Known for creating ‘modern Indonesian cuisine’, Chef Chris Salans has been on a whirlwind journey extolling the virtues of Indonesian cuisine overseas. NOW! Jakarta spoke to him about his work and plans for the year ahead

Chef Chris Salans. Photo courtesy of ISAMAYA group.

It’s been a while since you opened Spice but tell us how this differs from your previous restaurant, Mozaic?
We opened Spice about three years ago. We created something with Mozaic. We took something that didn’t exist then and we created it. We took Indonesian ingredients and we created something from French gastronomy from it. The question is how can we do that for a larger market and be able to export it. It has always been this dream of bringing Indonesian cuisine abroad. I imagine people can make rendang yet Indonesian cuisine isn’t well known. So, it’s about what twists could we put on it to make it more new, more trendy. So, we did our version of trendy Indonesian food. My demo [at this event] involves making a Spanish croquet with rendang and serve it with sambal hijau.

We’re also doing sandwiches with tuna and sambal mata, singkong french fries and calling them Indonesian fries. At Spice we have a nastar cake except it’s a grated pineapple cake with clove, caramel and brown sugar ice cream. That’s the concept of Spice. No imports. All local ingredients. 

You’ve been promoting Indonesian cuisine for a while. In a world where ‘fusion cuisine’ is looked down upon, here in Indonesia it seems to work. Is this the best way?
This is the way I know how. I carry my ingredients in my suitcase. And it’s the way we do things in my restaurant. Simple, small, no imports, not expensive. I’m sure there are better ways but I’m sure they’re complicated. I’ve seen Indonesian food in Amsterdam, New York and Paris. It’s always in a dark alley and doesn’t attract interest. Nowadays if you look at trends, the average age for eaters is 25-35, the jet setters, it’s about social media, hanging out, beach clubs etc. So maybe that will help spread the word too.

Chris Salans visited the capital in November for Jakarta Culinary Feastival.

Tell us about your participation in the Jakarta Culinar Feastival
It’s the biggest scene to promote Indonesian cuisine in a more regional platform. There’s the Ubud Food Festival. There’s plenty of festivals on Indonesian chefs not a lot of those where foreign chefs can come and do things with Indonesian food. So, I’m here to put the name, to give credibility to the festival and to attract other young chefs to come. I always do a demo based on one ingredient or dish. This year it’s rendang.

What’s in store for the year ahead?
This year I scaled back commitments but have been busy travelling and doing collaborations. In January we have a tribute dinner to Paul Bocuse. He’s the one who got chefs out of the kitchen and promoting food. If it weren’t for him, we may not have had celebrity chefs and food festivals. I’m cooking, and I’ll be bringing in his Chef de Cuisine who worked him to talk to diners about what it was like working with this legendary chef. We hope to do more at Spice. I want Indonesian mixologists to come once a month and experiment.

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit is a previous Editor of NOW! Jakarta. A cultural journalist and anthropologist by training, he has reported on arts and culture for a variety of publications in the USA and Indonesia.