“Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates.
The famous Greek physician was onto something when he uttered those words 25 centuries ago. While some of us may have lost our way over the last few thousand years, with a penchant for convenience over nourishment, many of us are waking up to the fact that what we put in us and even on us really does impact our health.
It all starts in the (expanded) garden
I’m reminded of Hippocrates’ words as I stand here in Chef Dean’s thriving veggie garden at The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah. Situated on the outskirts of Ubud’s bustling centre, there’s more than enough green space to plant an impressive patch. And, from the abundance of food, it’s clear the Singaporean-native is passionate about what he’s doing here. He has his own play on farm-to-table – with most of the produce commuting less than 50 yards.
Dean reels off all the goodies he’s growing, a rich array of herbs from kitchen staples to some new contenders: tarragon, garlic chives, oregano, marjoram, lemon balm, cinnamon basil, Vietnamese coriander, turmeric; and vegetables from okra to eggplants; along with fruits ranging from limes to durian. His impromptu tour doesn’t stop at the borders of his designated plot.
Before long we are strolling along one of the resort’s stone pathways. Dean veers off to hunt for some edible weeds. He laughs as I look slightly shocked at his rummaging in the grass. Next he’s peeling some bark from a nearby tree. The smell immediately gives it away. There’s a rich aroma of cinnamon.
Chef Dean standing beneath a cinnamon tree in The Chedi Club grounds. The creative chef uses ingredients from around the resort.
We make our way back to his kitchen. He points to the tall grass flanking one wall of the restaurant, that looks like it’s there more for style than function. It turns out to be the latter. It’s called cats tail and apparently tastes like heart of palm. There’s also some torch ginger next to the path which the chef uses for both its shoot and flower.
When Dean joined the team as executive chef six years back he had a pretty lofty vision. He wanted to have a self-sustaining resort on the food front. The first step in that plan is the organic vegetable garden. For other essentials he tries to go not too far afield. The resort gets its eggs from a farmer just beyond the rice paddies to the west of the grounds. Its fresh tofu is homemade in Pejeng village, with none of the artificial ingredients you’ll find in store bought brands. Dean takes a lot of pride in rooting out the best local ingredients. In fact he’s even done random spot checks of suppliers to make sure they’re living up to their claims.
From garden patch to spa treatments
Pretty soon Dean’s rich supply of botanicals from the garden will be making their way into The Spa at the resort. The chef-cum-skincare formulator is already testing a range of house-produced massage oils that will use the natural reserve on-site.
Dean mentions betel as one of the massage oil options. I immediately think of red stained teeth but it turns out there are a lot of therapeutic benefits to oil produced by the plant, ranging from reducing inflammation to aiding digestion.
Going full-circle with the concept of wellness both inside and out, a massage with these oils will eventually be paired with a three-course menu at The Restaurant.
The Spa already uses luxury organic lines, VOYA, Ren and ila, in its therapies, all of which draw on nature’s bounty. Ireland-based VOYA crafts its range from local seaweed. The word ila means Mother Earth in Sanskrit and the nourishing products draw heavily from the Great Mother, as does the Ren collection with its focus on botanicals.
The Spa also plans to use a facial skincare line and body care collection from Sensatia Botanicals from June.
Healing from the outside in…
Later that afternoon I’m strolling through Ubud, Bali’s cultural hub, and I spot Sensatia Botanicals. It’s a little off the main tourist drag, where the pedestrian crowd is thinner.
Exploring the store I see this 100% natural brand has tapped nature for its product lines with aromatic concoctions like cleopatra’s rose facial oil and island spice sea salt scrub. I stock up on thick after-sun dream cream in the hopes it can heal my toasted legs (side note: always check the expiry on sunscreen). Sensatia is like the Body Shop of Bali. It’s the biggest natural skincare chain on the island and now available overseas. In fact, it’s still Bali’s first and only GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified cosmetic company.
This popular natural brand has a dozen stores located at popular tourist areas throughout the island.
Utama Spice, another natural brand worth checking out, has a main store just a few minutes walk away from the Monkey Forest, another popular tourist draw. The well-established brand started in the area 30 years ago in an effort to keep Balinese herbal remedies and natural healing thriving at a time when many skincare brands were going a more chemical route. According to its website, the company follows the philosophy of “Tri Hita Karana” which respects and works harmoniously with humanity, nature and the divine. Here they have everything from body balms to face serums and yoga mat sprays to natural bug repellent.
Blue Stone Botanicals and Kou Bali are two other shops that I stop by. I pick up some pure essential oils from the former and cute individually wrapped organic soaps from the latter. The airy Kou store has candy-sized soaps in big glass jars along one wall that look good enough to eat and on the other side of the store they have a selection of products that are actually edible – exotic jams and spreads along with sea salts.
…and from the inside out
Back at The Chedi Club I’m curious about the vegetarian options Chef Dean has pulled together from the garden. The resort’s GM had mentioned earlier that the chef would prefer they didn’t even have menus so I know that what’s going to be on my plate will be some pretty creative fare. Dean has free reign on what he’s about to serve and you can tell he’s in his element.
First up is juicy watermelon topped with feta and vegetarian caviar made with balsamic vinegar and created using a syringe in order to look like its fishy counterpart. It’s sweet and salty in the same bite. Then there’s a raw pomelo salad with a dash of saffron and chilli for heat. The simple combination is packed with flavour. I sip a purple basil mocktail with lime and sprite as I try the next dish, a garlic chive infused quinoa salad with a touch of truffle oil and topped with fresh greens, tomatoes, and edible flowers. Then there’s a main course of freshly plucked fern tips (literally just picked from the garden) cooked with a coconut reduction, a banana leaf stuffed with creamy eggplant, herbs, tofu and tomatoes, and crusted tempeh served over rice.
As I sit here in the pavilion overlooking these iconic rice paddies, I feel not only full but extremely nourished. Fresh, flavourful, thoughtful and also incredibly healthy, this is some of the best medicine on the island.
Text and photographs by Karryn Miller for GHM Journeys
Featured cover image: Greens can be found everywhere, even underfoot.