Sisca Soewitomo is probably the most familiar food personality on TV. She takes time our from her very hectic schedule to share her two cents worth about living the life of a cooking show host and best selling cookbook author. And while at it, we had a peek into the behind-the-scene story of her cooking show.
“Bon appétit!”, said Julia Child from a footage seen from a movie back in 2009 and hearing Meryl Streep say it using a high pitched voice resembling the real Julia was probably my most memorable scene of all.
Although Julia started late with her cooking career, she managed to write a revolutionary book that helped Americans deal with difficult French cuisine at a time when recipe translations were still hard to come by. Afterwards, she returned to the States and starred as the country’s most famous TV personality.
In another dimension during my teenage days, Indonesian TV world was also colored by the appearance of a local persona who cooked homemade dishes for years and the reruns are still being broadcasted by a different TV channel. Ibu Sisca Soewitomo is her name and it was her that I thought of when I finally knew a thing about Julia Child as they came from the same philosophy for their love of cooking but miles apart physically.
During my first ever encounter live, she appeared just like how I remembered from back then and I sometimes ponder how she can manage to stay young, because we all know that Sisca is a senior figure in the food world since the 70s and the first time I knew her was back in late 1990s.
It was a hot day and right on the plaza in front of The Ministry of Environment, Sisca played her familiar role for her new cooking show and drew the attention of many viewers there. She came in with a full crew to shoot one of those episodes for her latest cooking show. Although challenged by the weather, she showed her commanding aura and took care about many things such as the readiness of the stove, the pans, the ingredients, and even she corrected some stuff from the script as well to ensure the shooting went well. Even though this has become her routine, but it’s all about perfection for Sisca.
After she had demonstrated three recipes in front of the camera and audience, she also had a brief photo session with the fans. Exhausted after several hours of the filming, she sat down for a short break but clears her time for a brief talk with us down at the scene.
“The rule of thumb to become a good chef is simple: Keep on learning and be frank when you speak”, she said. Based on this philosophy, Sisca has also been known as a lecturer back in Trisakti tourism school for 18 years and a public speaker as well. Her current activities are filled with devising cookbooks which has numbered more than a hundred now and of course, her cooking shows.
“Most of the dishes from my cookbooks are relatively easy to make, but aside from reading the recipes carefully, a good kitchen will also help you to work things out easier’, she added. Suddenly I remembered that just now during the shooting, she worked on so many details and perhaps that’s her aesthetic to make everything work according as planned.
“Back when I was little, I learned a lot about cooking from my parents and so little restaurants could be found in Surabaya back in the 1950s”, she recalls. During her college years, she enrolled in medicine but decided to just explore the thing she really knew from the beginning – cooking.
As time goes by, her hard work received recognitions through scholarships in Taiwan and the United States. In her Trisakti days, she became the lecturer for several culinary personalities such as the late Chef Tatang or another cooking show maestro, Rudy Choirudin. Until finally in 1997, she debuted in her own cooking show.
At this juncture, all that she wishes is to continue the legacy she has built since the beginning and to contribute more for Indonesian cuisine as she emphasized it strictly that every Indonesian should preserve what the elders had passed on for us.
Working in the culinary field is a tough one as we all may know from a perspective of an outsider but for Sisca, it’s a matter about perseverance – especially in an instantaneous age where everyone could move around as they please and become whatever they want although many also face failures. A little bit of advice from her, ‘Be thankful with what you have, there’s no reason to give up because of small failures. If you love cooking so much, then continue to do so.”
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE January 2014 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict