Stuff of Legends: Chef Buyung Radiansyah – The Iron Chef

Here we meet Chef Buyung Radiansyah, our first ever professional and celebrity chef that we had in our past culinary scene. Here we can learn more on why he deserved to be called as the Iron Chef and as somebody who fulfills his life.

During the earlier era of cooking competition TV shows, we knew not of MasterChef, Top Chef or Cutthroat Kitchen. There was a time when Gordon Ramsay, George Calombaris, or the stature of celebrity chef had not yet ruled over what we see in television or Youtube.

That was the time when Iron Chef was all that we knew. The competition that pits two professional chefs against each other over a title dubbed as the Iron Chef in categories such as Western, Chinese, or local cuisine. The fierce competition requires each chef to battle their might and magic in cookery skills for not only taste but presentation over a random main ingredient, decided only before the clash.

The show which is originated from Japan became hugely popular and franchised to many countries such as The States and also Indonesia. Here, it was renamed as Allez Cuisine and received warm responses from the public during the course of its air time for more than a year in early 2000s.

For those who used to be the fan of the show, like me, would have remembered Indonesia’s first ever Iron Chef – a professional chef who managed to hold his title for ten times in a row.

It was Chef Buyung Radiansyah – a shy, tall chef who owns a huge talent but modesty at the same time. Being a chef for almost 25 years now, Chef Buyung welcomes us at his home to retell the story of a hero behind the hot kitchen who experiences what it was like being a professional and a celebrity chef at the same time.

Chef Buyung started his career in Bali after finishing his high school. “I was not born from a traditional food loving family and I can’t even speak English that time, but even with such limitations, I love working in the kitchen”, he admits modestly.

His knack to withstand the long hours assisting in the kitchen even without the extra pay earned him respect from his comrades. Soon he was asked to be a full timer and that was the offer he had been longing for. “Afterwards, I bought myself two thick books about English grammar and conversation. I was determined to be a better chef for international level”, says the chef laughing.

Starting from his gig with Hyatt at Nusa Dua, Chef Buyung had since been around working at the group’s establishments in Jakarta and other countries as well. “I moved to Grand Hyatt Jakarta for some time and also at Aryaduta when it was still owned by Hyatt. Other than that, I spent my life abroad when I was still with the group”, explains Chef Buyung.

His first time experience abroad was when he was tasked to assist in the Sultan’s palace kitchen in Brunei Darussalam. The hospitality affairs at the palaces there are apparently managed by Hyatt.

“It was massive. I have never seen a kitchen so big with equipments more numerous than any of the hotels I had ever been at in Indonesia”, he says. “During the Ramadan, the team cooked in colossal scale every day since the Sultan wants to distribute complete iftar offerings for every mosque in the country. One time I was tasked to oversee more than two dozens of rice cooker at one time. That was something”, continues the chef.

After around half a year, his next destination abroad was Dubai during the peak of its development in the late 90s. For Chef Buyung, his experience here was that the one that proved his mettle with the challenges in the kitchen. “In Dubai, our team was comprised of people from many nationalities and since we were just starting, we experienced shortage in human resources. Therefore we have to make it up by working long hours”, tells the chef.

There was a time when he had to fill in the gaps left by the other fellow chef who fell sick that day. Chef Buyung had to work for more than 24 hours straight until he finally got that break time that he deserved so much. During his tenure here, he was also tasked to improve the presentation of Indonesian food as well. “Slowly but sure, I made Indonesian food more presentable and our nasi goreng and sop buntut became a big hit there”, he says.

It was in early 2002 when he returned to Indonesia and worked at Hyatt Aryaduta. Suddenly an offer came up for him to join the Allez Cuisine. Hesitated at first, finally he decided to join the game with his trusted friend as the sous chef.

“My first challenge is to beat the incumbent Iron Chef of Chinese Cuisine and he’s a colleague of mine from Grand Hyatt Jakarta”, he retells the competition. He says that his opponent did well with the execution and was very methodical, meanwhile Chef Buyung himself decided to be more daring with his presentation.

“The juries ultimately decided that I won that battle and I became the next Iron Chef!”, he exclaims with a surprised look, as if the competition happened just yesterday.

From there, it was a downhill for Chef Buyung. His improvisations with his Chinese food and his proven mentality to face pressure earned him a straight nine wins after his first match. He was undefeated until the 10th round and finally it was time for him to resign as per the regulation of international Iron Chef.

“That was the time when people began to recognize my face. They asked me for selfies and even a lady from far away sent me a bouquet of flowers”, remembers Chef Buyung laughing.

However, Chef Buyung in the end decided to return back to the place where he truly belongs – the hotel kitchen. There was a lot of offer for him to star in advertisements and even a tour around the country, all of which he ultimately declined.

For Chef Buyung, his chef’s career was all about harmony in life. His latest spell now at Bidakara Hotel Jakarta gave him peace of mind as he can divide his time equally for family and his spiritual needs as well. “My tenure here at the fifth year now marks a new achievement for me. Here I can finally at peace with everything that I do every day personally and professionally”, admits Chef Buyung.

There may be a lot to be seen from Chef Buyung if he ever decided to walk down that path long ago but instead he chose to be a hero in recluse. Perhaps what we can actually appreciate is not all about what one can gain from fame, but the peaceful solitude where one became composed with his life and at ease with his surroundings.

Whatever the path that he chooses, he will always be our first ever Iron Chef.


Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE Oct 2015 edition

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