We all know Chef Vindex Tengker as the very exacting judge on reality TV cooking shows MasterChef and Top Chef, also as the executive chef at Jakarta’s The Dharmawangsa Hotel. But what we don’t know is that he is a dotting family man and an avid musician.
The slow rise to the top. That’s pretty much how one could describe Chef Vindex Tengker’s glimmering career – starting from his apprenticeship years in Bali, to his adventures in Spain and the United States, and eventually coming back home to assume top chef posts at several prestigious hotels in Bali and Jakarta. Behind his busy affairs, I recently found out that our Manadoan chef is after all, a family man, musician, and a foodie at heart.
My encounters with Chef Vindex have always been food related. Stopping by our table to make sure that everything was good at Sriwijaya restaurant wherein he holds court or he would be personally carving a slice of the succulent Txogitxu beef or serving Lobster Thermidor at the Jakarta. Sometimes I would catch him on TV dishing out his judgment on his reality cooking shows.
One windy Sunday afternoon, I was lucky enough to be brought into the chef’s safe haven. Home is in a high rise apartment complex overlooking the greenery at one of Jakarta’s most respectable neighborhoods. Immediately, I longed for my own home as I was welcomed into the midst of Vindex’s family, his wife and daughter Hannah, warmly greeting me.
Soon enough, not only was I welcomed to their home, I was also treated to an impromptu performance and show of togetherness between Vindex and Hannah as they played an uplifting classical tune on the piano. One could not miss out the glimmer of pride in the chef’s eyes as he tapped the ivory with his daughter. Then Vindex himself played solo Richard Marx’s ‘Right Here Waiting’. He even does an encore ballad with his guitar. What a lovely experience!
Upon this Vindex says, ‘Well, aside from music and a little bit of sports, actually collecting cookbooks has always been my favorite pastime and I enjoy seeking inspirations from Michelin-starred chefs’ cookbooks’. I spy a bookshelf dedicated to his collection of cookbooks from which he acquires the inspiration to orchestrate a fine selections of ingredients, colors, and compositions.
This is the part where I finally grasp why he instills the thirst for knowledge for both himself and his family. Seeing Hannah for example, not only do I admire the fourth grader’s talent in music, she is also a budding artist with her beautiful paintings that decorate the walls of the apartment.
‘Last but not least, I have to thank Charlie Trotter for giving me so much during my early years as a chef’, he reminisces. He admits that it wasn’t easy to access knowledge during his early years and the cookbook series from the late Chef Trotter were his loyal learning companion. Not forgetting his roots, Vindex also gives a special credit to his grandmother back in Manado. A long time ago, she introduced him to classic Northern Sulawesi’s cooking like bruine boon soup or rica-rica. Well, that explains why one time I had a good Western-style dish fused with tuturuga sauce cooked by the chef.
Naturally I’d ask any chef whether they would still cook something refined or fancy when they are at home, but Vindex chooses to stay easy and simple. ‘I never really cook something complicated back home. Sometimes I just prepare simple stir-fry dishes with grilled fish or grilled eggplants and make sambal terasi. Another time, I’d cook a clear soup with fried tempe and again, sambal. Homey!’, he admits.
Before we part, I ask the chef whether he has a message to convey for aspiring chef nowadays. He admits that chances are more open either to seek information through the internet or also to seek knowledge outside the country. Chef Vindex puts forth a reminder, ‘You have to look again inside yourself whether you have the passion, because being a professional is not as easy as it seems. Ultimately, it’s all about whether you love your job or not. I started this job a long ago, but I am still in love with it, and it’s never too late to learn.’
Without us realizing, the night has fallen and it’s time to say goodbye. Vindex escorts us back to the lobby and he’s on his way back to the hotel to oversee an event. Work may have its demands, but he surely establishes a healthy work-life balance.
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE December 2013 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict and personal collections of Chef Vindex Tengker