- How long have you been cooking professionally?
I started to join into this business in the age of 14. I was trained at that moment, but started to do this profession in the age of 16. When I was 14, I went to a hotel and asked the chef that I wanted to cook. The chef owned a family restaurant so he taught me pretty much things. I worked for his restaurant and my first job was peeling 30 kilos of potatoes in just 2 hours. My first day was spent in 16 hours of working and that was pretty tough for a 14 years old boy. He trained me for 2 weeks then 2 years after he offered me to work at his restaurant and I said yes!
- Where did you learn how to cook?
First thing I cooked was a fried egg when I was in the second grade of elementary school. My mom went to somewhere and I was alone at home so mom told me to do things by myself including making a food to eat. She already cooked rice and taught me how to make a fried egg so I did it. Then I moved to Germany with my family and I learnt to cook at one of the restaurants there. I learnt about classical French cuisine and local Germany specialities also.
- How would you describe your style of cooking?
I love to maintain the traditional taste of Indonesian food and bring it to another level by exploring the ingredients but not too much and making it looks nice so people want to eat it. But the most important thing for me is that people are able to identify what they eat. So I usually make it simple and keep the original taste of any food I’ve made. You know gado-gado, right? It is a pure traditional food of Indonesia and tastes really nice but when you serve it to people out there in other country, people will ask, “what is this?” because it may look terrible. That is when I decide to make it looks good, simple, cute and beautiful so people would love to taste it. So this is what I do. I bring the traditional taste of Indonesian food to another level so people from all over the world would accept it and want to try, without changing the taste and use a very clear and simple cooking methods. For me, every food has its soul, so once you take away the soul, the food means nothing at all. You need to keep the soul and the original taste even when you like to play around with the garnish or anything but the most important is the original taste. Simple quote to explain is, a blind man should know what he is eating. That is my style.
- Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
I dont’ think it is a secret, but it is a SOP you need to have and do if you want to have a successful restaurant. It is all about the basic; why people come to a restaurant? First, they want to be recognized that they are there to eat. So they want a good service. Then, they want to eat what they expect. If they expect to eat gule kambing, you should serve them a gule kambing. I mean, it must taste like gule kambing. Purely! So all it needs are good service, good food, good ambience, and give a little surprice, like giving them personal treat or any creative things on your menu or food or chair or table or anything just to add a smile on their faces. You know sometimes people appreciate the details you add, so why not? And make sure you have your own identity recipe.
- Do you have a “signature dish” or favorite dish you enjoy cooking?
I don’t know what to say but usually I make dish and become a signature not for me but for people. Like if they eat it they would say, “oh this is chef Degan’s.” For example, I made salmon lodeh; sayur lodeh with a salmon. This one then becomes a signature; looks like Western but tastes Indonesian.
- What is your most interesting or fun experience at your restaurant?
I have too many fun experiences here. However, the most fun experience was when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came to my restaurant to eat. At that time me and my wife were in Jakarta then my staff called me and said that the president was here. So we decided to buy tickets and flew away back to Bali. Kapolres, Kapolda, Pangdam, they were all coming to check out the place then the President arrived around 10pm.
- Any final thoughts you’d like to share e.g. new development at the restaurant?
Create something new and different, like cooking studio and do a cooking demonstration there. That is what I’m doing here in my restaurant. I do face to face event, hand on hand event just so people could experience it.