After long pandemic-induced closures and travel restrictions, the Dutch-Indonesian chef duo of Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah are ready to reveal the next evolution of their award-winning restaurant, Locavore in Bali. Food and travel writer Chris Dwyer visits their inspirational new project set among Balinese rice fields: welcome to NXT
Ray Adriansyah sits down and adjusts his black baseball cap with the words 'Go local or go home' emblazoned across the front. Eelke Plasmeijer, his great friend, fellow chef and co-owner at Locavore in Ubud, Bali, smiles as he admits: "It's scary at times, but exciting mostly – it's more than just a restaurant."
He's talking about NXT, the remarkable new project – ground-breaking in every sense of the word – that he and Adriansyah are leading as they chart the next step in their stellar culinary careers. Set to open in the summer, it will incorporate restaurants, food and alcohol production, research, development and experimentation all into one truly unique destination dining experience.
Plasmeijer and Adriansyah are already well-known in Indonesia – and far beyond – for their progressive, hyper-local cuisine at Locavore, a few minutes down the road from where we are sipping strong local coffee. A local institution since 2013, Locavore took multiple crowns at Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019: the No.42 spot, the top honours for The Best Restaurant in Indonesia and the Sustainable Restaurant Award, before the coronavirus pandemic isolated Bali from the rest of the world for nearly three years.
Locavore's interior is modern and minimalist, but limited in capacity and scope for innovation
But Plasmeijer explains that their vision had long looked beyond their first place towards something else. "From day one, Locavore felt too small as we needed more kitchen space and storage. We knew from around our third year that we wanted a better dining experience and an R&D space to move forward."
Adriansyah adds that when they opened Locavore, "The ingredients we used were grown here – but not necessarily from here. We realised it would be so much more inspiring to have everything in one place. We'd also never had a proper bar or micro distillery, so we wondered: ‘How we can make it better and show the team and our guests how things should be done?’ There's only one chance to get this right."
NXT is that one huge chance, one the pair are embracing with their trademark passion and energy. Locavore is definitely not closing – it is set to morph into another new space to let its legacy continue – but the scale, vision and ambition of NXT is set to make it a game-changer in the Indonesian restaurant landscape, leading by example both domestically and internationally.
Planting the seeds of a revolution
The above swiftly becomes clear as we approach the new site, about a ten-minute drive from the centre of Ubud. With a stunning outlook over tranquil rice paddy fields still tended by hand, surrounded by palm and banyan trees, NXT is growing day by day. The expansive site takes the breath away, with brutalist architecture by Budi Pradono Architects that is already integrating back into the landscape as nature deliberately, slowly reclaims it.
Plasmeijer and Adriansyah lead us along a passageway lined with black volcanic stones into the main building – but also, somehow, into the Balinese soil and terroir: it’s the start of an interactive, experiential walkthrough that diners will be taken on around NXT. They'll be shown the different facilities, including the roof garden with its jaw-dropping views and permaculture-style ‘food forest’ growing indigenous Indonesian produce, forgotten fruits and vegetables.
NXT is being built from the ground up with sustainability in mind, boasting solar panels embedded into its architecture and dedicated water recycling facilities
They'll learn about the progressive and sustainable building design where solar power, recycled rainwater – and yes, worm toilets – allow NXT not to use any chemicals. They'll see the dedicated rooms for koji fermentation and mushroom fruiting, the beehives and a separate research and development kitchen.
As the hard-hat tour around the site continues, Plasmeijer interjects, laughing: "We're only just getting started, there's so much we haven’t touched on or begun to discover yet. We had so many limitations in the Locavore space, we didn't even have room to plate anything ahead."
In the dedicated bar space with its huge ceilings, guests will enjoy snacks and sip on carefully crafted cocktails using only local ingredients or brews from the on-site distillery. Creative innovation will be visible everywhere: the team is already partnering with local Balinese artists, including to create a painting on the backstory of NXT in the classic Kamasan style.
NXT's grounds will be leafy and expansive, sporting stellar views of the Indonesian countryside
Everything from furniture to ceramics, uniforms to wood carvings, will be sourced and made in the region– right down to tongue-in-cheek stone carvings of Plasmeijer and Adriansyah. There are even plans to 3D scan every ingredient served at NXT, projecting them on to the wall as part of the guest experience by way of explaining their core philosophy: using only local ingredients, both to reduce imports and celebrate biodiversity across Bali, the ‘Island of The Gods’.
Remarkably, NXT will employ up to 100 staff, from a beekeeper to a mushroom expert, reservation and laundry teams to the extensive kitchen crew. Not only that, but the kitchen crew will work four days a week, as opposed to the usual six days seen elsewhere across Indonesia and beyond.
Adriansyah and Plasmeijer's vision extends even further to true community enterprise. Plans are already being finalised for a social enterprise incubator to support local businesses, while an educational element is a dream for the future, especially as both chefs are parents of young children. "We'd love to do a school one day. Why can't kids study here? We could have students learning about the kitchen, fermentation, growing and front-of-house operations,” says Plasmeijer.
Finding deliciousness in the unexpected
Clearly, the whole experience at NXT remains driven by cuisine and Adriansyah explains how their culinary philosophy continues to progress in the kitchen and dining room alike: "We are keeping the core of the same concept at Locavore, celebrating Indonesian and specifically Balinese produce, but showing it more to our guests through the workspaces, fermentation lab and R&D space. We'll go deeper in terms of sourcing, activations in our roof garden, using rice field ingredients – and even some foraging."
Celebrated dishes from Locavore's menu, such as the barbecued lobster with fermented durian sambal, could make their way into NXT's offering
Plasmeijer adds: "People should realise that NXT is an Indonesian experience – but we won't serve Indonesian food."
This immediately begs the question: will beloved dishes from Locavore remain, at least in some form?
"This is a new chapter, but we may want to carry one or two dishes over that people identify with us,” he answers reassuringly.
That may translate on the menu into creations like 'Into The Sawah', which celebrates heritage galuh rice from Tegalalang in central Bali with rice field snails and garlic, a 64-degree duck egg, frog leg abon (a sort of floss) and fern tip powder. "It's everything that lives, grows and swims in the sawah… a rice field in a bowl, a perfect embodiment of our culinary philosophy," says Plasmeijer.
Part of the chefs’ aim is also to show Bali's stunning biodiversity, from mushrooms like hen-of-the-wood or lion's mane to vanilla, nutmeg or clove leaves, which are widely used in Balinese cuisine. The chefs explain that garlic and onion don't come from Bali, with the exception of local tiny garlic, and they also don’t use wheat flour at all – meaning they're always gluten-free – favouring instead flours made from fermented roots like cassava or sweet potato.
Since winning the Sustainable Restaurant Award at Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019, Adriansyah and Plasmeijer have only further deepened their sustainable practices
Celebrating and maximising produce is also critical and Plasmeijer reveals that miso can be made from almost anything, using stinky beans for example, instead of tofu. "We have great ingredients, just not fancy ingredients, so we need to put a lot of effort to make things interesting and tasty. Fermentation, for example, brings complexity and layers. Finding ways to use less animal protein is also something we think is really important to the future of food, and we’ll be focusing on it a lot at NXT."
Ultimately, as Adriansyah adds: "The style will be a similar approach to Locavore, but the NXT space means a fresh start, going deeper into dishes. We'll still be working hard – just smarter." Smarter seems the perfect word to encapsulate NXT, with its endlessly sustainable vision and capacity to grow, just like the verdant Balinese landscape which surrounds it. Their sense of place and community is so profound that accessible farming technology will be shared with anyone who wants it as a prototype for future farm projects.
While there's a large variety of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and other produce grown on the property, NXT has no vision to be self-sustainable, however. The team will buy fish directly from local fishermen and fresh produce from farmers, with whom they have been building strong relationships for more than ten years. Stopping now would endanger their livelihoods.
While it's difficult to distil such an important, sizeable and symbolic project as NXT into a few words, Adriansyah explains: "We do things how we think they should be done best – taking care of our part of the world and hoping it trickles down so that people take part of it home with them."
Plasmeijer adds: "We hope that our approach at NXT will be a model to inspire others on how to design a sustainable business that doesn’t compromise on ideas and creativity. Being the change we want to see in the world – being a part of the solution, not of the problem."
For that alone – and so much more – NXT seems the perfect heir to their already remarkable Locavore legacy, a project and restaurant that is set to inspire the next Balinese, Asian and indeed global generation of producers, chefs and guests.
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