How was it in the beginning for you?
I always have that one wish to become a chef since I was in high school. However, my dad declined my proposition as he was very conservative when it comes about education and career. It happened again when I was about to enter college, and that’s why I have a degree in computer science!
But, upon seeing that I was very persistent to pursue my career as a chef, he eventually agreed to let me try it. However, he wanted me to choose only the best school and the choices were between Le Cordon Bleu of Paris and Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. I chose the latter for language reason and thus began my life as a New Yorker.
How was the New York story then?
I graduated after a year and eight months from CIA and started working at Michelin-starred restaurants. First at Oceana, it was one Michelin-starred and specializing in seafood. The second one was at Boqueria and it was among the best Spanish restaurants in the city.
I worked there for around three years and I really enjoyed it. Under the guidance of Chef Jason Hua – famous now as the head chef for The Dutch in New York, I was entrusted as a sous chef there. But quite unfortunately, I was only able to stay there until 2012.
Found out that foreigners – especially in upper management positions, were having a hard time to extend their working visa around that time. It was the election year and the reasons were purely political.
Boqueria had plans to expand and I was promised for a head chef position. The restaurant sponsored my visa, and we even hired a lawyer to try to win this but to no avail. Disappointed, I returned home, but my dad encouraged me to start my own place here in Jakarta.
While waiting for the opportunity to open my own restaurant at Kemang Village – which eventually did not happen, I met with a fellow CIA alumnus – Ivan Wibowo. Seeing that the private dining business was not a thing yet in 2012, together we formed up Good For Eats (G48). I received ample advice from the pioneer himself – Chef Adhika Maxi, about the know-how in the business. He had been well-known in the business, years ahead from us.
Tell us your career journey here in Jakarta starting from there.
Our first gig was with a huge company’s executives and the private dinner was priced at 350,000 rupiahs per head. We barely made a profit, but it was the experience we had been looking for. From there the words start spreading and we did around two gigs per month.
Not wanting to be complacent, we actively sought other opportunities. We approached The Cook Shop and they agreed to let us run the place for a pop-up gig once a week. The audience liked it and after quite some time, they wanted us to do it every Saturday and Sunday instead!
Our next target was a restaurant back then at Panglima Polim, Mama Goose. They let us run the pop-up during the weekdays and we began picking up more attention. Offers coming in for collaborations, but it was with Union Group that we finally landed the deal. With them, together we built Benedict and it now opens at Grand Indonesia and Pacific Place. My latest project was Cork & Screw Country Club at Senayan Golf – a brand new addition to Union Group’s already long list of esteemed restaurants.
How do you define your cooking style?
I like to be inspired from many cuisines of the world. I also like my dishes to have stronger flavors. I feel very energetic every day and that’s why I like to bring up a wide spectrum of flavors in my dishes – from acidity, a bit of bitterness, salty, spicy, and umami. For the past two years however, I have been diligently playing with more Indonesian flavors.
That side was inspired by my Manadonese wife who love to take me around many Indonesian eateries, especially the cuisine of her people. Many of these are places that I won’t normally visit by myself. That, and the encouragement from a friend of mine who wanted me to do a cooking demo for Ubud Food Festival prompted me to learn more about Indonesian food.
How do you see the Indonesian food movement nowadays?
I’ve had my fair share of experience living abroad, becoming a chef at Michelin-starred restaurants, and working with great people. However, we will never be truly credited if we, as Indonesians, don’t promote our own cuisine to that level. I have a dream that someday my restaurant will get that one place among the ranks of San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants. But surely, we must all work harder for that.
So, for us to be appreciated by these institutions – like Michelin also for example, we also need to improve the palate of our diners. I’ve seen by myself that Indonesians still order the same menu every day. It’s mostly rice-related dishes for Asian cuisines, or pasta aglio olio for Western. Indonesians need to be more adventurous than this, so chefs and restaurants can come up with creative ideas to serve their diners from time to time.
Other than this, there are friends who have been collaborating with the government to promote the Indonesian cuisine. Albeit limited, we’re yet to see good progress in the future. As for me, I’m planning to travel more for the next two years and see how far Indonesian food can take me. There are more markets to visit and more traditional food stories that I need to discover.
Can you tell us about what you are serving today?
Satay is a highly versatile dish and you can easily cook, you can carry anywhere, and a lot of twists I can play with. Today I have prepared Sate Maranggi with pickles and crispy rice, Balinese Sate Udang with Base Genep seasonings and sambal matah, and lastly – we have the classic Sate Ayam.
I’m creating a platter here that everyone can try at home or alternatively, you can instead cut the meat into cubes and grilled it. I hope you can enjoy my recipe here.
Featured on Passion Magazine