It’s a quiet weekday at Room4Dessert, a candlelit cove located on a rambling road on the outskirts of Ubud, in Bali. Will Goldfarb strides in, having just polished off a dinner of barbecue chicken legs, French fries, and a martini. He feels good, he played tennis, his mother is visiting, Room4Dessert was packed last night. Goldfarb is a live wire of contained energy, none of it wasted.
In the world of cutting edge cuisine, Goldfarb is famous. Before moving to Bali he owned a critically acclaimed dessert bar of the same name in Manhattan. Never is this more apparent than in his references. He expects you to know El Bulli, where he trained (and maybe even to have been there), to care about the precision at the heart of his artistry, to know the discourse and the history behind his work. He corrects my mispronunciation of “plebeian” - not with malice, but to clarify in order to understand and make his point. He is genuinely surprised and slightly irritated when asked, “Why the number “4” instead of four?”
“Originally it was because the desserts had four parts in New York,” he says. “People think it’s ‘LOL.’ It’s not. Someone criticized me for it the other day. It doesn’t have that kind of meaning to me. If it does I don’t care.”
It’s easy to imagine a Room4Dessert in Manhattan - disconnected from the more immature elements of social media - a world of Goldfarb’s vision, with an audience looking only to him for direction. So how did Goldfarb end up in a part of Bali which, while not remote, is walking distance to paddy fields and a few friendly cows? Were it not for his wife, he says, he would’ve ended up on St Barts after the New York Room4Dessert closed. She didn’t think it would be culturally stimulating. He concedes she was right. They made the decision. He got diagnosed with cancer, and, as he says, “fixed that, and now we are here.”
He cooked at Ku De Ta and the Goldfarb-driven laboratory-like expansion Mejekawi in Seminyak before branching out on his own (no small feat) with this second iteration of Room4Dessert. Goldfarb’s current menu includes a “50 Shades of Grace” with glutinous rice, tangerine, whey; a “Searching for Sugarman” with palm sugar, mangosteen and cassava.
Goldfarb’s connection to Bali is clear there, in his sourcing and ingredients. “Local is a bit of a trash term,” he says. “For us, [local] means the street, not Indonesia. We call it import if it’s from Java. There are two items we import from out of the country - we bring them in from France. Our key ingredients are cocoa based, produced less than an hour from here. And then spices, and a lot of coconut.”
So who does he cook for now? “I don’t cook for myself. I’m older and nicer, and I actually give a shit about people instead of purely my glory. You can read about how great I was eight years ago in the New Yorker, but I think I was skewed so abstract.”
Desserts, Goldfarb says, “had a couple of peaks - Carême, king of chefs, chef of kings.” He pauses, “You should Google it.” Sounds like that was contained to a specific segment of society, I say. “Dessert is for the common man. It is democratic. For instance, palm sugar is not ‘cool’ - because, for example, Indonesia went from one of the largest sugar exporters to one of the largest importers. It’s five hundred years of colonialism, ongoing. You don’t use palm sugar with coffee in New York. I think it’s intentional colonialism. Making a meringue using palm sugar is for the people. The idea is to shift that paradigm, except I get nothing out of it. I don’t want it to change - I just want people to want what already exists here and find it beautiful. It’s not imperialism to say you want people to enjoy what they already have.”
What is Goldfarb’s perfect world? “My ideal society I already have, in my house. I had it in New York. It was awesome. I have that here, too. I’m older than the people that are enjoying it now - that’s the key difference. I’m enjoying it more, that’s the biggest difference. Before, there were frequently times when I wasn’t happy, but I also think that over analyzing behavior becomes a little bit like a vaudeville monkey.”
Goldfarb says he keeps everything he’s ever written, and nothing that others write about him - for him the audience is only peripheral. He is, as it seems he has always been, focused on his dream. Maybe Room4Dessert is now a place where he invites each of us, through his dream, to figure out what ours might be? Perhaps too sentimental but, as Goldfarb says, “I’m a romantic. I would’ve called myself that back then too, but I just didn’t get it ten years ago. The restaurant is about what people feel when they’re here. It’s not abstract at all. I want them to feel happy…on their own terms, not related to my perception of what they should feel. I need nothing. People think my desserts taste good. My wife is happy. My daughter is happy. It’s just impossible to be cynical at a point. The world conspires against the possibility of being cynical. Of course I was very cynical when I was younger. I’m a skeptic of things other people say but...the first blurb I ever had written about me had the word “globetrotter” in it. It’s like, full circle.”
Find Room4Dessert, with Goldfarb at the helm, in Ubud, Bali - or virtually here.