Interview with Chef Owner Mr.Chris Salans
Mozaic Restaurant Gastronomique, Ubud, February 2021
Good afternoon, Chris. We had a great experience at your restaurant a few weeks ago and I would like to thank you for that. I'm glad that we have a small talk today about your business and life.
Good afternoon, Lana. You're welcome. It's a long story.

Would you be kind enough to tell your story about how you became a chef?
How or why?

Why and how.
Because "how" is everybody the same, but "why" can be different. So it's a long story, but I'll make it short. So I was the last of 3 brothers. My brothers are much older than me – and once they left home I think my parents started traveling a lot more. And so since a very young age, I would say – I actually remember having a Russian dinner when I was 6 years old and having some vodka and caviar – so since the age about 6 years old my parents have been traveling with me eating at amazing restaurants, across Europe. They live in France, in Paris. So, you know, Europe – it's easy to travel and eat different foods. So I grew up around good food, my mother being French, you know, we went hunting and farming for mushrooms – that's all in French culture, so I was always very-very close to food and one day I was told I had to choose a career and – I mean, not directly, it's not that easy – but boom! In the end, I chose becoming a chef. I knew I wanted it to be about food but I didn't know what. You know, you could be a food writer, you could be a nutritionist, you could be a… I knew it was gonna be about food, but ended up being a chef. "How"? Like everybody else – knock at the door of a kitchen, and say: "I wanna become a chef." And then they beat you into shape.
That means, you trained in France?
I started in France, correct. Then I went to the US, then from the US – I forget – but I went to Indonesia and then back to the US, but it started all in France – at a very young age, to be honest, at the age of 6, when I had that first caviar and blini, it's when I started my training as a chef.

Is it true that one has to sacrifice social life until get a certain level in cuisine? In fine dining?
I'm gonna say no, but I'll explain why. Because it doesn't stop once you get to a certain level, so you're wrong. And to be a chef you need to make a lot of sacrifices – on a social and personal level. And becoming a certain level – unless… Now, because to be a chef you need to be creative, and to be creative you need to be involved, right? So there's always been a lot of sacrifice. Maybe a bit less towards the end if you want, but still a lot of sacrifice, yes, it's true.

Do you remember your first day as a chef, your feelings?
So, I have to clarify – because for chefs you're only a chef when you're the boss of the kitchen. Do you mean the first day as a cook or do you mean the first day as a chef?

The first day as a chef.
As a chef. So I have to remember when was my first position as a chef… Now I remember – it was in Boston… And what was your question?

What was your feeling? Do you remember?
Oh, very nervous. Every time I became a chef – not only the first time – but every time you get a new job, in the highest position in the kitchen, if you want, it's a new team, new boss and new environment - very nervous, because you have to think about… Actually, food becomes the last of your concerns. You have to worry about everything else but the food. To worry about the staff, you have to worry about the organization; you have to worry about relationship, human resources… Yeah, I mean so much stuff to worry about for you to be able to focus on the food, because a chef should focus on food but the food is maybe only 50 percent of the job, you know.
What was the most challenging situation in your career?
Whoa. All of them!

A few examples?
The most challenging… I guess there would be 2. One is when I worked for Thomas Keller in California. The 2 guys that were below me, they're called sous-chefs, they were not hired by me. So… they were actually hired by Thomas Keller. So they were very jealous of me and they did not make my job very easy. I'll just say that. That was very challenging for me. Cause I don't like confrontation, I'm not confrontational. And then – when I opened Mozaic – also I would say was very challenging. Because I didn't realize the challenges of running a business in Bali.

Speaking about Mozaic- what motivated you to go to Bali, was it an opportunity or life choice?
The first time I came to Bali was for a job. I was in New York City, I wanted to go to Asia to learn about Asian cooking, I applied to a hundred – I sent a hundred times my resume and a Singaporean company hired me to come to Bali to open a hotel. So that's a professional opportunity if you want. But then I left, went back to New York, but my girlfriend was Indonesian, and the only way for her to come to New York with me, because she's Muslim, was to marry her – as an American there is no choice, or in America – so we married, lived in the US for 2 years, but then I wanted to come back to Bali and therefore it became a life choice to open Mozaic.
And today, living in Bali – how long have you lived here?
I don't count anymore, but more than 23 years, yeah.

So it's not only about cooking. How do you start your day in Ubud? What do you do in your free time? What' s your normal day without your job?
Okay. Obviously, things are quite different lately because of corona. So I can't say things are "normal", if you want, but I spend a lot of time with my family.

Do you have kids?
We have 3 children, yeah.

They're also cooking with you?
One of them, actually, yes, cooks with me, works here as part of school, still in hospitality management. But one of them seems to be going into the line of – I'm not sure yet – chef or just hospitality. So I spend a lot of time with my children and it starts from cooking breakfast, going to the beach, to doing homework – yes, spending a lot of time with the family. Otherwise I would go traveling around the world but right now I can't do that.

And if we speak about cultural differences, for example, what are the main differences between French and Indonesian cultures, and how do you cope with Balinese culture in terms of restaurant management on a daily basis?
That's a very tough question. I would say that there are no similarities between Indonesian culture and French culture. But I would probably be wrong. It's a generalization. But being married to an Indonesian, having a business in Indonesia, 3 children in Indonesia, I have discovered so much about Indonesian culture that the more you know about the culture, the less you realize that it's close to French or American culture. It's a completely different culture. That's why I answered there's very little in the common. But I'm sure you know, I'm sure there is some commonality around maybe religion, around food, around holidays or you know, things like that. But I'm generalizing. Challenges in…?
Management, in the restaurant management, with your team…
Management – again, very challenging, very different, sorry, very different, well, challenging because different, therefore you need to re-educate yourself. I would say that in Indonesia you need to be more of a father - or, if you're a female, a mother - figure with the employees, so it's not you know, in the west, as a chef or as an owner you might just be a boss. But bossing people around doesn't always work here, you need to be more like a parent – teaching, coaching, listening… Career for them – I can't generalize, right, everybody is different, but in general the Balinese are not very career-oriented. Religion and culture is more important to them than their career. Not all of them, but most of them, yeah. So if you know that one of your staff has just become a steward, right, who cleans the kitchen, for him that's his career. "I'm a steward, I made it." You have to talk to someone like that differently than to a guy who comes and says "I wanna work for you and one day I'll become a chef." Different motivation, right?

So there's a lot of that here and you need to understand their culture and you need to understand their language so that you can communicate to them because it's very important for me to have staff that are engaged. I don't want a staff that's a zombie, right? I wanna staff that's smiling, talkative, shares in the ideas. And you have to build that culture. It's not easy to build a culture where people communicate – the Balinese are very shy and very quiet, so you have to educate them to open up and share.

It's very interesting. And do you use the term "competition" when we speak about restaurant sector?
Competition – yes, there is competition in the industry, no doubt, it's become… Mozaic is 21 years old so the competition today compared to 20 years ago, let me tell you, it has definitely multiplied by thousandfold. But competition is healthy. Our business has grown over the last 20 years so as more restaurants open we actually bring more people to Ubud or to Bali and therefore we're able to make more business, which is incredible. You would think: maybe the competition would reduce your business… But actually not yet.
In your opinion, what is the key factor that makes a restaurant successful or unsuccessful?
Obviously, nobody knows what the key factors to successful restaurants are, otherwise some people would have only successful restaurants, and others would not. And we don't know. I've opened 5 restaurants in Bali and I would say maybe only 2 or 3 have been successful, so why?

Mozaic is not the first one?
No, Mozaic is the first one. And the last one, also. But we've had Mozaic, we've had Mozaic Beach Club, we've had a Spice by Chris Salans in Ubud, in Sanur, in Seminyak, so we've tried a lot of different things over the last 20 years, so if I knew what was the key to success, all my restaurants would be successful. But they're not. But obviously a big part of the success – if I can be global – is to understand the market and to understand how things work in your environment. So Bali is a tourist destination. Tourists – how do they hear about restaurants? There's online, right? Tripadvisor, HoneyComb, whatever. There're all these online platforms where you can learn, right, there's social media that influences things and then there are travel agents – when you use a travel agent – and then when you get to Bali you probably stay at a hotel or in a villa and you ask here: where should I go? If you know that, and you work on that, you restaurant can be successful regardless if you're selling pizza or fine dining or borscht or whatever it is that you wanna sell – paella – you know what I mean? It's always the food, but it's also the marketing that's very important.
Do you like all foods?
Yeah. Food is my language. Wherever I travel – I travel a lot for food and I've been to Russia, but wherever I go I love the food. And there's bad food, there's good food.

By the way, we have noted that you like to participate in shows and collaborations with other restaurants. Are you ready to share your experience and secrets with them and maybe you can share one professional secret with us.
One professional secret, oh my god… So, I think, with age, as you get older, you see things differently. My parents used to tell me that - I never believed them, but now that I'm there I believe it – so I think you know, I've always had a passion for teaching and I always thought: one day I would open a cooking school and I almost did it, but then – corona. But then I realized that, you know, sharing is the part of the game. I mean, you wanna influence others and you share – and another thing about sharing is if you share that means if I don't wanna fall asleep I am forced to create. The more I create the more I can share my past creations because I'm innovating.

I'm already in the future, what I'm teaching you is the past. So it's okay, it forces me to move forward by sharing. So yes, I do share. A professional secret… I mean, it's not gonna be secret, because you see they are gonna be too technical or, you know, I mean make sure your knives are super-sharp, right, because if your knives are not sharp you can't cut properly. Use 2 types of salt – a table salt and a sea salt, they have different saltiness – so instead of… A lot of food is too salty because the chef uses 1 type of salt and puts too much – use 2 types of salt and you have a more rounded saltiness - maybe that's more of a secret, and many others. There's so many secrets in the kitchen.

How would you describe your style of cooking and what is your – maybe - favorite dish, if you have one?
My style of cooking is free style. What I mean by that is I mean it's in my cookbook. I say I cook what I like with the ingredients that I have. And that's very true. If I go to Russia, I go to Japan, I go to Bali, I go to Paris – I can cook. I go to the market, I taste flavors and I connect those flavors with past memories. I happen to be in Bali, so obviously my food is very Indonesian-ingredients-influenced. I cook with the ingredients of Bali but I cook French food, if you want. But not traditional French food. Sorry, I should have said: I use French techniques of cooking and presentation, but I use the ingredients from my environment. So it is modern French cooking using Indonesian ingredients.
And your favorite dish – do you have one?
My favorite dish… There's no favorite dish, because every time I find my favorite dish I think I'm not happy with it, and I try to create the next dish. Always in development. And this is the disease of the chef. The disease of the chef is you work to perfection and when you achieve the perfection, you're unhappy and you move on.

I understand you so well.
Yeah. I'm sad that you understand.

Do you consider the gastronomy as a luxury sector of business and today?
I think that, unfortunately, gastronomy often is a luxury product because of the ingredients that we use are expensive or imported in Bali – and therefore it becomes an expensive product, and if it's expensive it could be luxurious. But I think there has to be people doing gastronomy that is not too expensive. And that exists: a lot of the top chefs in the world – they have a little bistro, a little café, where they do the same concept but don't import anything, use only local products. And don't use the most expensive – just use fresh, you know. And we kind of did that with our Spice concept – which is our other restaurant, Spice by Chris Salans – you could eat there for 2 hundred thousand (200 000) instead of eat at Mozaic for 2 million. So, I think there's a way of doing gastronomy without it being luxury. But 90% of the time – yes, it is.
What is luxury today for you? How can you describe this difficult word?
Today, because of corona, luxury is not having corona, luxury is living in Bali – I think, living in Bali, and see my parents in Paris, my brothers in Washington DC…

So, luxury could be a travel?
Travel would be luxury, yes. You cannot really travel properly nowadays, you know. Especially with the family and stuff like that. So I think luxury is being in Bali, because we're outdoors, we are not confined to a small space. There aren't many tourists, so there's no traffic, no pollution, we can go out and about, you can still ride your bicycle, so I consider myself lucky to be in another luxury of Bali.

Chris, the last question. A little bit complicated one.We speak always about etiquette, culinary rules… What about professional jokes? Do you have your favorite one?
Actually, humor in the kitchen is always a bit gross, it's not very proper humor that we use in the kitchen – I'm not really sure why, maybe because we spend 14 hours a day standing up, cutting ourselves and burning ourselves, so I don't think I can share any jokes that we tell each other in the kitchen, but there's one that only a chef will understand. But hopefully you have chefs watching this, so…

You know – when you work in the kitchen you'll probably… I'll try to recall when I worked for example in Paris or New York – I would go to work at 7 a.m. and I would leave work around midnight. We'll get home at 1, go to bed at maybe 2, and would have to wake up at probably 5:30. So that's the normal life of a chef and the salary that we got was not enough to rent an apartment, so we had to share apartments between several chefs. So you're working long hours, you don't make any money, and then when you're at work, the chef is screaming at you all the time, and because there's so much pressure, and you're standing, and you're tired, and you don't sleep enough, you tend to burn and cut yourself a lot, because you make mistakes, you know. And we were drinking 14 coffees a day, just to stay awake. So if you can think like that, then you can think like a chef. And we always used to ask each other: "What are we doing here? Why are we here? We get screamed at, we get no pay, you know, we get treated like shit, you know, so why are we here?" And we used to always say: "We're here for the glory." Which is not funny. But in the kitchen, when you're tired, everybody laughed a lot. So, let's say that's a chef's joke. Yeah. We're not here for the money, we're not here for the love that we get from the chef, we're just here for the glory. But there is no glory, because nobody knows who we are, so it's gloom, it's a dark humor, French humor, maybe.

Maybe. Maybe French, yes. Professional one.
That's right. Professional, sarcastic. Yeah.

Thank you Chris for your time, for the interview, it was a pleasure.
Thank you very much. Thanks for listening to my jokes.

©️ 2021 Affinity Concept. Interviewer Lana Steux. All rights reserved.
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To join the club, please direct your questions or requests by email or by direct line.
We will deal with your inquiry as efficiently and quickly as possible.
FR tel. : +33 6 65 34 15 70
RU tel.: +7 916 630 08 53

36, rue d'Antibes, 06400, Cannes
French Riviera – Monaco – Paris – Courchevel – Moscow – London – Geneva