Petty Elliott sat down with some of the best chefs in Jakarta to get their thoughts on food and beyond. Read more to find out what goes on in the minds of Gilles Marx, Chef Founder of Amuz Gourmet Restaurant; Sean Macdougall, Executive Chef of The Ritz Carlton, Pacific Place and Oskar Urzelai, Chef of the Spanish Restaurant Plan B.
Favourite childhood food?
Gilles: “I would recall some simple but pleasurable recipes with homegrown ingredients. A Sunday favourite was Poulet à la Broche (chicken cooked on the rotisserie) served with homemade french fries, sauteed beans from the garden as well as freshly picked salad leaves. It was a ‘family meal’ in every aspect, as my siblings and I had the job of preparing the vegetables for our mother to cook, before everyone enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Choucroute Garnie (dressed sauerkraut) prepared by my mother, is another favourite from my home region, Alsace in France and not forgetting Baeckeoffe, a traditional casserole dish with potato, onion, herbs, white wine and combinations of pork, beef and lamb, cooked gently in a traditional clay pot sealed with bread dough and followed by a selection of tarts including rhubarb, cherry, apple, damsons and plums.”
Sean: “My childhood still goes on when it comes to favourites, especially ice cream, while traditions endure, such as the great Aussie meat pie, unsurpassed as a comfort food with its flaky pastry and a peppery beef filling. It’s probably the only item I eat with tomato sauce!”
Oskar: “I would recommend Porrusalda, a Potato Leek Soup and one of the most popular dishes of Basque cuisine, Spain.”
Favourite neighborhood food spot?
Sean: “I prefer a local walk to explore the increasingly good food choices in Senopati and SCBD area, whether to dine out casually or catch up on a few personal work matters over coffee.”
Oskar: “On Sudirman Car Free Sundays I would take my daughters to go for a slow jog to be followed by a breakfast treat.”
Gilles: “I enjoy the close-to-home Warung Joglo Kemang in its peaceful green setting with great ambience, good traditional Indonesian food and some especially well-prepared vegetable dishes.”
Favourite Indonesian dish and ingredients?
Oskar: “Sop Buntut (oxtail soup). For Indonesian ingredients, I like the light citrusy Kaffir Lime and the complexity of Pandan leaves that provide a unique, original taste quite difficult for me to pinpoint: a combination of the sweetness of coconut but the intensity of citrus.”
Sean: “Soto Ayam would be my ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’. It’s a spectacular comfort food and a pick-me-up, preferably without noodles but extra cabbage. I believe part of the magic lies with the turmeric ingredient which I also like in Bumbu Kuning, as well as broiled on chicken or Barramundi.”
Gilles: “Gulai Kelapa Ikan (fish head curry) for its integration of many flavours from lemon grass, curry leaves, star anise, tamarind, tumeric, galangal, ginger and chili, beautifully combined with coconut milk. This is what Indonesia food is all about, an explosion of flavors!”
The Jakarta restaurant scene compared to the rest of the world?
Oskar: “I think we are on the right track with more and more new restaurants opening in Jakarta over the last ten years bringing new experience for diners and building the body of a culinary knowledge that enriches the city’s gastronomy. And most importantly, we can learn from each other.”
Sean: “I agree that there are some great restaurants in Jakarta and also some astute local diners with high standards. I recall a comment recently from a Jakarta native, who suggested there is some maturing to be done ‘palate wise’, which may take some years. But change is good and happening fast.”
Gilles: “I see a very active and competitive restaurant scene with new concepts and beautiful interiors opening all the time. But despite a number of solid groups emerging with good F&B experience and strong back of the house teams, too many aesthetic, superb looking offerings usually end up closing as quickly, demonstrating lack of real experience. The mistaken thinking that the restaurant business is easy money is also a factor in the demise of some establishments. Other key issues are the availability and consistency of supplies, not only imported but local produce, at reasonable prices and more institutional education in catering. I think the much emerging young talent deserves the opportunity of formal culinary training, the right tools and available produce in order to shine. The restaurant scene is probably one of the biggest employers in this country and many families depend on it. It is about time that someone recognizes this!”
Is there is room for improvement?
Gilles: “Anywhere in the culinary world there is room for improvement, not just Jakarta. Welcome improvements here would include better equipped kitchens, more widespread application of food safety norms, more professional schools focusing on preserving and sustaining traditional Indonesian food knowledge, skills and F&B management.”
Sean: “I think Bali offers a more contemporary selection of restaurants offering elaborate tastes and quality. I am also a little jealous of the fresh local product quality available in Bali while still in Jakarta we face challenges in finding quality and consistency in ingredient supplies.”
Oskar: “I think there is room for an annual culinary congress in Jakarta every year to create awareness of issues and celebrate progress. Like Gilles, I do share a concern that fishermen, farmers and traditional food suppliers in general deserve more recognition and support at local and national government level.”