Pauliina Salmenhara, Owner of Living Food Lab

You have been residing in Indonesia for quite a while now. What motivated you to stay and open up Living Food Lab?

My husband and I first came to Bali in 2001, and like so many of us who now call this home, we fell in love. We kept coming back first as husband and wife and eventually with our two daughters. In November 2016, I was in New York finalizing my vegan chef studies, and I knew that my 10 years in Singapore were up. My husband and I decided to pack everything up, put it in storage, and come with our suitcases to Bali, without knowing what awaited us.


We told our daughters that this was an “experiment” and adventure, and in three months we would have a family meeting to check in to see how everyone was feeling. Do we stay or do we go? Our girls went to the Green School for 18 months, and in June 2018, wanted to finish their high school education in Finland, so now my husband is based in Helsinki with them, and I commute back and forth. I can honestly say I have two families: my blood family and by Bali family.


Living Food Lab fell into my lap. The founder, Avara Yaron, wanted to move on to other things in life and it so happened that Arttu and I were keen to buy it, as I had a vision of serving vegan food to school communities. This was a perfect springboard for us for bringing vegan food to other schools and medical centers around the world.


Explain to the readers what Living Food Lab is and why did you use the word Lab?

Living Food Lab has three important words in it.


“Living” refers to the fact that our food can be considered living, as much of it is kept raw, and thus it is alive with nutrients and enzymes. It also refers to the lives that we are living – our lifestyle, how do we want to engage with ourselves and our communities; what do we choose to consume in terms of food, thought and language; who do we spend time with, doing what; what is our why; and so on.


“Food” is obviously about the food. We are a vegan, largely raw restaurant and café and of course food is a huge part of what we do. However, one of my mottos is: ‘Although it’s about the food, it’s never just about the food.” It’s about the journey the food took from its growth to ending up at our restaurant, how it was prepared, how it is enjoyed.


“Lab” is about our experimental nature – both in life and in food. We love to keep on moving through experimentation and trying out new things and ideas.


What is your most memorable moment since you’ve been in Bali? Tell us about your experience.

There are so many, because we’ve been coming here since 2001! There are the spiritual ones, all the way from being in beautiful ceremonies to doing blessings for our restaurants to a purification ceremony with my husband.


One house blessing ceremony stands out. As I walked in as one amongst many in a procession, and we were nearing the priests and a group of men and women assisting him, I suddenly saw their eyes averting me and the villa manager delicately trying to point in the direction of my legs. As I looked down I was mortified to discover that my ultimate “ceremony fear” had happened: my sarong had fallen off and I stood there in underwear and a kebaya. In that same ceremony I was given an incense stick and at one point I smelt something burning and realized to my horror that I had burnt a hole in the kebaya of the young lady in front of me.


Then there was the time when I was pregnant with our second daughter, and daughter number 1 walked past me, dislocating my toe, just as I was about to get into the pool. The pain was excruciating, and I was wheeled out to an ambulance, and taken to hospital. Once we left the hospital, our year-old daughter had a bout of diarrhea and my husband was covered in it, so the ambulance had to stop at a convenience shop, the driver got out to open the back doors for me, I got up from the medical bed and used my crutches to limp into the shop to buy diapers, wet towels and tissues.


But on a more deep note, mostly it is moments of kindness and beauty: of the Balinese people and the stunning rice fields, mountains and waters. Those moments where I am filled with awe and gratitude to this land, its energy, vibration and spirit.


If you were given a chance for a fix up in life, what would you do differently?

I would not call it a fix up, but sometimes I wonder what would my life have been like if we hadn’t moved to China in 2001. What if I had continued working in the Finnish League for Human Rights, who would I be now and what would I be doing? There are things I could have done better but then I wouldn’t have learned the lesson, and I am a firm believer in appreciating the value of each lesson and applying it to good use.


Who has inspired you in life, and why?

Elvis, for the groove he brought into my life when, as a six year old, my dad made me an Elvis mix on a cassette tape; my dad for his devoted love, patience, attention to detail, perseverance, life-loving/travel-inspired life; my mum for her grace and determination, commitment to routine, life-long learning, and thoughtfulness; my grandparents for what they endured during the wartime and how they rose out of it; my ballet teacher, Irina Bystrova, who was a mentor to me for the six years I went to her ballet classes, for the self-discipline and hard work ethic she instilled in me; my children for being so clear about who they are and what they want (even when they don’t know); my husband for balancing out my hot-headedness by showing me how to pause, reflect, respond, for his devotion to family and whoever he is loyal to, his adventurous biking spirit, his generosity; my spiritual mentor, Adrienne Kane, who introduced me to reiki, energy healing, shamanism and a grounded journey on this planet in this body; all the spirit guides that protect me and stand by me through thick and thin. There are so many, the list goes on and on, because every day I’m inspired by the people I cross paths with. I’m also inspired by the “what”: Nature, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the multitude of life forms.


What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

I think my life is full of little moments of craziness, as I continue to be a playful and child-like person. I feel there have been crazy things (as in idiotic), where I put myself in danger by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as Paris Gard du Nord train station at 3am and being chased by a man there. Then there’s “crazy-spontaneous” like getting engaged after one month or moving to Bali without knowing what awaits us. Or “crazy-perseverant” like setting up a restaurant in Bali without knowing anything about it.


Do you have any tips to the readers how to have a life balance?

Creating a routine for the morning, made up of various do-able and enjoyable acts such as coconut oil pulling, listening to music or mantras, doing breathwork, stretching, NOT going on social media first thing, a cleansing shower, a moment of meditation to feel “where am I at now” and set the intention for the day. I share some of these on my IG page “rawinsideout” and we are also about to enter the design phase for a book precisely about this topic, with a very specific focus group of 12- to 16-year-old girls.


What goals do you have for 2019?

On a personal level, to go deeper into my spiritual practice and connect further with Nature.


On a business level, to open up one more vegan café in a school (currently we have two at the Green School Bali) as well as a healing vegan café at a medical center, clinic or hospital.


What do you for fun during your day-off?

My favourite thing is to be in the Finnish countryside at our house there. There is a vast lake in front of us, and we are nestled in the forest. I feel totally at ease there, and it is my happy place. I like to potter around the land and just breathe it all in, as well as do physical work like raking leaves or getting my hands in the soil.


If I’m in Bali, I try to go to meditations or events which nourish the soul.


If I’m in Helsinki with my family, it might involve cooking, or just a lazy sit on the couch reading a book or dancing to good music.


Because my life is full of responsibilities, and my days are rich with interaction with people, including a whole lot of fun, a day off is often sublime simply because I can turn off for a while. This has become quite rare in the past year, and that’s why one of my goals for this year is to spend this time more in soul-nurturing meditation, contemplation or movement. I don’t necessary look for “fun” in my day off, as much as peace, quiet and switching off.