Everyone has a different idea of what makes a ‘perfect’ meal. To some, it may involve expensive ingredients, a Michelin-starred chef, candlelight and live music. To Chef Felix Schoener, who has had more than 20 years of professional experience working as a chef at upscale restaurants, spas and wellness centres around the world, it’s a lot less complicated. “The perfect meal is simple,” he says matter-of-factly, “balanced and wholesome, prepared with care, shared with your loved ones and enjoyed in a peaceful environment.”
Perhaps his view stems partly from the way “love was shown and expressed through food” in his family, and his grandfather, a pastry chef, was his biggest influence. “My grandpa had so much love to share, which you could taste in every meal he prepared for the family,” he remembers fondly. Another source of inspiration for his interest in the natural, whole food diet, came from his mother, a long-time vegetarian who “always cooked healthy, simple, vegetarian, wholesome meals at home”.
Originally from Germany, Chef Schoener knew he wanted to become a chef at the tender age of seven. Over the years, he has spent a decade as an apprentice, undergoing formal chef training in Europe’s top two- and three-Michelin-starred restaurants. Upon discovering his calling for a “healthier, natural and balanced lifestyle”, he started more than 10 years of training and studies to “sharpen my skills and expand my knowledge in whole food nutrition and plant-based cuisine”.
“The value of food is beyond just basic fuel (carbs, protein, fat), vitamins and minerals. Many ancient scriptures say the gross physical body is mainly made from food, which is essentially air, water, sun and earth,” explains the chef. “Eating a high percentage of minimally processed, fresh and raw whole foods has many well-known nutritional and health benefits.”
In February 2015, he brought this philosophy of cuisine to Bali’s Fivelements, joining the retreat’s Sakti Dining Room as Executive Chef. When asked what inspired the decision, he says, “I feel Bali is a great place to be at this moment in time…There are many amazing cutting-edge and sustainable projects happening, of which Fivelements is one. We are blessed to have access to fresh, local ingredients, diverse edible and healing wild herbs, spices, vegetables and exotic fruits, which grow all year around, as well as the amazingly rich Asian food culture from which to draw inspiration.”
Inside the kitchen, Chef Schoener and his team use a combination of techniques to “create a nourishing, sensual, innovative culinary experience of plant-based cuisine”. “The foundation is natural whole food nutrition,” he adds. “The focus then is on using Balinese, seasonal, wild ingredients, spices and herbs and various traditional and modern techniques of preparation to get the most delicious and nutritious results…The ultimate goal is to let Mother Nature’s gifts shine with all their exciting tastes, textures, vibrant colours and pure flavours.”
So what is the chef’s favourite dish he has created for Fivelements so far? “Our selection of raw desserts, artesian raw chocolates and truffles,” he replies. “I enjoy the creativity, taste and textures of raw plant-based pastry and confectionery using the best quality raw cacao, cashews, coconut sugar and fresh local spices.”
You may think a strong advocate of healthy living like Chef Schoener would also advise a strict lifestyle regime or diet, but he surprises us by saying: “I feel it’s important to stay flexible and open-minded…I honestly feel that instead of trying to work out the ‘optimum’ diet, we may be better off to relax and be gentle and kind with ourselves, and listen more to our bodies instead of what other people and books tell us.
“The key ingredients [to a balanced lifestyle] are simple: adequate sunshine, good quality water and air, earthing (walking bare feet on the earth), physical movement, rest and meditation, and eating real food, mainly plants that are fresh, natural (organic and wild), local and seasonal, and which grow around you. These are simple but powerful choices we can make every day.”