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Chef Kieran Morland of Merah Putih and Sangsaka on elevating Indonesian cuisine into the realm of fine dining

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Kieran Morland’s first introduction to Indonesian cuisine happened during a visit to his sister in Semarang.

The Australian native quickly fell in love with the unique flavour combinations he encountered. Morland started cooking when he was 17 and has spent time in London, New York as well as Australia working at restaurants the likes of Momofuku, Wapping Project and Syracuse, among others.

Going down memory lane for a bit, Morland told us how he entered into the world of cooking: “I’m pretty sure I just loved cooking from a young age. It’s the job that I wanted to do since I was a boy; since I was in school. During college, I was thinking about cooking or being a football player, but then I decided that cooking is my passion and it has been so ever since.”

Morland has always had a connection with Indonesia, however; so when he was offered a position at Ku De Ta to work with then Executive Chef Benjamin Cross, he immediately accepted. At the time, he wasn’t aware of anybody doing fine dining based on Indonesian food. “Some of the nicest restaurants here were doing French and Italian and I thought that if I came to Bali, if I was a tourist, I would want to eat Indonesian food,” he says, “and that’s the reason why we came up with the idea of Merah Putih.” With the help of his two business partners, Jasper Manifold and Melissa McCabe, he opened the restaurant and it became extremely popular with tourists and locals alike.

Merah Putih nestles in the popular Seminyak area where visitors to Bali would often flock to. One of the most notable features of the restaurant is the majestic interior and eye-catching design which really hits you as you enter the main dining room. Menu wise, Merah Putih offers its own take on Indonesian cuisine presented in a sophisticated way.

At Merah Putih – and a year later at Sangsaka Restaurant, as well – the idea is celebrating Indonesian flavours and cuisine, as well as the culture and the people, in a more modern setting. The venues serve beloved Indonesian dishes alongside many other creative fare that are the results of extensive experimentation with spices and flavours from all over the country. Morland describes it as using all sorts of high-quality ingredients to produce the flavours of a typical warung but in a more elevated environment. Sangsaka, by the way, is a more private space seating 30 guests and offers modern Indonesian food cooked using wood fire.

“Sangsaka changes its menu every week, so this place is kind of like my playground where I can constantly evolve. For Sangsaka, I can just contact my suppliers and get a deal on the best ingredients — say, the best abalone or lobster — then straight away put it on the menu,” Morland elaborates. “Whereas Merah Putih is a bit more stable as we are doing higher volumes so we change the menu every three or four months.”

Delving deeper into the menu, Morland admits that he likes put a little bit of everything in it, all the better to cater to guests who came in with various moods and wants. “Anybody can come and get their meat cravings fixed, but we also have a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes that are doing well,” he adds. “One of my favourites at Merah Putih is the Roti Goreng with Bamboo Lobster inside. We do lots of little plates, so you can visit and have six or seven things to try in sharing plates.”

Of course, as somebody who has been working and living in Bali for years now, Morland has kept a close eye on the island’s culinary landscape. “Bali’s food scene is really growing and I think it’s such a unique place to cook right now — one of the most unique places in the world,” he elaborates. “I like that so many amazing products are grown here — coffee, chocolate, spices and all these amazing herbs. I like Seminyak but there’s a little bit of a push going on in Canggu. But all in all, I think Seminyak has a lot of diners and foodies that are into high quality food — hopefully Indonesian. I want Indonesian food to be regarded as fine dining like the other famous cuisines of the world.”

Wrapping up our talk with a discussion about Morland’s future projects and plans, he says: “My head is already full with two restaurants now. Maybe we will do some collaborations and projects with new talented chefs and just work consistently to keep the team motivated. We may have a lot of menu changes in the future. But, I am not going to try to reinvent the world or open up too many restaurants. I am pretty happy with how we are going right now.”

This story first appeared in Prestige Indonesia.

(Main and featured image: Prestige Indonesia)

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