Cooking With French Finesse, Asian Inspiration
Chef Xavier Mauerhofer was born in the French Alps, but his profession has taken him all over the world, from London to Atlanta, and more recently to Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing, where he has cooked in Michelin-rated restaurants.
His latest culinary endeavor has taken the Frenchman to Ubud, Bali, where he began working this month as the new executive chef of Mozaic Restaurant.
Known for applying French finesse to Asian contemporary cuisine, Mauerhofer will follow in the footsteps of chefs Chris Salans and James Ephraim to serve the exquisite dishes that make Mozaic famous not only in Bali, but throughout the whole region.
The restaurant was the first in Southeast Asia to be recognized by the “Grand Tables of the World,” an association that includes world-famous establishments like Lucas Carton by chef Alain Senderens, Plaza Athenee by chef Alain Ducasse and The French Laundry by chef Thomas A. Keller.
Starting on Sunday and lasting for one week, Mozaic will serve a special menu featuring dishes that have been specifically created to highlight Mauerhofer’s culinary influences and expertise, including crispy seared duck foie gras, slowcooked Angus beef short rib and opal basil ice cream.
When Mauerhofer was a young boy he used to follow his grandmother around the kitchen, which inspired his passion for food. One of his first cooking experiences was making cakes and pastries. He quickly took a liking to it and he knew that he had found his true calling.
“I decided to become a chef because I was always surrounded by food,” he said. “My grandmother was cooking from early morning until late afternoon and would feed everyone in the family.”
It also helped that his uncle was running a patisserie; Mauerhofer said pursuing a career in the food industry was as a natural choice.
“I wanted a job where I could use my own hands, some freedom, creativity and possibly traveling — cooking gave me all that,” he explained.
Mauerhofer has the traveling part down, making it hard for him to pinpoint which place has left the longest lasting impression on him.
“Each country or city that you visit or work in always leaves you with good memories and discoveries in general, but the one and only special place that is in my heart is still my home, because this is where my roots are and where it all began,” he said.
Joining Ubud’s Mozaic Restaurant is an honor, Mauerhofer said, adding that he is also aware that he is following in great footsteps.
“It is a great challenge to maintain the reputation that was achieved by Chris Salans,” he said. “[I would like to] push the concept as far as possible and make it a must-to-eat place.”
As for the special menu that he has created together with his new team, the dishes were carefully selected to present Mauerhofer to Bali’s culinary scene.
“[The menu] can be regarded as an introduction to some of my signature dishes and a vision of my cooking showing how to use Asian ingredients with French technique,” he explained.
While Mauerhofer is a master of fine cuisine and delights his diners with high-quality dishes, he kept it simple when asked what his favorite comfort food was.
“Since I come from the French Alps, it would have to be a winter dish, probably a raclette, enjoyed by the fireplace to share with friends and family,” he said, referring to the basic dish made of melted cheese.
Of course, spending most of his time in the kitchen, he is not free from pet peeves when it comes to food. Mauerhofer said he can’t stand food that is burnt or wrongly cooked, meals without fresh ingredients and, most of all, dishes that are “prepared without any passion.” At the end of a workday, he said he doesn’t usually have the time to cook properly at home.
“Usually, chefs feed themselves badly, so I prefer to go somewhere nice and simple,” he said.
With restaurant shows like “MasterChef” or “Hell’s Kitchen” having glued millions of viewers worldwide to their TV screens, professional chefs have been more in the spotlight than ever before. Mauerhofer, however, has mixed feelings about the images that those shows convey.
“First, I think it is great to show the reality and the everyday life of a chef, like working under pressure, the heat, the long hours and that being a chef means a lot of passion and dedication,” he said. “But secondly, I think these shows sometimes give the wrong message, as it is not always shouting, bad language, and a poor atmosphere in a kitchen.”
In the end, he said, people have to realize that working as a chef is a team effort. “Only with a well-organized system you can achieve the best standard you are looking for,” he said.