6 weeks venturing up the western coast of Australia and we had made it to Darwin. Next stop: Bali. The planes out of Darwin weren’t big enough for Ernesto and so the Hunter was trucked back to catch a flight out of Perth. I was a little over-laden too, so I waded through the airport in two pairs of jeans, 4 socks, 6 pairs of underwear and a moleskin riding jacket at the height of the Darwinian humidity to beat the 20kg luggage allowance.

Bali is such a magical island. It works its way under your skin and into your soul. It’s a predominantly Hindu population in a Muslim country and makes up one of more than 17,500 islands. What is it about this single rock in the ocean? Why does David Attenborough say that, of all the places in the world he has been, Bali is his number one? I guess answering a question like that is beyond comprehension. It’s just the feel…it’s the “vibe”…it’s the serenity, the smell of two-stroke, it’s…In all sincerity, I can’t say what it is. Bali doesn’t necessarily have the best beaches in the world. It doesn’t have the lushest jungle nor the tallest mountains. The food is delicious, but doesn’t boast flavours that aren’t replicated in other south-east Asian cuisines. However, for some reason, Bali drags you in and refuses to let go.

It caught a couple of friends 30 years ago. Rick and Dave set out from Perth in their late twenties on their own round-the-world adventures. Over a couple of years Dave had built himself a yacht in his parent’s backyard. One final coat of varnish and it was set for its maiden voyage – the Fremantle to Bali yacht race. From here it was across to Singapore, straddling Thailand and the Bay of Bengal, into the Arabian sea, around the Cape of Good Hope and up through to Europe and the Mediterranean. Rick, having mutinied Dave, jumped on an opposition vessel and the winner of that race seems to differ depending on who you ask. Regardless, Dave landed in Bali and never left. Rick tried to push on, sailing his way through South America, the Med and the Caribbean, but ultimately landed back in Bali, working on Dave’s boats. It seems that no matter how they tried, Bali’s magnetism had pulled them in.

Bali’s magnetism caught me, too – magnetically drawing the front of my scooter to the front of an oncoming truck. Or so I am told. I can’t actually remember what happened – I just woke up in a hospital bed next to my buddy Joel, convinced that I was still in Darwin. Think I must have copped a fair whack on the noggin. It was a bloody frightening little period and of all the tourist sites in Bali, the local hospital is not one that I would highly recommend visiting, if you can avoid it.

In all the circumstances, the damage wasn’t too bad. I “walked” away with a crack in my foot and knee cap. I’m pretty sure there were some cracked ribs, too. Joel could tango till his heart was content – his legs and body remaining unbroken, his face however didn’t look so pretty. He broke both his cheeks and shattered his nose along with a few teeth. It took a lot of searching to find the silver lining in this cloud, however have definitely taken some lessons from it. It’s probably not being overly melodramatic to say that we could have died or have been far more seriously injured. I’m counting my lucky stars and ensuring that the rest of the journey is devoted to wellness – more long mountain walks and early morning jogs. It also made me stop and consider the seriousness of this journey and how any small slip-ups or lapses in concentration could be incredibly dangerous.

I was lucky to have this realisation in Bali. We had friends around to help us and I was less than a 4-hour, $200 flight from home. If this had happened in Pakistan, for example, this blog might have been very different. The set-back has made me even more dedicated to finish the journey. The whole notion of tying in the Black Dog to this ride was to show that, against adversity, in tough times – you can pull through. And I’ll pull through this. Thanks go to everyone in Bali (especially Yen, Rick and Dave ), Benno & Trudy and Mum, Dad & Lizey for taking me back, looking after me and cleaning between my toes when I couldn’t reach…Thanks also to Joel for…he knows why.

But as I was mentioning before, Bali wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it was far from it. Hunter Motorcycles Indonesia arranged a meet and greet with the 5-star Westin Hotel Nusa Dua resort some months ago. After a frantic, impromptu, last-minute, late-night trip to Jakarta we were able to bring Indonesia’s most famous chef, the tattooed, Harley-riding Masterchef judge Juna Rorimpandey to the table. The Hotel jumped at the opportunity and what resulted was a major production. I brought over fellow Masterchef contestant Ben Ungermann and the three of us teamed up with the highly talented, enigmatic and celebrated Chef Allesandro Molini for a four-course fine dining degustation for 150 people in Nusa Dua.

We stayed at the hotel for two weeks, cooking, preparing and over-indulging in the breakfast buffet at this beautiful sea-side resort, retiring at night to our marbled king bedrooms. Not exactly the rough, rugged swagging conditions of Australia to which Benno and I had become accustomed.

The night itself was absolutely incredible and it was amazing to see a brigade of over 130 chefs pumping round the clock to service the Hotel’s many restaurants. The team on the night was well-oiled and we plated each meal on stage for the diners to see. It was a very unique experience and no expense was spared – pop up cocktail bar, MC’s, charity auction and a grand piano decked out with a white-frocked diva entertaining through the night. The dinner was filmed and shown on the major Indonesian TV network “MNC”. Everyone loved it, the room was spectacular and the night was one to remember.

Now is probably as good a time as any for a quick recipe – I’ll do my beetroot dish from the Westin’s Masterchef night, skip through if not of interest – I’m back in Perth now, healing and preparing to jump back in the saddle. Not long now!

I was tasked with plating a vegetarian entrée to start the meal before Juna’s snapper and lemongrass, Alessandro’s chicken ballotine betutu and Ben Ungermann’s trademark pumpkin, coffee and cardamom dessert. This was my Beetroot Salad – a light, slightly sharp, acidic dish which is a perfect way to begin a meal, preparing the palette almost as a cleanser for what you’ve eaten already that day.

It’s also a meaningful dish which resonates with my view on food. It utilises the beetroot leaves – often thrown away and going to waste. Beetroot leaves are just like any other fresh leafy vegetable and are absolutely edible and, indeed, quite delicious.

Beetroot Salad

Pickled beets:

  • 1 bunch baby heirloom beetroots (leaves attached)
  • 1 knob fresh ginger
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1.6L water
  • 200ml vinegar
  • 20g sugar
  • 10g salt

Labneh

  • 400ml yoghurt
  • 50ml olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Dressing:

  • 100ml olive oil
  • 100ml lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Beetroot reduction

  • 5 – 10 ordinary beetroots (250 – 400ml juice)
  • 4 oranges (200ml juice)
  • 6 carrots (150ml juice)
  • 50g sugar

Garnish:

  • Fresh beet leaves
  • Deep-fried beet leaves
  • Roasted, crumbled walnuts
  • Julienned ginger from poaching liquid

Pickled Beets

Take a bunch of baby heirloom variety beetroots (normal purple beets are fine, but heirloom will provide a striking variety of colours that really sets this dish off). Clip the stalks 5mm from the tuber, leaving the leaves in-tact.

Pick through the leaves – keep the young, vibrant ones fresh in water or on a wet paper towel in the fridge. We’ll keep the older or bug-bitten leaves, too however these will be deep fried, so no need to fret too much over keeping these fresh or pretty. They’ll brown up anyway.

Bring the beets to a very slow and gentle simmer in a poaching liquid of approximately 70% – 80% water, 10% – 20% vinegar, 5% – 10% sugar and 3 – 5% salt (the percentages are vague so as to represent the flexibility of the measurements. A little more vinegar will be more acidic, more sugar…sweeter, and so forth). Add your choice of aromats to the poaching liquid including a knob of fresh ginger, some thyme and maybe a few cloves. Remove and cool the beets when just tender to skewer. Cut into quarters.

Beetroot reduction:

Meanwhile make the beetroot reduction. Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and reduce until a thick, deep coloured syrupy consistency. The liquid will evaporate and the natural sugars (plus added sugar) will make a delicious, sweet vegetarian jus that can also be paired with meat. It will take a good 40 minutes or so.

Labneh:

Hang the yoghurt in a muslin cloth in the fridge for about 3 or 4 hours. Discard the liquid that strains off. Mix the olive oil and salt into the thickened yoghurt. You now have labneh. Add vanilla and sugar instead of oil and salt for a dessert variety.

Dressing:

Add ingredients and whisk or shake to combine.

Putting it together:

Place a dollop of labneh in the base of a shallow bowl. Add 4 or 5 quarters of beetroot in a pile on top. Drizzle with beetroot jus. Place 3 or 4 sticks of thinly julienned ginger around. Lay over fresh leaves and deep fried leaves (literally just leaves fried in oil for a minute or two to make crispy). Dress the leaves with olive oil and lemon dressing. Crumble roasted walnuts on top. Some lemon zest for colour wouldn’t hurt.

This dish works really well together. It showcases beetroot a few different ways (juiced, pickled and leaves both fresh and crispy) and the acidity works with the creamy labneh and toasty, earthy walnuts and the ginger bite.