This month, The Foodie Magazine has the special privilege of meeting Chef Sukijo, the chef who has the unique distinction of serving five Indonesian presidents.
Honestly, seeking references about Chef Sukijo was not easy but I was led by a string of good luck thankfully. His appearance recently on local TV shows shed some light about his whereabouts and additionally, some people have been talking about his steakhouse in Ciledug, Tangerang. But one might wonder, who is he really?
Well, on one Saturday afternoon, I braced myself for the ‘long’ journey to see the chef into my uncharted part Jakarta. Even if Ciledug is one of the most populated suburbs in Jakarta, it is not famous for foodie hunts. People would rather go farther to Bintaro, Pantai Indah Kapuk or Alam Sutra to do this nowadays. On top of that, Ciledug is infamous for its heavy traffic, but when it comes to try out a steakhouse run by a legendary figure like Sukijo, and meet the guy himself, distance was not an issue.
“I was literally on my own when I cooked 500 portions of fried rice with eggs and satay!”, said Sukijo about him cooking for an Indonesian food promotion in Peru.
So, after almost a two hour drive from central Jakarta – thanks to the jam, we finally arrived at Jimbaran Food Village – a complex of small buildings designated for restaurants and hang out places. Steak Bakul’e, Chef Sukijo’s steakhouse, is among a few restaurants there and certainly is a very modest one. Despite that, it is frequented by many visitors and I must admit that the whole scene around the restaurant made it comfortable and it’s also tucked a bit deep in the complex, making it far from the hustle and bustle of the main street.
It’s not hard to look for the chef, dressed in his jacket, he is all smiles as we enter. Chef Sukijo greeted us warmly and sat with us to tell the highlights of his career which spans four decades.
Originally, he started as a maintenance staff for Hilton Jakarta in the late 1970s. “I never had any training in the kitchen before. I’m basically a handy man who helps with maintenance of the kitchen,” Sukijo said. His hardworking nature and good attitude were discovered by a German chef of the hotel and Sukijo was asked to work as a cook helper there instead.
“I was really glad with the offer and I accepted it right away and off I went for a series of basic training as a kitchen crew,” he reminisced. After a year of working in the kitchen, Sukijo was already entrusted to promote Indonesian cuisine in many places around the world, to as far as Egypt and Canada.
From the Hilton, Sukijo moved to two other hotels, eventually landing the role of sous chef. He has always been blessed with the support and trust by the people around him thanks to his modesty and hard working nature. His travels abroad did not stop and he continued to promote Indonesian cuisine wherever he went.
Among all of his travels around the globe, he recalled that his most memorable experience was when he served 500 guests in Lima, Peru. “I was literally on my own when I cooked 500 portions of fried rice with eggs and satay alongside several other dishes. Lucky that the local staff helped me with the plating,” Sukijo laughed reminiscing about it. His 37 hour flight to Peru was indeed worthwhile as his guests were all pleased with the food promotion event and he got invited again the following year.
“He came up to the kitchen to fetch his omelette from me personally!”, said Sukijo about former president B.J. Habibie.
Aside from these wonderful experiences, Sukijo had always been entrusted also to oversee the food on presidential banquets and luncheons under the banner of the hotel he was working with at that time. He led his team to cater the dining needs of five presidencies since the time of Suharto, Habibie, Gus Dur, Megawati and until SBY quite recently before he resigned in 2009.
“Among the presidents I have served during my career, Habibie was probably the one I was closest to. I used to cook him breakfast quite often and he even didn’t bother waiting to be served. He came up to the kitchen to fetch his omelette from me personally!”, said Sukijo. “On separate occasions, he would always come by to the hotel’s restaurant and always look for me to cook him his dinner”.
Sukijo told us also that he remembered about being reminded to always prepare SBY’s favorite dish during every event he oversaw. ‘”Please don’t forget the president’s soto ayam, chef”, and of course I always remember to make one anyway,” Sukijo said imitating the assistants who reminded him.
Like a wise sage, after all the worldly fuss he had gone through for years, he returned back home to become the master of his modest steakhouse with probably one of the best grilled ribs I have ever had, finished with his secret BBQ sauce that everyone must try. It may be far to seek wisdom from a 61 year-old legendary chef, but the trip was worth it and we got back home late in the afternoon, facing the traffic again but with hearts and stomachs happily filled.
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE March 2014 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict