Homegrown & Well Known: Odeck Ariawan
Is he your typical hippie restaurateur or not?
What’s the history of your interest in food?
Although my mom is Balinese, we had lived in various places like Jakarta, Sumatra and Bali, as a kid I was pretty exposed to lots of different kinds of food. So food had always been something to enjoy and to talk about within my family.
Ary’s Warung might be the first ever restaurant in Ubud with a fine dining concept. What made you choose the “non-Ubudian” way, a warung which is not at all a warung?
Ary’s is actually very Ubudian. It’s just that, dare I say this, ahead of its time when it was first built. The creative nuances and vision was pretty much an anomaly, it has stood apart from the rest since it was started in 1983. It has been a different type of local warung and has evolved from a place with good music and mushroom omelets to vegetarian-inspired world food, to contemporary Balinese/Asian cuisine using local ingredients while also supporting the slow food idea. Ubud is a place where people choose alternative lifestyles and go hand in hand with the local community with spirituality and creativity as the main aspect.
You just opened a new unique restaurant (my personal favorite) named Betelnut. You’ve already owned quite a few businesses, you keep expanding—life’s good. Which is your priority, food or art?
To work is my tool to improve my spiritual growth, because wealth is overrated. Food is art. Food and art are chemistry of matter and always surprises our senses, not in a hedonistic way but as an awakening/awareness practice for our well being. Betelnut fell into our lap when the local government faced a dilemma. They already released a permit for this international fast food chain to be opened where Betelnut is now located, while the Ubud community refused it. The owner of the fast food place didn’t want to lose money, so we, my wife Tara and I, with a little help from my direct family were supported by the community to takeover the place. At first we were not quite sure what to do with it because it was too big for us. But then we were eventually inspired to build a place for a playground of new ideas, art and culture; and being the witness and hopefully a positive force in today’s transformation, that is triggered by digital technology and migration.
How do you find the food industry in Bali and in Indonesia? Do you have enough support from the government?
Today’s markets are more educated and open to new ideas of taste and ingredients. The Mecca of food is not France anymore, we are now free from the authoritarian French ideas. Allowing local food geniuses to flourish with local ingredients, you can make almost anything, in a way it’s like a revolution of ideas. But what we are facing now are food industrial corporations, we should raise more awareness on this. What government should do so their role is more useful is to support local foods and farmers. We don’t really need help, just don’t stand in our way.
Now let’s get personal, please name your all-time favourite records and why?
I love most of the albums released by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Brian Eno, Elvis Costello, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Why? Because I’m an older guy with hopeless romantic syndrome.
Your all-time favourite books and why?
When I was 12 I read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It taught me how words can describe feelings and situations so descriptively. Horison magazine in late 70s showed me how words can brighten our horizons. While the Kho Ping Ho series of Kungfu novels enlightened me with Buddhist values.
Any last nagging words?
Optimism and pessimism start when you are single, do you either bring or not bring a condom before you go out, that’s the question.