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French Flair in the Tropics: Chef Arouna Ilboudo on Food, Business, and Building a Dream

Updated: Jun 12

Chef Arouna Ilboudo
Chef Arouna Ilboudo

We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Chef Arouna Ilboudo, a true force to be reckoned with in the hospo world. His story is one of resilience, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of hospo excellence. From overcoming challenges as a young man in France to forging a path for himself on the global stage, Chef Arouna's journey is as inspiring as the cuisine he creates. Let's delve into his world and discover what ignited his passion for food, the invaluable lessons learned along the way, and his exciting plans for the future.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the hospo world?

My journey into the hospo world began at the age of 15 in Normandy, France. Born to parents who migrated from Burkina Faso, I found myself struggling in school and eventually was expelled. Fortunately, my father's connections led me to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Normandy, where I began my apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was tough, but it laid the foundation for everything that followed. I always had a plan, an idea, and I knew how to get there.

How did your experiences in Paris and London shape your approach to cooking?

After completing my apprenticeship, I moved to Paris in 1988, where I continued to hone my skills in fine dining establishments, hotels, and Michelin-starred restaurants for eight years. Despite facing racism in the kitchens of France, I persevered. Racism was rampant in the kitchens, especially in France, but it never stopped me. Nothing can crush you except yourself. In 1997, I decided to explore new horizons and moved to the UK, where I worked for two years in Yorkshire. For me, mentality and experience are key. Passion alone is not enough. Can you handle pressure? That's the real question.

What motivated you to move to Bali and establish yourself there?

In 2007, while on holiday in Bali, I fell in love with the island and decided to make it my home. I found a job at VIP, marking the beginning of a new chapter in my hospo journey. Since then, I've worked as an executive chef at Karma Kandara, consulted for various establishments, and even opened my own restaurant called Chef Cake, which unfortunately closed down due to the pandemic. Life is all about freedom. That's what I'm chasing. 

Can you share some memorable experiences from your career, such as working with renowned chefs or serving celebrities?

My journey is marked by resilience, determination, and an unyielding pursuit of excellence. Working with Marco Pierre White in London's Criterion restaurant left an indelible mark on me. This guy is 10x harder than Gordon Ramsay. Furthermore, for seven years, I served as a private chef on tour for celebrities like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, ACDC, Korn, BB King, Prince, Eric Clapton, and Courtney Love. With my unwavering commitment to quality, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

How did you go about establishing your restaurant, AROUNA, in Bali?

AROUNA, 2024. Photographed by Luqman Faisal

From the ashes of Chef Cake rose AROUNA. I learned from past failures and built AROUNA with a solid business plan, secured funding, and a clear strategy to establish myself in the Balinese food scene. I believe in a strong mentality and experience. With a strong mentality, you will be stronger and can gain more experience. Always put yourself first. I look for investors who are willing to play the game by my rules. Think two or three steps ahead.

We actually just got through a big change in AROUNA. We just changed investor and I decided to spice up the venue to give it a new look.

What are your future plans for AROUNA?

AROUNA, 2024. Photographed by Luqman Faisal

Looking ahead, I have ambitious plans for AROUNA. I aim to expand my bistro to Jakarta and Singapore and eventually start franchising because it will give me more freedom. Moreover, I'm currently working on an app for AROUNA to enhance customer experience. The app will allow customers to:

  • Add credit and place their own delivery orders.

  • Receive early notice for discounts or special offers

  • Enjoy a more personalised service with AROUNA's own delivery service.

  • Lodge complaints directly to me for prompt resolution.

  • Schedule time-specific orders, ensuring convenience for customers.

Additionally, I plan to collaborate with schools to provide a hassle-free payment system for children. Kids won't have to carry money to school, and parents won't have to worry if they've given enough money. And last but not least, loyalty is key.

Any final thoughts you'd like to share?

My journey is a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and self-belief. From humble beginnings in France to becoming a hospo icon in Bali. Nothing can crush you except yourself. For other chefs out there, my words for you are this: mentality, mindset, and experience are your best friend. When asked about any regrets in life, I respond, "No, no time to regret. Always move on to the next thing." As I continue to innovate and push boundaries with AROUNA, to follow my dreams and never give up.


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