Online with long time Bali-ite and Group GM of Bali Mandira Group, Simon Dornan.
So Simon, you started way back when in Double Bay, Sydney … tell us what were you doing there?
I started there as a Commis Chef in The Dining Room. It was a defining moment in my career, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of a bigger world.
We hear you were an in-flight chef. Not many of those around anymore. Did you experience any celebrity diva moments while in the air?
Too many to mention … and of course I won’t be mentioning any of them.
Ha, ok, moving on …when did you arrive in Bali?
Back at the end of 1996.
What do you remember most about those days?
There was no traffic to speak of, the exchange rate to the Aussie dollar was IDR1,200, Sunset Road was a dirt track that could only be navigated on a bike, Seminyak was an ocean of rice fields, awesome warungs and uncrowded beaches and bumbu came from a mortar and pestle as opposed to a super market sachet. You could also eat for two with a cold beer for $2, and Bali was a relaxed and harmonious island where culture was everything and very much dictated day-to-day life, not work or your smart phone.
Then you went walkabout in Asia. How did life treat you away from Bali?
I found a beautiful wife, started a new family, discovered emotional harmony and an enhanced passion for Asian cuisine and technique.
Most people know you as part of the opening team at W Retreat & Spa Bali. In your mind, what makes the W so dynamic? And why did it take so long to build?
W was daring, innovative and unafraid of trying something new and next. Bali was ripe for something different, as the traditional luxury experiences had become measured and stale. W completely tipped that on its head and challenged the status quo. Very design, fashion and music-conscious and at the forefront delivering all this was a highly engaged talent. Good things come to those whom wait.
Experienced in opening resorts, how does being at Bali Mandira differ?
I have always sought out properties that push the boundaries – trendsetters, big, bold and loud. But I also have a soft spot for the Balinese culture, in fact that’s a big part of the reason I fell in love with the island in the first place. So coming to Bali Mandira – which prides itself on Balinese culture – was a serendipitous opportunity.
I now have the privilege of exposing the Balinese culture even more, enriching guests and associate’s experiences. It’s very motivating personally and professionally and I find that a lot of the tourists are now seeking out what has slowly become lost or diluted. To have a platform where this is encouraged every single day as an absolute pleasure to lead and be part of.
What are the plans for the future?
We are in the process of enhancing the experience with new public areas and rooms, and now we’re focusing on the food and beverage aspect with the launch of AZUL Beach Club on Legian beach. It’s very out of the box for Bali Mandira, yet it doesn’t forget who we are and where we come from.
Since you’re an F & B guy and you are part of the brand, you obviously recommend Azul Beach Club as an ideal date night venue. Why?
Sit in one of the suspended pods on the upper deck and you’ll see why. Add to that the sunset, an unexpected approach to coastal cuisine, a Tiki cocktail culture and it all makes sense for date night. But don’t be shy to make it a double date as the design and the vibe scream interaction. Who knows who you may run in to!
And what signature cocktail would you tempt us with if we did find a significant other?
Why drink when you can inhale? I would recommend our Tiki Vapor, a concoction of rums, lightly warmed and served in a sphere over a flame. Just inhale.
Being beachside in Legian, do you consider yourself a board shorts or a Speedo kind of guy?
Board shorts! Budgie smugglers went out the door long ago.
Good call. See you soon sunset-side for cocktail at the fabulous Azul …