)… I would have to say sitting on a beach in Mexico drinking beers and eating tacos with my wife and two boys. There is such great diversity in the food that you don’t normally get to see outside of Mexico. I love travelling with my children and showing them all the different food cultures around the world.
6. What do you wish to convey to your customer through your culinary creation at Mason?
Tell us about one of your proudest signature dish? At Mason we make all our cheese and charcuterie in-house, such as chorizo, salchichon, salami, haloumi, goats curd & ricotta. It’s amazing to see peoples reactions when they try these products (that would normally be imported) and realize that they where made by hand in our restaurant.
7. Who has been the biggest influence in your cooking career? Please elaborate with us?
I don’t think I have one singular main influence, but more of a collective from my friends/peers within the industry. Since living in Bali I have been able to bring over some of my favorite chefs in the industry to cook with me, such as Dave Pynt (Burnt Ends), Michael Carmichael (Momofuku), Daniel Puskas (Sixpenny), Federico Zanellato (Lumi Dining), Daniel Calvert (Belon), Aaron Turner (Igni) to name a few. Seeing what these guys have achieved and how they are pushing their careers is the biggest inspiration for me.
8. When you have time to eat out, where would you go (and why)?
One of my favorite places to go eat is the seafood restaurants in Jimbaran. I take my family for lunch sometimes, as it’s a lot less busy then at dinner and I find the quality of the cooking better. You can swim at the beach and eat fresh grilled seafood; it doesn’t get much better than that.
9. What’s next then, any culinary projects that we should anticipate from you in near future?
We have just opened a late night bar in Canggu called The Back Room; it’s positioned just behind Mason. We are also launching our guest chef collaborations starting on Saturday June 29th where we will be doing a 5 course boozy lunch at Mason, followed by a Sunday session on the 30th June in the back garden of Fishbone Local, where the guest chef will be serving 3 street food/fast food dishes matched with drinks and music to match.