A Balinese cooking class is a chance to connect to the land and culture, writes Sophie Ryan.
East Bali is considered the traditional home of Balinese culture and, as one local describes it to me, "the Kingdom of Bali".
The connection to the land is no clearer than through the market gardens and paddy fields that climb the foothills of the active volcano Mount Agung that overlooks the organic garden where I took part in a traditional Balinese cooking class.
Chef Sandi takes us through the garden where vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices grow, becoming the foundation for the meals served at Alila Manggis, the 55-room seaside resort nearby.
"We've waited a very long time for these," Sandi says, as he proudly points out two vanilla pods growing for the first time in many years.
The team that tends to the gardens will harvest every seed and find many uses for the spice.
Sandi shows us each herb and spice that will be used in our cooking class growing from vines, trees and bushes. The leaves are torn, crushed between his fingers and passed between the group so we can smell and taste the flavours fresh from the source.
The coconuts growing all around the farm are used to their full potential: milk, cream, water, and their shells are used for the edgings of the plots.
I arrive at this class confident and eager to learn — I consider myself an adventurous home cook and am keen to challenge myself with new flavours. But, when I see the number of ingredients laid out on the outdoor table where we'll be preparing the food, I'm intimidated. Then Sandi hands us six pages of recipes and I start to panic.
How will we get through all these recipes? Is that six different types of chilli I see? Wow, it's really hot here.
Sandi brings out big jugs of iced water and we get to work.
"The smaller you chop everything, the easier it will be to make the paste," Sandi says.
With a knife reminiscent of a meat cleaver, I carefully dice chilli, garlic, shallots, candlenut, ginger, lemongrass and the basis of Balinese cooking: the kencur root, turmeric, galangal and salam leaf.
Sandi reassures us it's safer to be cutting everything up with sharp blades that won't slip like blunt knives could.
These spices and herbs are ground in an ulekan — a large mortar bowl — to make the foundation for traditional Balinese cuisine: bumbu Bali.
It's hot work grinding up the paste by hand with the sun beaming down on our backs. Shoulders hunched over, sweat beading on our foreheads the class grinds away on the ulekan with a push, scoop, technique Sandi teaches us.
Sous-chef Juli is on hand to help take over the grinding work when I get tired and want to take a break. He keeps the class entertained by cracking jokes and delivering his spot-on accent impressions.
"Bloody delicious," he says, in an Australian accent after I taste my paste to check the chilli levels. His exclamations of "marvellous" in a Kiwi accent make me wonder whether John Campbell has come through the school. I teach him to say "sweet as", but it comes out of his mouth sounding like "sweat ass", which has the class in hysterics.
Eventually, the paste is smooth and has a rich orange colour from the turmeric and as much heat from the chilli as I can stand.
The smell of lemongrass and turmeric fills the air as Sandi simmers half the bumbu Bali paste in a pot.
We use it to prepare marinated fish skewers, mix it with coconut cream and throw it together with blanched green vegetables to make a salad. It is all freshly made before our eyes and plentiful.
Sandi tells us men don't typically prepare and cook meals in the home, but will if there's an important holy event.
Two hours later, we are hungry and dying to eat what we've made.
The five students sit together on cushions with the food served on a low table under a pergola in the garden.
We are quiet as we all tuck into our fresh and flavourful food, proud of the feast we've prepared when at first it seemed like a daunting task.