Recently we sat down and had a conversation with Ardika Dwitama, pastry chef and mastermind behind pop-up dessert bar Oui Dessert. We picked his brain to better understand his thought process when creating a dessert and to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scene. Listening to the candid story of how Oui Dessert came to be, it’s easy to understand the passion that he has for his craft, and how one needs to think smart and make the right choices to survive the F&B industry.
What’s your thought process when creating a new dessert?
I try to go back to the basics and remember what Oui Dessert is in the first place: a modern dessert bar with an Indonesian soul. Plated dessert is not a common concept yet in Jakarta, and by using as much local ingredients as possible, I hope people can relate more to it.
When we think of desserts, we think of all the elements that make a dish. How do you decide which element connect with element?
With lots of experiments, for sure. I look at the ingredients that I want to use and take it from there. For instance, I like using exotic fruits, such as mangosteen or rambutan. I also prefer to use Indonesian chocolate instead of ones from overseas.
Say, you don’t get the fresh ingredients required. What happens then?
Most of the time, the idea needs to be scraped. It’s back to the drawing board.
Why do you think Oui is different from other desserts?
People mostly associate dessert with something feminine that only ladies would eat. I want to break that perception. Dessert can be so much more than a red velvet cake. I want men to be interested in eating my dessert as well. To do that, I focus my attention to flavors. The way I plate is minimalistic with no unnecessary embellishment—masculine, in a way. I don’t want Oui to be remembered as an ordinary pretty dessert.
So how do you want people to see Oui Dessert?
As a restaurant-quality dessert without the stigma attached to it. People regard plated dessert as something you can find only at fine dining restaurants with a hefty price tag. Yes, right now it’s not easy to find plated dessert in a casual setting, but hopefully that can be changed. I want everyone to be able to experience this kind of dessert.
What steps have you taken to keep Oui going?
I try to do pop-ups at least twice a month. Last year Oui appeared regularly at Homebound Coffee Kelapa Gading and Maarkeze Grand Indonesia. Right now I still have a day job, therefore the events are usually scheduled on weekends. That’s the only way to sustain Oui Dessert. There’s no use of only posting on social media without an actual action happening in real world.
The customers are an important aspect of any business. How’s their response to Oui?
So far, so good. I’ve been noticing a lot of repeat customers from one pop-up to another. I’m looking to expand the market, but I’m grateful that the ones right now are very loyal. It’s all good.
How do you nurture the relationship with your regulars?
A couple of days before every event I e-mail blast the dessert menus that are going to be available. Hopefully they will be interested to come. As for on the day of the pop-up, I try to be as close as possible to them by starting a conversation, explaining the elements of the desserts, and asking for feedback. For me, every customer is a VVIP who needs to be treated well. Plus, you never know who is going to show up.
Who else are essential to the livelihood of Oui Dessert?
Since the concept is a pop-up, there needs to be a good relationship between Oui and restaurant or café owners. Other than that, vendors are equally vital. I love working with local artisans that can provide me with fresh products, be it chocolate, coffee, or fruits.
Speaking of passion, how important is passion for you?
Oh, this is a tough question (laughs). I think passion is absolutely necessary to work in this field. When I went to culinary school in Australia, they pushed the students to work in hotels. For some reasons culinary schools have a closer relationship to hotels compared to restaurants. If you want take the latter route, like I did, you have to find your own way. This is where passion and persistence come into play. I tried knocking on so many doors during my time in Sydney and Melbourne to gain opportunity. All of these wouldn’t have happened without passion. When one wants to do it for the money, I’d say just do something else. This is not for everyone.
We understand that a lot of people take internships in restaurants without getting paid. Did you go through that?
Yes, most definitely. I gathered a list of restaurants that I admired, then sent e-mails or came directly there to ask for a work experience. It finally happened in Melbourne with Darren Purchese from Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio. I was looking for a 6-month internship, and he agreed to take me in without pay. I remember him asking, “How many times do you want to come in a week?” to which I replied “Every day, I want to do this full time.” Thankfully I’m blessed with supportive parents who helped me to get through this period. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it.
And how this internship has shaped you into who you are today?
In hospitality and F&B, you need to learn from the best. If what you learn in the beginning is wrong, you would carry that mistake when moving forward. This is why I think finding the right mentor is crucial. It could be the difference between making it or not. Out of my many classmates in Le Cordon Bleu, only a select few manage to become a chef. It’s not an easy job, but choosing the right mentor will guide you to the direction that you want.
What else you have gained from this mentoring process?
A good networking base. You have to admit that in Indonesia, a solid networking can get you from point A to point B faster. When people know that I’ve spent time working with Darren Purchese and Will Goldfarb (for Room4Dessert in Ubud), a respected pastry chef in the world, it helps to smooth things out a bit. That’s what I always look for in every job or pop-up. I’m not too concerned about how many outlets a restaurant has, but rather emphasize on who are the people behind it and what they stand for. It’s about digging more experience.
If you could be friends from any chef in the world and learn from them, who would that be?
Albert Adrià, who used to work in El Bulli. He is one of the best pastry chefs in the world and now has a number of restaurants, including Tickets in Barcelona. Albert Adrià is Will Goldfarb’s mentor, thus I think it would be a great experience to meet him and say hi.
Last question. What’s next for Oui Dessert?
I want to be able to put all of my time for Oui. The big dream is to open a restaurant where I can focus solely on dessert. Hopefully sometime soon.