As a molecular gastronomist, Ronald Prasanto’s work has been acknowledged by many, including legendary Ferran Adria himself. But what about his life away from the kitchen? We discover something sinfully delicious from the man behind Ron’s Laboratory.
Business appears good and busy as we approached Ron’s Laboratory during a fine afternoon. As always the clouds of smoke coming out of the mixing bowls have always been the sign of their use of liquid nitrogen that can only witnessed from a handful of ice cream shops in Jakarta which utilize this molecular gastronomy technique.
At Ron’s Laboratory, it does feel like we’re in real laboratory with the attendants wearing white coats working from behind the counter, mixing the ice cream formula from the vessels with liquid nitrogen, and finally putting the finishing touch on the colorful mango pudding dim sum ice cream flavor or the unique M&M gelato with cookies and cream cheese injection.
Meanwhile in one corner, the owner sits down and relaxed while conversing casually with his friend. Now, let us meet Ronald Prasanto, a quirky guy with a good sense of humor who takes his business seriously down to the most minute details. “In this line of business, we have to be precise with the formula to ensure full satisfaction of the customer and also be conscious of the safety”, said Ronald. For instance, the ice cream made by using liquid nitrogen may result in a light frostbite on the tongue and Ronald has come up with a formula to anticipate that.
The story of how he became one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy started when he became a judge for a barista championship alongside Toni Wahid, a prominent coffee blogger also known as Cikopi. “We were thinking that coffee should be more exciting than just brewing it with spices or performing latte art, and at that point, I promised him to make something unique over the course of one month”, he said.
This very conversation was what made Ronald decide to learn about molecular gastronomy and how he could apply it to coffee specifically at that time. The research was a thorough one as not only did he experimented a lot by himself, he also corresponded with Ferran Adria’s team regarding the tips and tricks about molecular gastronomy.
The result was fantastic as not only was he able to invent his own espresso ravioli and proved to Toni Wahid that he could create something new for coffee. “Aside from that, Ferran Adria asked my permission to feature the espresso ravioli for El Bulli for the whole month!” said Ronald gratefully. The espresso ravioli is made from a reaction between liquid espresso mixed with sodium alginate and then put inside a bowl of calcium chloride. After mixing those two, the espresso’s form turns into an egg yolk-like jelly, ready to be served alongside a shot of milk.
As time went by, Ronald decided to incorporate the molecular gastronomy technique he had been learning so far with ice cream making. That’s pretty much what we can see with Ron’s Laboratory now. He creates so many interesting flavors through his experiments from his laboratory back home almost every day. “Well, it’s more like a small garage rather than a laboratory!” he cheerfully confessed.
Some people may think that molecular gastronomy is as complicated as rocket science and the players who have the knowledge are considered as those who achieved a new level of sophistication. While that may be true, Ronald ultimately admits that what he likes best is the simple and hearty street food at the end of the day. Alongside Adi Taroepratjeka, a TV show presenter who is also a coffee expert, he wanders around Jakarta to sample street food while working together for a café concept project for a big oil company quite recently.
“Adi has the comparison data but one time we sampled several nasi uduk hawkers around Kebon Kacang to know which one has better fritters, which one has better nasi uduk, and other details!”, confessed Ronald while heartily laughing. The best part was actually when we heard him declare that healthy food is actually what he really likes. Seeing us perplexed, he continued, “By that I was meant about eating the innards of the cow and goat and you have to admit that it simply makes you happy and ‘healthy’!” I swear that everybody could hear our laughter throughout the ice cream shop upon hearing that!
“I really enjoy savoring Soto Betawi, sop kaki sapi, and particularly when I was having this goat’s head curry back in Tegal! Additionally from the tabooed vegetable, once I had one of the best grilled jengkol with coconut milk back in Cirebon”, confessed Ronald enthusiastically.
So, after all those work for precise calculations and having the access of world’s most gourmet ingredients to work with, everyone is basically the avid fan of traditional food. Truly, nothing could beat how hearty street food is, and that’s the case also for Ronald Prasanto.
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE April 2014 edition
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Photos by: Dennie Benedict