Innovative and passionate, Andres Becerra, who, with fellow chef German Rincon, heads up Bali’s acclaimed Santanera restaurant, talks inspiration, dedication, and making a name in Canggu’s competitive foodscape.
You grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. Where were you first inspired to cook?
My family has a restaurant up in the hills 20 minutes out of Bogota. My dad is a chef so naturally, I was born into the hospitality industry. Growing up I had the opportunity to witness how much hard work and effort chefs put into satisfying others – which is now one of the aspects of my job that I’m most passionate about.
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Before moving to Bali, you worked at culinary institutions Movida Original and Movida Aqui in Melbourne as well as Relae in Copenhagen and Els Casual in Catalunya. Which of these experiences were most influential on your culinary style?
Movida has been the most influential place for me as a chef, and where I grew the most in my career, from starting as an apprentice, and sharpening my skills as a cook, to working my way up to leading the kitchen as Head Chef.
Relae (now closed) and Els Casals were both pivotal learning experiences for me too, teaching me the important connection between farming and cooking. Each restaurant had its own farm, where we would grow and pick our own produce. This process made me appreciate and respect the agriculture industry and the products that come through the restaurant doors each day. It also gave me a new perspective on the potential of vegetables, and how they should be taken as seriously as any protein.
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At Santanera, you’re combining Latin cuisine with touches of European and Asian flair. What are some of the stellar flavour combinations that came out of this cultural and culinary collision?
The scallop tartalette is a great example of this; we ferment kalamansi, which is the base for our tiger’s milk that then gets used to dress local scallops. We put this into a tartallete shell and finish it with some jalapeno emulsion and salmon roe on the top. The result is an explosion of flavours that hit every part of your palate; salty, sour, crunchy and umami.
Tell us about some of the local ingredients that you’ve experimented with.
Colombia and Indonesia are both in very similar latitudes, so some of the produce we find here in Bali is very similar to what you would find in Colombia. For instance, we’ve recently sourced a variety of chillies from farms in Bedugul, such as charapita and habanero. Soon we’ll also be getting tamarillos that we’ll smoke in the charcoal oven and turn into tiger’s milk for one of our ceviches.
Canggu has a dynamic dining scene; how do you ensure your concept isn’t lost in the noise?
From the very beginning, we have pushed ourselves to come up with authentic dishes and ideas which represent our concept and identity. In my opinion, not many restaurants in Canggu have the Spanish style of dining combined with the Latin American flavours that we incorporate into our dishes. Our menu is constantly evolving, and we normally have 4-5 specials that change daily, based on the best produce available.
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You’re joined in the kitchen by chef German Rincon. What strengths does each of you bring to the new restaurant?
German and I have been part of Santanera from the beginning. He brings a broad knowledge of Colombian and Latin American food, while my culinary background is more Spanish and European. We compliment each other well, constantly bouncing ideas off one another.
What are the biggest challenges to running a kitchen in Bali, especially at the tail end of the global pandemic?
One of the biggest challenges is the consistency of produce. Sometimes we get our hands on some amazing products, but they’re only available for a limited time.
Obviously, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the hospitality industry. Bali hasn’t completely returned to how it used to be, which can be challenging at times. Covid has redefined our time and this industry as a whole – in order to survive we had to diversify and evolve.
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On an island with no shortage of great dining experiences, where do you like to dine when you’re off the clock?
I like to go to Indigo, Home by Chef Wayan, Skool, Cuca, and Riviera.
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