I’ll set the scene for you. This trip to Bali was my first one this year. It was a big one for me, both in size (3 weeks) and financially. I knew I couldn’t afford to travel again until I had it out of the way.
This meant, however, that I felt sort of out of touch with travelling. I over packed, panicked about my flights and had all of that anxiety that comes when you haven’t been away in a while! Another thing that struck me? After I had finished my experience learning to code with The Institute of Code, I felt a bit lost as to where to go next. I was determined to connect with Balinese people, but in a place that is quite honestly very touristy, I was finding it hard. That’s when people recommend I meet with Frances.
Meeting Frances and Adi
Frances, alongside her partner Adi, are founders of Tresna Bali Cooking School – an upmarket culinary experience that hones in on Balinese cuisine. Frances is also the ONLY ‘holy’ foreigner of Bali (documented on Bali TV back in 2014). She is a Mangku (official name Pemangku). Originally born in Canada, Frances now lives in Ubud, with her Balinese husband, and their daughter. People mentioned her to me as they explained she has a lot of insight into the local culture, and also because she is “one of the nicest people you will meet.”
I was to discover this almost instantly, when Frances picked me up from my hostel The Onion Co. She was instantly chatty, and was eager to know more about my Bali experience so far. I mentioned what people had told me about her life “I want to learn more about Balinese culture and your experience becoming a Mangku” “oh gosh you’re gonna need to stay over!”. My eyes were sparkling with interest. Finally, what I had been waiting for.
Feel free to skip to ‘EAT’ if you want to hear about the culinary experience at Tresna Bali Cooking School.
The love story of Frances and Adi is adorable. 6 months after a trip to Bali, a disgruntled Frances decides she wants to quit the corporate world. Tired of being unhappy and uninspired (like I think many of us can relate to). Brainstorming what to do with a friend, Frances mentions casually to that she met a guy on a trip to Bali, at the hotel she had stayed at, that she has his number; and that she has had said number in her phone for 6 the last months.
Her friend (like you are mostly likely thinking) was like what?? you need to call him now! And so she did, Frances tells me how she was handed the phone and announced herself “hello Adi, it’s Frances”. And in that way that somebody answers a phone call they have been ready for their whole life, Adi responded plainly “hello Frances, so when are you coming to Bali?” The rest, as they say, was history.
Religion is a big part of this story, and one I will not be able to justice with my pen today. As Frances said, I would really need to stay over. And I was hesitant to demand her life story, it felt premature in the first hour we met, while we were chopping up shallots. But just as the separately compelling ingredients that we were preparing began to form whole meals, the snippets of stories began to form a larger picture in my head, and I began to comprehend their story.
I don’t profess to know a lot about Hinduism, and even less so Balinese Hinduism. But I understood from listening to Frances and Adi that they were subject to many curses when they lived in Bali. Regularly Adi would stop Frances from tucking into a meal, to first pray over it. “People weren’t happy for us for some reason, I don’t know why. We were just trying to be happy and live our lives” Frances tells me shaking her head.
She explains to me how it got worse – that became very unwell and would sporadically fall to the ground out of nowhere, they tried doctors and the usual routes, but it was only when she sought spiritual healing that it began to get better. But even still, it returned.
The story is rich and has layers that I cannot unfold in a simple blog post, but it involves many things going wrong for the couple constantly, until the point in which Frances finally embraces her calling as a Mangku (which was also opposed by locals). They tell me that since that day, their life has shaken off its initial turbulence. Adi says, with surety “I believe this is the calm period of our life now. There will be no more”.
Tresna Bali Cooking School has been 7 years in the making: from dream to reality. Frances and Adi explain that they both used to work in hospitality, and from observing the sheer detail in the kitchen, and constantly being wowed by the cooking experience, I was not at all surprised. Tresna means love. And if you believe in the saying that what is done in love is done well, then you will begin to imagine the grounds of the cooking school. Lush palm trees, fresh vegetables, seasoning leaves all growing around the complex, ready to be unearthed and cooked in one morning.
I took a stroll through the grounds with Adi, learning about the different vegetables and seasoning, then plucking them to include in our meal. I absolutely love food and the meals were incredible but it was made even sweeter by being able to create milk from the coconuts that were grown in their tree.
Process was a word that sprung to mind. There was the wrapping of the fish in bamboo leaves and marinating of meat with dozens of different seasoning, to perfectly frying the shallots and squeezing in pandan leaf into the coconut milk to turn our pancakes green!
Once the cooking was done, we sat down to an incredible meal and yes, I did have to sleep it off after. If this is something you wish to try yourself, you’ll be pleased to know that they sent me all the recipes to replicate the recipes at home, so you can share it with your loved ones once you return, too.
You can probably tell by the packed nature of the this blog post, that I have so much to tell from my time at Tresna Bali Cooking school. We even talked about the infamous movie Eat Pray Love, and what Balinese people think of the film’s depiction of Bali, and in fact, this is how I got the title for this article. Adi laughed as we recounted their life story, “I guess for us, it’s the other way around – it’s like love, pray, eat!”. I told them that that would make a great title for the book they clearly have in them.
In the future, Frances and Adi have plans to build accommodation so that people can stay over; also down by the lake at the edge of the green, they wish to offer massages; as I compliment the chairs, they tell me how they carefully selected a specific kind, and that together they have designed every detail of this kitchen. I realise that despite how impressed I am at my few hours of cooking, much more remains to bloom at this homely haven. I know I will have to return one day to hear more chapters of this story, hopefully this time I’ll finish the book.
IDR 600,000 (USD 45) for a 5 hour class including a 5-course feast for lunch.
Ubud. Gang Tresna, Jalan Raya Bedulu, Banjar Lebah, Bedulu, Bedulu, Blahbatuh, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80581, Indonesia.