Episode IV: A New Hope for Indonesian Cuisine

A New Hope for Indonesian Cuisine

There is one thing happening in the past year that is as exciting as the Star Wars saga: The stars are aligned almost perfectly and Indonesian cuisine is officially on the right track to start achieving its long-overdue global recognition. The signs are clear. In the next few years, Indonesian cuisine will appeal not only to early adopters worldwide, but to the general mass as well. Let’s break it down point by point.

The accomplishments are mounting
A little over one month ago, William Wongso won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards—the Oscars of the culinary world—for the Best Cookbook of The Year. Additionally, Indonesia’s Petty Elliott won an award in the street food category. Looking a little bit further back, Chef Chris Salans’ critically acclaimed Mozaic restaurant in Ubud was listed in San Pellegrino Guide’s Top Restaurant List, Miele’s Top 10 in Asia, and most recently in World Gourmet Summit 2015 as Best Asian Restaurant. Despite being American born and French raised, Chris Salans is known to use traditional Indonesian ingredients and incorporate them in his Western-style cooking. I’ll never forget the taste of his Kecombrang Sorbet in Jakarta Culinary Festival 2012.

Another example is Locavore in Ubud, Bali. After its birth in 2013, in just three years it managed to put itself on the world culinary map by scoring the 49th spot in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016. Even more impressive is the fact that a year later, in 2017, it jumped into 22nd position. Previously I only had to reserve a seat one day before the visit. And now? Reservation is required three weeks in advance. The Dutch and Indonesian chef duo, Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah, are committed in using local produce as much as possible. As quoted from Locavore’s official website, over 95% of the kitchen’s ingredients are Indonesian.

Yes, it’s undeniable. Major accomplishments that put a spotlight to Indonesian cuisine are popping out everywhere.

There is an increase in number of Indonesian restaurants that are presentable to the eyes, tongue, and taste of foreigners
While it seems that the rise of third wave coffee is overshadowing everything else in the industry, when you observe more carefully, you’ll notice that new Indonesian restaurants are on constantly on the rise both in quantity and quality. On the higher end of the spectrum are restaurants such as the fine dining NUSA Gastronomy, and the “fundining” Namaaz. Namaaz plays with molecular gastronomy and presents a 17-course dinner filled with your usual Indonesian cuisine, but twisted and presented in such a way that you’ll get an unforgettable dining experience. Think of menus like Es Teh Hangat (literally translates to hot iced tea) or Sate Ayam in the form of a candle.

On the other hand, now there are more casual restaurants who are serious in highlighting Indonesian cuisine than ever. Think Botanika restaurant in Surabaya—owned by the same group that runs the legendary Boncafe—or Senyum Indonesia in Jakarta. At those two places, you get to taste food that are carefully selected to represent some provinces in Indonesia. Imagine Botanika’s menu book that portrays a map of Indonesia, and at each province there is a pop-up listing available dishes from that specific area.

Potato Head’s newly-opened KAUM in Jakarta also focus on Indonesian food. The chef has travelled all around Indonesia, even to small villages, to get inspiration. What comes out are dishes that represent Indonesia from East to West. The original outlet in Hong Kong is listed in Michelin Guide Hong Kong.

Indonesian talents are impressive
Indonesian millennials are rocking here and there, including in the global culinary world. We consider these people as the visionaries, those who took the risk of exploring the chef profession long before Indonesia started to appreciate this field of work. And now, they are harvesting the fruit of their bravery.

Take Rydo Anton for example. The 1989-born is the head chef of Bangkok’s Indian food restaurant Gaggan, three-time winner of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Let me reiterate this one more time: At 28 years old, he has been trusted to be the head chef of a restaurant with that caliber. Check out this one minute video when I got to meet him in person here. In Australia, there are Reynold Poernomo—co-owner of Sydney’s KOI Dessert Bar and 4th place winner of the highly competitive Masterchef Australia season 7—and Chef Christy Tania, a recurring judge of the same TV series and a renowned pastry chef with out-of-the-box creations. Meanwhile, in Macau there is Patrese Vito, who is now working in Joel Robuchon’s Robuchon au Dôme.

Besides the ones working abroad, there are some people who have experienced work overseas and decided to come home. Oscar Wijaya, who has worked with culinary giants Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, now serves his own private dining called TWIST. Mega Patiung also recently came back after working for Enrique Olvera in New York City’s Cosme. And don’t let me get started on Chef Budi Lee, who has followed William Wongso all over the world. On the coffee sides of things, we have Ottoman’s Coffee Brewers’ Harison Chandra, who placed 7th in one of world’s biggest coffee championship, World Brewers Cup. This achievement is unprecedented for any Indonesian.

One more name that is impossible not to mention is the brain behind Beau, Talita Setyadi. Besides running the highly successful artisan bakery, she recently went to Singapore to teach a class in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, the nation’s leading private culinary institute. And as if this was not impressive enough, Talita Setyadi was chosen as one of the judges Coupe de Monde de la Pâtisserie—literally the world cup of pasty—in Lyon, France. On top of that, she got featured in Monocle earlier this year.

What I’m trying to say is this: We’re seeing lots of Indonesian people making their mark in the culinary world. It doesn’t matter whether they live here or abroad. What matters is we do have the talent. In the upcoming years we’re going to have even better and more talents, and Indonesian cuisine is going to reap the benefits.

Online coverage on Indonesian food is growing
You know you are officially hip when you get not only one, not two, but three features on Buzzfeed’s Youtube. The three videos about Indonesian food have racked a total of more than 8 million views. Besides that, Mark Wiens, one of the biggest food bloggers in Youtube with more than 900,000 subscribers, has also visited Jakarta and created 29 videos about it. If you need some more convincing, hop on here.

Indonesian products are gaining recognition
One of Indonesia’s chocolatiers, Krakakoa, recently picked up 2 silvers and 4 bronzes at the Academy of Chocolate award 2017. This win is even more meaningful because they are the first Indonesian chocolate maker to win this award, and the only winner to use Indonesian cocoa beans. Aside from that, other brands have also reached international market. Korte chocolate is now sold in Malaysia and Singapore (B2B), and Pipiltin is available overseas. I’m sure there are a lot more Indonesian artisanal products that fly under the radar and have been sold internationally.

It’s time for a big movement
As a person who has been in the industry since 2009, I see this as the time we’ve been waiting for. Everything is pointing to the right direction. In the words of Malcom Gladwell, the tipping point is coming. But here’s the question : Do we realize that this is the momentum? Are we on the same wavelength? Can we ride the wave together and make sure that it will not go to waste, and something greater will come out of it? Looking at what other countries have done and accomplished, it takes a collaborative effort between individuals, the industry, and the government to put Indonesia and Indonesian food in the map at a level that we have never ever even touched before.

I’m calling out to people who have the real power. Big groups, who have the means to make a big impact. Rumor has it that Ismaya is gearing up to hold Jakarta Culinary Festival, possibly in 2018. Why not use it as an entry point to introduce and showcase Indonesian cuisine further? Or maybe, they don’t have to wait until the next Jakarta Culinary Festival. Indonesian cuisine could be featured in the next Ismaya Live events’ food section, perhaps?

As for government, please look at the case of Thai cuisine. Why and how it got famous worldwide. During Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s rule in 2003, Thai government launched a program called “Kitchen of the World” to promote Thai food, with a yearly budget of 500 million baht (roughly 14 million USD in today’s currency). Investors interested in backing up Thai restaurants overseas were promised aids in the forms of training, information, and financial loans. It aimed to increase the number of Thai restaurants overseas from 6875 in 2003 to 20000 in 2008. In comparison, the number of Indonesian food restaurants overseas is significantly less. With that in mind, perhaps it’s time for the government to give this matter some attention.

Lastly, I’m reaching out to food bloggers, Instagrammers, influencers, or whatever you want to call yourself. Let’s do a quick check. Do you have a section in your blog that tells the story of Indonesian food? How many of your last 100 Instagram posts tell the story of Indonesian food? From the very first time I wrote about food, I have this desire to do something for Indonesian cuisine. Wanderbites has a special segment that features Indonesian street food. It’s not perfect, for sure, but you get the idea.

Summing up
This is the time to use our whole ammunition to build something on top of all the efforts that previously-mentioned Indonesian talents have done. Currently there is no Indonesian version of Thai’s Kitchen of the World—one big movement that can unite all. If anyone wanted to sit down and make it happen, I’d love to talk and gather force together. For the time being, this article hopefully serves its purpose as an eye-opener. The time for Indonesian cuisine is now.

Here’s wishing we’ll be able to see more Indonesian restaurants abroad in the near future. Or an ultra-famous Indonesian cuisine that takes the world by storm. Think Vietnam’s pho, Japan’s sushi, or Thailand’s tom yum goong. That’s the aim.

Once again, I would like to nudge people with the means to make a big influence. Companies. The government. Chefs. Celebrities. Time to show off what we can do, for the greater good.

Keep on pushing and have those fingers crossed y’all. The Force is strong with us now. A few years down the road, hopefully it gets stronger, and we’ll get to see Indonesian cuisine strikes back.




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  1. Mumun

    I can’t say how awesome this post is for me. I so want to post more pictures of food and their stories. And it’s awesome that you’ve gathered so many information about the growth and development of Indonesia’s culinary world. Thank you Ruby!

    • Fellexandro Ruby

      Thanks Mun! Glad to see you here scooting around the site. I’m merely scraping and observing what I see into a post. Let’s meet when you can, and see what we can do more for Indonesia.


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