Chef Yongki Gunawan, the naturally-born cooking instructor, took The Foodie Magazine on a tour of his three-decade career of teaching and his love for Indonesian cuisine.
The opulent suburban neighborhood of Alam Sutera becomes an attractive destination for everybody nowadays. Many are looking for their future homes here, or just to shop and eat. Others seek some breathing space far from Jakarta’s hustle and bustle, and there are also those who come here to learn about cooking.
Well, the latter part may seem a bit strange if compared with the rest but truly, there is a certain individual who lives here and has been dedicating himself with cooking for the past three decades. People do come here from all over Jakarta and there are those from nearby countries who fly straight to Jakarta just to attend the course and then fly back home on the same day.
The chef, Mr Yongki Gunawan, teaches everything about cooking from his spacious home. All you have to do is to basically enroll, drive there, and he will prepare the rest – even the lunch!
“I’m preparing lunch for my students who are learning how to make ice cream today. Please feel free to join the lunch”, offered the chef kindly while busy grinding the chilies on the mortar for sambal.
After he finishes preparing the Indonesian lunch, he officially greeted me and there we sat together in his office, talking about how it all began for the chef.
Born in a conservative family that only acknowledges doctor or engineer as a real career, the young Yongki Gunawan however intrigued his parents’ point-of-view by simply saying, “Look at the cook at our favorite Chinese restaurant. He cooks good food and make good money as well”, he said. However back then, cooking is still seen as a skill, but not as a profession. “It was still considered taboo for guys who pursue a career here, let alone cooking in their own home kitchen”, he further explained.
However, his interest with cooking is further reinforced by helping his mother small cake business. Despite of that, he still had to respect his father wishes by going to an engineering school. “They never knew back then that I secretly enrolled to NHI instead and there I busied myself for unpaid odd jobs helping to cater parties”, the chef secretly confessed.
Chef Yongki furthermore chose to learn everything and not stopping by just becoming a specialist. “Even without limiting myself at something, my soft spot is perhaps with anything Indonesian, especially for its uber-rich traditional kue basah”, said the chef.
Seeing that most chefs usually have their tenure working in hot kitchen of hotels or restaurants, I decided to ask why he decided only to become a cooking instructer. “Destiny never gave me the opportunity to enter the hot kitchen. I applied several times to work hot kitchens but I was too busy with so many cooking classes even when I was still a student”, he simply explained.
Being a teacher does not mean that you’re confined only to your space because since 1979, the year when he started his own cooking school, Chef Yongki has traveled the world to further perfecting his cooking techniques. For that, he enrolled for the full course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 1982 and has also been traveling to many provinces in Indonesia and many countries around the globe until this day.
With the reputation that he has built as a professional cooking instructor for decades, Chef Yongki is trusted by many companies and restaurant entrepreneurs as a consultant. “Additionally, I also issued certificates for my cooking courses here”, he said.
Whether you are looking to learn Indonesian cuisine, Western cuisine, local kue basah and kue kering, French pastries, kopitiam menu, or even ‘naughty cakes’; Chef Yongki has exactly all that his students seek. Not only that he busies himself with teaching, he’s also the incumbent secretary-general of ICA (Indonesian Chef Association) and is currently leading a policy to promote Indonesian chefs to hold the executive posts in five-star establishments.
“We have to learn so much even from our neighboring countries. Thailand, for instance, has been known for its cuisine better than us. The key in this matter is about the curriculum in our schools. We have to localized the content and teach the student to appreciate our heritage better”, said the chef determinedly.
It seems there is no stopping for this 63-year-old chef with his contribution for the society. His relentless pursue in teaching and promoting Indonesian food is something that us as the younger generations need to appreciate.
Sometimes we might be attracted a bit too easily by the charms of foreign cuisine but with somebody like Chef Yongki Gunawan who has explored so many aspects of cooking in the past three decades, his heart and love ultimately return to where it belongs. That’s all for his love of cooking and Indonesian food.
Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE September 2014 edition
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Photography: Yongki Gunawan’s personal collection