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A sample of the chef Chris Salans’s approach: foie gras with cherries and cocoa.
Mr. Salans, 38, who is equal parts French and American, has garnered rave reviews and recently expanded his restaurant to include a workshop, where cooking classes and private chef’s tastings are held several times a week. One evening a few months ago, Mozaic buzzed with life, as every wicker chair in the 60-seat pavilion was taken by 8 o’clock. Since being accepted as a member of the French association Les Grandes Tables du Monde in 2004, Mozaic has also received recognition from Wine Spectator magazine and The Miele Guide, an Asian restaurant guide published in Singapore.
Not long after Mozaic opened in 2001, Bali’s tourism industry was hit by two terrorist attacks. The world financial crisis and renewed terrorism warnings have added to the island’s woes. But Mozaic (62-361-975768; www.mozaic-bali.com) has managed to thrive in a place better known for its beaches and rice paddies than for its cuisine.
“Chris is very business oriented, which comes from his American side, but he’s also very passionate, which illustrates the French side of him,” said Rakesh Kapoor, the general manager of Mozaic, who has known Mr. Salans for six years. “The way he infuses his food with local flavors couldn’t happen without him embracing the culture.”
Guests choose from four six-course tasting menus that change nightly and showcase Mr. Salans’s “market cooking” style, which takes Indonesian ingredients and incorporates them into a range of French dishes, resulting in creations like curry butter-roasted crayfish and passion fruit cream baked in phyllo pastry. Other Indonesian ingredients he uses include turmeric, ginger flowers and cardamom.
“In New York, you’re lucky to work with ginger and lemon grass,” Mr. Salans said, “and they call that Asian.”
He buys as much as he can locally, but imports certain premium ingredients he can’t find, like wagyu beef and oysters from Australia and cèpe mushrooms from France. He hires a full-time employee to “go knocking on the doors” of farmers on Bali for fresh passion fruit. He buys baby lamb and crayfish from the island of Java.
Guests are first seated in a newly renovated lounge decorated with white sofas, where they sip Champagne and select their menu before moving to the main dining room and garden, full of tropical greenery. The prix-fixe menu costs 550,000 to 750,000 rupiah ($46 to $63 at 12,303 rupiah to the dollar) a person before wine.
The workshop in the back of the restaurant feels like a cozy studio apartment with an open kitchen stocked with equipment from the German oven maker Rational, the French cast-iron cookware company Staub, and Epromas, a Singaporean sous vide equipment manufacturer. The companies donated the equipment in exchange for exposure to the Bali market.
Mr. Salans holds casual half-day cooking classes for tourists and professional training courses for local chefs working at luxury hotels and high-end restaurants. Asked whether he’s creating competition for himself by teaching the island’s chefs, Mr. Salans said confidently, “Just because you go to college for three days doesn’t mean you can graduate.”
From an early age, Mr. Salans, who has a French mother and a Jewish American father, has felt the pull of different cultures. Though he was born in Washington, his family moved to Paris when he was 2 and he grew up there. After high school, he moved near Boston to attend Tufts University, majoring in biology.
Deciding on a career was a struggle, and his father pushed him to go to medical school. To delay the decision, he returned to Paris to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu. He then landed his first paying job at the Paris restaurant Lucas Carton, where he became addicted to working in a kitchen, despite the horrible conditions.
He said he was underweight, “pale white, and everyone cried at least once a day from the mental abuse.”
“It was like the military,” he said, “and if you’re a masochist — most chefs are — you enjoy it.”
Eventually he landed positions as the chef de cuisine for David Bouley at Bouley Bakery in New York and head chef at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s bistro in Napa Valley.
While working for Mr. Bouley, Mr. Salans accompanied him to Thailand for a cooking exhibition in 1995, which set off another period of bouncing between two continents, this time Asia and America. “It was the first time I had been in Asia as a chef,” he said. “I loved the explosion of lemon grass, turmeric and galangal,” a gingerlike root.
Mr. Salans was so enamored of the food in Thailand that he began searching for a position in Asia. When the boutique hotel group GHM offered him a job cooking at a property in Bali, he accepted, even though he didn’t know where Bali was. “I looked on the map and saw that it was a tiny dot in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
During his stint in Bali, Mr. Salans met a Javanese woman, Erni, whom he later married and with whom he now has two children. (“They’re trinationals,” he said proudly.) He converted to Islam for his wife, though he calls himself a “bad Muslim” because he “eats pork, swears and drinks.”
After a few more years of cooking in the United States for Mr. Bouley and Mr. Keller, Mr. Salans, along with his wife, went to Bali on what was supposed to be a one-month vacation but resulted in a permanent settlement on the island. Away from the competitive atmosphere and the culture of celebrity chefs in Paris and New York, Mr. Salans has been able quietly to develop his cooking style, with the help of James Ephrain, his British sous-chef.
But being in Bali is not without its challenges. Because Mozaic is one of the few fine dining restaurants in an isolated place, service and cooking standards are difficult to maintain, and the chef is known to drill his staff with classroom lectures, role-playing exercises and even graded tests. “It’s like pulling a truck,” Mr. Salans said. “Sometimes I think I should just be making sandwiches.”
And of course, Mozaic is facing the difficulties of operating in lean economic times. Hotel occupancy rates in Bali are the lowest the island has seen in several years, according to the Bali Hotel Association. “But the good thing is, my business was born in crisis,” Mr. Salans said.
“We opened one month before the World Trade Center bombing in 2001 and we survived the Bali terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005. We’re resilient.