Janet de Neefe first visited Bali in 1974 and like most who journey to the tropical island, she fell in love with the culture, the people and, of course, the food. “I felt like Alice stepping into a surreal wonderland of startling beauty and wild energy,” de Neefe says.
Ten years later she returned and fell in love with her future husband Ketut and began living with him Ubud soon after. Twenty-seven years later, de Neefe and her husband basically own half of the quiet inland town, including three restaurants – Casa Luna, Bar Luna and Indus – as well as the Casa Luna Cooking School and two hotels. And if that’s not enough to keep her occupied, de Neefe also founded the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and wrote Fragrant Life a memoir of her life in Bali.
de Neefe credits her cooking skills to the mothers of Ubud who taught her how to cook traditional Balinese dishes. “They provided me with cooking skills that went far beyond any institutionalised learning.”
From sambals to spicy curries and sweet ceremonial food, the recipes are surprisingly simple. “Indonesian recipes are as old a time,” says de Neefe “There is nothing fancy or ambitious here – all you really need is a mortar and pestle, a knife, a wok and stirring spoon and a flame.”
Flipping through her new cookbook, it’s not hard to see how de Neefe fell in love with the place. As well as documenting the traditional Balinese recipes she has learnt and serves in her numerous restaurants, the book also doubles as a photo journal of life in Bali. Taking readers from the market places bursting with colours and flavours to the calm rice paddies.
If you’ve ever dreamt of running away to Bali and opening a restaurant, de Neefe is proof that the dream can come true.