Nostalgia is a funny thing. How easy a scent, a taste or a sound can instantly transport you thousands of miles away. How pimento and cinnamon, wicker placemats, and exquisite paintings of market women can tuck you in the bosom of Montego Bay, Jamaica, even though you’re actually spending your third night in Indonesia. Bali, to be exact. Michele’s JamBali Cafe is the brainchild of Michele, a Kingstonian who moved to Bali and set up the only Jamaican owned establishment in the whole of Ubud. We chatted intermittently before, during and after my delicious meal of escoveitch served with rice and peas, and sorrel sorbet with bread and butter pudding, as she made frequent trips to our table to check that everything was okay. A few months after leaving Bali, I speak to Michele again. This time with more questions and less food coma.
So Michele, who are you and what makes you smile?
I am a very adventurous and optimistic person. I love challenging myself and I am very passionate about life. I am a very hard working Jamaican and very proud of my culture. What makes me smile is a beautiful sunny day, a good meal, hanging with my family, and finish a painting.
Why Bali? Why Ubud?
10 years ago during a visit to Bali, I fell in love with Ubud. It felt as if I already knew it. It has been calling me ever since – I answered.
What did loved ones make of your move?
Some thought I was crazy, but most thought it was courageous and adventurous! Plus, I am taking them with me on this ride, sharing pictures and stories.
What have been two important lessons you’ve learnt setting up a business overseas?
Firstly – go with the flow. Secondly – do your research.
How easy was it to integrate the business into the local community?
It has been challenging; I had to rely on friends and exercise patience, as I don’t really speak the language. But I have a very helpful team of Balinese with me and friends who helped me find resources and pointed me in the right direction. My staff all came by way of people I got to know over time.
Picked up any of the languages?
I took a short course and I get to practice with my staff (but mainly kitchen talk).
What do you want diners to experience at JamBali?
A taste of Jamaica in a casual, friendly environment, as though they were eating at Grandma’s. My Grandmas spirit is alive at Jambali.
What has been the most difficult ingredient to source?
Pimento is grown in Bali, but no Ackee. I can find breadfruit, which is called ‘sukun’ over here, and I make my own salt fish
Speaking of ingredients – wow. Absolutely delicious. What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
I love to paint and I get to hang them in the restaurant.
What does self-care look like to you?
Being present, taking time out for my self, praying, meditation, painting, a spa day and spending time with nature.
Where in Jamaica are you from?
Cornmeal or banana porridge?
Escoveitch or grilled fish?