Bali: Chef Jusman So Reinvents French Fare at Ayana’s Dava

  • Jusman So in the kitchen at Dava.

    Jusman So in the kitchen at Dava.

  • Duck confit with foie gras– stuffed cabbage and porcini mushrooms.

    Duck confit with foie gras– stuffed cabbage and porcini mushrooms.

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Singaporean chef Jusman So has brought his signature style—and passion for wave riding—to the shores of Bali

By Nathan Myers
Photographed by Martin Westlake

The flavors are just beyond reach, coded into the menu: familiar, yet exotic. And only Jusman So knows the secret ingredient.

Singaporean diners will remember the 33-year-old chef from his acclaimed solo venture, Sage, whose five-year run garnered numerous accolades. To the surprise of many, So shuttered the restaurant in late 2010 and moved to Bali with a somewhat less ambitious plan. “I wanted to go surfing,” he says. “Singapore is too much of a big city, and I’ve always loved Bali.”

Before the surf season even started, managers at the cliff-side Ayana Resort and Spa tracked him down with a tantalizing offer: an apartment by the beach; a restaurant near Bali’s premier wave mecca; and a blank canvas on which to re-invent his modern-French cooking. Hooked, So began designing a new menu for Dava, the resort’s breezy fine-dining room. “There’s a balance between pushing the creative boundaries and serving a good steak with mashed potatoes,” he explains. “What’s the point of making something look amazing if it doesn’t taste good?”

Though reserved and soft-spoken, So describes his new six-course degustation as a personal masterpiece. From his signature foie gras to beguiling lobster, duck, and lamb presentations, the Dava experience offers a bold equilibrium of exposition and flavor. “I prefer food that is pure,” he says. “I don’t do fusion, because when you mix cuisines, there is no benchmark as to what is good.”

Ocean air wafts into Dava’s kitchen, spritzing every dish with a dash of tropical escapism. While his staff bustles ahead of the evening rush, So is at ease. His life in Bali is grounded on simpler pleasures, like exploring wet markets, or drifting among the waves untethered to the bottom line. “There was a lot of pressure with my own restaurant,” he says. “You’re never really off work. Here, I’m freer, which allows me to be more creative with my cooking.”

Glancing down at his menu, Jusman So smiles. His secret ingredient is revealed.

Ayana Resort and Spa Bali, Jl. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran; 62-361/702-222;

Originally appeared in the February/March 2012 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Surf and Turf”)

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