Get to Know: Maya Kerthyasa, food writer

We have been working with Maya Kerthyasa to co-create The Dinner Series. We want more people to know her the way we do, so we sat down with her and asked a few questions of our favorite food writer.

Would you like to share a little about your background and interests with us?

I am half Balinese and half Australian. I grew up between Bali and Sydney and studied journalism. Since then, I’ve worked mainly as a food writer. I spent four-and-a-half years at Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine and wrote a little bit about travel, but my strongest love is food. And that’s something that I’ve been interested in since I was born, really. I spent a lot of my childhood running around the back of house at Ibah, my parent’s hotel in Campuhan. And I think, through that, I developed a really strong love of hospitality.

I did my first restaurant review when I was nine years old with a dear friend of mine, Jane Adams, who has become one of my biggest mentors. I remember the day vividly, and from that moment on I have been fascinated by restaurants and food culture as a whole.

When I was working in magazines, I was lucky enough to eat and write about many different kinds of food. Now that I’ve had a child and am spending more time at home, I’ve made it my mission to focus on the food of Bali. It’s so layered, complex and full of cultural significance, but it just isn’t spoken about internationally. I’d like to change that, and so that’s where I am at the moment.

Maya and her grandmother in the kitchen

Maya and her grandmother in the kitchen

What makes you interested in food and Balinese food?

Well, I have a very healthy appetite. That helps. I’ve been fortunate enough to have eaten some really wonderful food not just in Bali, but around the world. Both of my parents are good cooks. So many of my fondest memories are connected to cooking and eating.

I’m also really lucky to still have both of my grandmothers, who cook in very different but equally wonderful ways. Food is an interesting way to explore not only the flavors of a place, but also its history and culture. And that’s why I love it. If you dig deep enough into most traditional cuisines, you’ll find they are laced with stories. When you dissect the ingredients, the way they’re prepared, you might see the history of a place, how it’s been influenced by other cultures, colonialism or immigrants. You can see how food is used as medicine, how it’s used to celebrate, even to mourn. So, for me food is such a strong vessel for discovery and connection.

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What is the story behind The Dinner Series?

I have a lot of respect for Mila, Daniela and the Elami team, so I was really excited when we started talking about The Dinner Series. It’s started off as a conversation and then slowly it grew, and we did the first dinner at Green Village with Wayan Kresnayasa from Potato Head, which was such an amazing way to start.

Mila and I both saw an opportunity to create eclectic boutique events in Bali. Not your run-of-the-mill party or festival, or four-hands dinner – events that truly connect and inspire people in the creative field. I wanted to give some love to the people doing solid stuff in the culinary scene. And for Mila, there was a strong creative drive. You know, life in Bali changes so rapidly and these days we are all so divided by geography, traffic jams, and our own busy lives, that we don’t really get together as much as we used to. So, I think there’s a bit of nostalgia in there as well. To put it simply, we want to find people doing great things and celebrate them in the most interesting way possible.

What projects are you immersed in right now?

The Dinner Series of course.

I am also in the process of recording my Balinese grandmother’s recipes in the hope of compiling them into a cookbook. I think there are so many layers to Balinese food that I haven’t yet explored, so I’m calling it a book about the food I grew up with. It’s taking a while, but it’s allowed me to spend some really precious time with my Niang who is in her 90s. And learning as much as I can from her, in more of a hands-on sense, as opposed to just writing and recording. It’s a very different approach for me, but it’s teaching me a lot about my culture, my family and who I am as a cook and a writer – having that ability to slow down and be truly conscious in the kitchen.

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What is your routine to get inspired?

Every morning I try and do three pages of free writing. I’ve got a book especially for this, so I sit down with a cup of tea and my favourite pen and just write anything that comes to mind. Sometimes it makes no sense, some days it’s more of a diary entry, other times I’ll just write about the way the morning light is touching the kitchen bench that day. There are really no rules and it just gets my creative juices going.