FORBES LIFE ARTICLE: GASTRONOMIQUE DREAMS
After building the Mozaic brand for 14 years, Chris Salans is expanding with plans for more eateries, a cooking school, and even a hotel.
By Yessar Rosendar
Anyone who has sampled the Mozaic Restaurant in Ubud will always remember the bold flavors that come from melding modern French cuisine with Indonesian ingredients, all the creation of Mozaic founder Chris Salans, 44. Chris says that he cooks without recipes, finding inspiration from his ingredients for the daily fare.
In the menu you will find something that will spark an interest whether you are an Indonesian or expatriate, with dishes such as Norwegian salmon cooked with jeruk purut or foie gras combined with the Sundanese kluwek.
“I don’t cook Indonesian food, but I take the ingredients and the flavors so that it’s adaptable to a western palate, I can bring them abroad and I can make people everywhere in the world know that in Bali we have amazing produce and flavors, we are just as good as any other top destination in the world,” says Chris.
Being the person behind all this creativity, he has come a long way from his first days when he had to attract patrons to his first restaurant when it opened in 2001. Now there is often a waiting list and he has opened a second eatery in Seminyak, the Mozaic Beachclub, and he is in creative overdrive to expand his culinary business. “After Mozaic beachclub, I realized that i can only do so much on my own that I need to surround myself with experienced people that excel in their fields,” Chris says.
For that he set up a corporate team with individuals that specializes in their respective fields from service to finance and established the Culinary Solutions Group (CSG). “I used to do everything myself, that’s why the Mozaic Ubud is very personal because I did the website, finances and everything,” Chris says. According to him his business now has grown from 80 to currently 200 employees, which is a big jump. “I wanted more so I set up a proper team,” Chris says.
With the new team, Chris can now spend more time on thinking large and long-term. The CSG currently has several projects, in the short term it is doing consultancy and has two clients. With CSG, Chris also is putting together some concepts to expand beyond fine dining. One step will be for the Mozaic Beachclub to be rebranded as the Mozaic Brasserie, making it more casual and with a bigger volume. He also has another concept that will be a more affordable and scalable, and will only need a small investment of money, space and staff. “We will open the first one in the next three months,” Chris says. The new place is to be called Spice by Chris Salans.
The two concepts will be easier to reproduce compared to fine dining concept. Chris wants to keep the Mozaic in Ubud as an exclusive place. “I don’t want to deteriorate the Mozaic brand, it should be somewhere difficult to get to and challenging,” Chris says, “So I think we will be in Jakarta in a couple of years, not as a Mozaic but as a Chris Salans concept.”
Chris has a world-class pedigree in fine dining. He graduated from Tufts University in Boston, after that he turned his passion for cooking by being accepted to the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, arguably the best cooking school in the world (he is trilingual in French, English and Indonesian). From there, he landed his first internship at l’Oustau de Baumaniere, a three-Michelin-star restaurant (at the time) in Les Baux de Provence, France, and then worked at Lucas Carton, France, another three-Michelin-star restaurant where he worked up his way to Head Saucier.
He then was hired in New York by the legendary David Bouley as a sous chef, while he worked there he developed a taste for Asian cuisine, so he made the fateful decision to accept a position as an executive chef in Bali at The Legian Suites. He eventually returned to New York to work for Bouley and then the equally famous Thomas Keller in his Bouchon restaurant in Napa Valley. In 1998, he made the decision to move permanently to Bali and be with his Indonesian wife Erni. He helped launch and was the head chef at the highly regarded Ary’s Warung in Ubud.
In that period he developed techniques to meld the amazing flavors of Indonesian cuisine with modern cooking styles. The first Mozaic has now garnered a slew of accolades that cement its position as one of the best restaurants in Asia. It is the first restaurant in Southeast Asia to be recognized by the prestigious Traditions et Qualité association as a member of Les Grande Tables Du Monde (The Grand Tables of the World), joining an exclusive membership including world most famous restaurants such as Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athénée and Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. In 2013 it was ranked fifth on the Miele Guide’s Best Restaurants of Asia guidebook after ranked in the top 10 for several years in a row. Chris also has published his own cookbook in 2011 and planning to publish a second one soon.
Despite the extensive expansion, Chris doesn’t want to grow his business into too many ventures and too quickly. He wanted to prepare the backbone first before expanding and he aims to have bigger long-term growth after building a stronger foundation. “I cannot myself run five restaurants—I can, but my life will be my business, I want a life out of the business,” Chris says. Chris says he is a very prudent person that always doublechecks everything and with that he aims for his business to be more sustainable, use less energy and cash spending, and most importantly be consistent in quality.
Maintaining consistency is a big challenge as currently there is a high turnover in terms of staff in Mozaic and in Bali in general. The island of the gods was very different and there was no fine dining when Chris arrived in 1995 but now it has changed become a food destination, so Mozaic has become an ersatz training ground for many staff, who are hired away to become a chef in a restaurant or in a hotel—as the Bali hospitality industry knows that Mozaic staff have been trained to the highest standards. To help solve this problem, he plans to open a cooking school where people can learn how to be a chef and work for six to twelve months. Chris wanted to make a school where the graduates can work up to the standard of Mozaic and hopefully this will boost the standard of services in Bali. “I’m talking about a school where you learn how to cook, I don’t give a diploma that is recognized by the government, but it’s like what I did when I learned how to cook, it’s the proper way of doing things,” Chris says. For now the school is a long term project and he aims to build in the next two to three years; Chris already has the land and a partner who can supply the equipment but he still needs a partner to run the school. “The school is my wayto give back to the community,” Chris says. Another long-term project for Chris is expanding to the hospitality industry by building a hotel; he already has the land just behind the Mozaic Beachclub in Batu Belig. The project will be a resort with a small villa and have around 25 rooms, “I want to build villas that have all the attention to detail of the Mozaic,” Chris says.
For Mozaic in Ubud, Chris wants to maintain the innovations, he will redecorate the lounge and repurpose it as a wine tasting room. He also always regularly changes his menu to suit available ingredients, which he can use in innovative ways. For example, he is hoping to make some nutmeg jam.
For him Indonesia produces a wide array of interesting ingredients, but given the country’s immense size, it is a challenge to investigate and discover all its exotic offerings. He also notes that many ingredients are often just grown and consumed locally, such as sour sop. “I spend a lot of time and energy sourcing product, it’s a continuous battle as I don’t and can’t travel enough in Indonesia to do it, but it’s my biggest passion and also my biggest challenge,” Chris says.Despite Bali now becoming a culinary destination, he doesn’t want to stop moving forward on his culinary journey. “I’m climbing a mountain and I don’t know where the mountain stops, that’s exciting for me,” Chris says.