You have been residing in Indonesia for quite a while now. What motivate you to build your career in the country beside of its culinary aspect?
I came here not really knowing of Indonesian food, or any real understanding of what it’s all about. If you came to Bali for holiday fourteen years ago, you never really saw Indonesian food. You do now! But then it’s rare for an international hotel or restaurant to serve indigenous Indonesian food. It was after I travelled around Indonesia that I started to really fall in love with the country. So I would say that it is Indonesia that has chosen me rather than the other way around.
What is your most memorable moment in being a ‘street food chef’? Tell us about your experience
One time when we were in Aceh to shoot one of my cooking programs, there was a huge earthquake that literally split the road open. Everyone was running and screaming for their life, and many of them, not knowing what else to do in the situation got on their knees and prayed in the middle of the street. I was there and thought ‘that was it, I would not be able to survive’. I remember running down the staircase when the second earthquake hit just two hours after the first one, and I was calling my mom and telling her I love her. It was a scary and tense experience because it was the natural disaster and nothing you could actually do about it.
What would be your ‘perfect day’?
Doing some sort of extreme sports, such as climbing through mountain—which I do quite often, or motorbike off-road. I’m a very active person, and I prefer to do some exercises, which test my endurance and teach me to focus of what I want to achieve.
Your flagship restaurant, Sarong has been considered among the top Asian restaurants. What are your tips for building restaurant brand image to get such achievement? Share some of the most practical ones.
Commitment to your team and to make yourself better, push yourself to break the limits and strife to make your restaurant unique and distinguishable. Practical tips: make sure you write and do your P & L correctly, don’t go over budget, determine the identity of your restaurant before you actually build it.
Who has inspired you in life, and why?
It would be the ‘ibu-ibu’s (Indonesian for ‘mother’). Not one, it’s a group. Those ibu-ibus who cook everyday on the street: eat to live, rather than live to eat. They need the money to raise children, for living, and it has become their main source of income in life. They didn’t do it for passion or hobby, but for life. They try to make the same food consistently on daily basis and make their customer happy. I admire that kind of spirit and that’s what inspires me to dig deeper into the street food culture.
When did you realize your passion in culinary world, and what triggers it?
I’ve loved to travel since the age of seventeen, and I love to cook even though I didn’t really have passion for it at that time. But eventually during my travel, I got more interested in cooking because I can see people’s culture through food as well. Everyone knows me as ‘street food chef’ because I like to go around tasting every kind of food in all the countries I visit to educate myself and it has made me into who I am right now.
If you are not being a chef, what career choice would you pick and why?
I would be a war journalist that covered stories in the battlefield. Actually that was what attracted me to travel around Asia. One of my first destinations was Cambodia and to be there at that time and experience how they lived after being torn apart by war was fascinating.
What was the last thing that made you cry?
The realization that your parents grow older and you are going the same process as them while taking the most of what you do in life. We achieved some of them but also failed, even if we have tried so hard to do so. That kind of thoughts made me emotional and teary-eyed.
What is your most favorite Indonesian traditional food, which you think is underrated?
Aceh food in general, we had really a bad impression of Aceh region, but the food there I think is the most interesting in Indonesia. You have a mixture of Sri Lankan and Arabian with lots of spices, which make them incredibly unique and tasty.
How do you want to be remembered?
As someone who managed to push Indonesian food out there and being the part of that success.