Shanti Allen of Alchemy Bali Raw Vegan Restaurant

Meet Shanti Allen, Executive Chef and founder of Alchemy, Ubud’s first completely raw vegan restaurant.

Shanti meets me for our interview in a sundress and sandals, her long blonde hair loosely braided to one side.  I follow her through the kitchen, where a bank of food dehydrators are concentrating flavors, and creating the textures raw foodies love.  The smell is nutty and warm.  “They are going pretty much all the time,” she says.  The kitchen staff is prepping a colorful assortment of tropical fruits and dark green vegetables.

She leads me upstairs to a balcony and offers me a bright bean bag as she settles into one herself.  I’ve spoken with a lot of chefs, but I can’t think of a single one I would describe as relaxed.  But that is exactly what Shanti is, perhaps even serene.  I start our interview by asking her about her journey, from being raised in a Swedish vegetarian commune to running a celebrated raw vegan restaurant in Ubud, Bali.

Where do you come from and how did you become a raw vegan chef?

“I was brought up in Sweden in a vegetarian commune.  My mom became a vegetarian when she was pregnant with me, and I was raised vegetarian.  We grew our own vegetables, and  I had spirulina since I was little.  I was brought up in a health conscious environment.  As kids we would go into the garden and snack on cucumbers fresh from the vine.

“I also was really into cooking as a child.  And my mom was really great because she let me make a big mess and let me do whatever I wanted to in the kitchen, as long as I cleaned up after.  So I started experimenting really early.

“When it was time to get a job, I studied to become a mainstream chef.  I worked in high end restaurants in Stockholm.

“I loved to travel, and was always drawn away from Sweden during the cold season.  I lived in Peru, and also America.  I came here to Bali for five months, and then decided to stay.

“When it comes to raw food, it always made sense to me that when you cook something, it loses nutritional value.  But for me, I didn’t want to stop making all these cakes and these fun things.  I didn’t realize that you can make raw food cakes!”

alchemy ubud bali raw food restaurant

So your first impression of raw food was probably similar to many people, which is the image of eating a lot of salad and not much else.

“Yeah, exactly!

“I read a lot of raw food cookbooks, and everything they said about the nutritional philosophy totally made sense to me.  But when it came to the recipes, it was not really fun, it was limiting.  But then I took a course in raw food, offered by the organization Raw Food Bali, and we made a raw food cheesecake.  It was delicious!  We made all kinds of really interesting things, and that completely changed my perception of raw food.”

You worked as a chef in a more mainstream restaurant environment for years, but lost your passion for cooking. Yet one thing that is very evident at Alchemy and in your food creations is passion. What is it about this new environment and being a raw food chef that has reignited your passion for food?

“It´s not quite accurate that I lost my passion for cooking. I don´t think that will ever happen. However, my passion was not able to thrive under the conditions of the restaurants I worked in due to pressure and stressful circumstances. For me food preparation is a blissful state, so it becomes awkward if somebody is yelling and cursing in the kitchen, for example.

“I had this in mind when I created my own restaurant kitchen, vowing that the environment has to make the employees feel supported, happy and creative. I believe that the environment that the food is prepared in is just as important as the quality of the ingredients.

“Prepare it with love and eat it with love.”

Alchemy raw food ubud bali restaurant cafe

What’s inspired you lately?

“Here’s the thing…my job is so inspiring.  I feel ecstatic about my job, it’s so much fun.  And I never think I can find something more inspiring about my job, but there are constantly new things happening that are even more exciting.

“Now I’m writing a cookbook, and that is a dream for me.  I just love reading cookbooks, I read them just like other people read novels.  But writing is even more fun.   So we are doing an Alchemy recipe book, and it’s going to be a lot of recipes from here.  It will also have advice on how to incorporate more raw food into your diet in an easy and fun way.”

How do you source your ingredients?

“We have our own farm where we grow organic vegetables. We also use other organic farms and suppliers. It´s wonderful to find people and companies who are as passionate as Alchemy about organic and raw, and to support them.

“We like Big Tree Farms because we know the owner there invests a lot of effort and time and money to ensure that his products are guaranteed raw. We also buy from Balinese farmers who are passionate about growing organic vegetables.”

What led you to the decision to undertake farming?

“I believe that organic farming is one of the best ways towards a sustainable future, and to really have an impact in the direction of our collective future. I would love to see every restaurant and every school and every household have their own organic farm.

“Also, by growing our own vegetables we can ensure that everything is done organic and to our standards. Our farm is in the mountains of Jaliluwih. By having it at a high altitude we ensure that we don´t get flooded with pesticide residue through the water from other non-organic farms.”

What percentage of your produce comes from your own farm?

“Probably 70% of the vegetables. The rest is sourced from other organic farms.”

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