Juna Rorimpandey is not your ordinary chef; his sharp looking eyes, deep voice and arms full of tattoos might intimidate you at first. At least, that is the impression people get when watching him on television where he hosted the popular television cooking shows, MasterChef Indonesia and Hell’s Kitchen Indonesia. But behind his firm and impatient look, Chef Juna is a fun and charming man who is highly admired by his kitchen team.

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Not long ago, we paid a visit to Chef Juna’s new establishment, Correlate Eclectic Cuisine, a restaurant whose concept was born out of a marriage between French and Japanese culture. “Correlate is all about eclectic cuisine, meaning there are no boundaries or strict rules regarding the menus and the ingredients. However, our whole concept is inspired by French and Japanese culture and culinary richness. We serve authentic food from both countries in a cosy atmosphere that accentuates the beauty of France and Japan,” explains Chef Juna who started his cooking career in Houston, America. A glance at Correlate’s menu reveals a wide array of classic yet quirky Japanese and French dishes. While some of them like Spicy Tuna Roll or Turkey Ham Steak with Fried Egg and Bearnaise Sauce sound familiar, others invite curious looks, like Ostrich Suced Steak with Chunk Mushroom and Creamy Sauce, Katsuo Tataki with Jalapeno Dressing, as well as Baked Jumbo Lump Crab Cake which stole our heart on the first bite.

Correlate is Chef Juna’s baby. He pours all of his soul and creativity into this restaurant; it is always all or nothing for him. Chef Juna doesn’t compromise on commitment and quality, he is not afraid to put his television career on the side for a little while to be fully committed to Correlate’s development. Among his kitchen team, the Manadonese chef is known for his firmness and discipline, the same image he has always conveyed on television. “This fierce image has been attached to me since I led my first restaurant in Jakarta. Many people thought I was acting on television while actually this is what I’ve been doing since I started my career. What I do in the cooking show is the reflection of what I do here in my kitchen,” he continued. Chef Juna spoke to NOW! Jakarta about his inspirations, what makes a good chef in his eyes, and what he does for fun outside of the kitchen.

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Congratulations on your new restaurant, chef! How did you get the inspiration for Correlate?
Not only do I have strong background in Japanese and French food, but both cuisines have important roles in culinary arts. French cuisine is very structured with complex techniques that are articulated carefully, so it is often dubbed the ‘mother’ of international cuisine. On the other hand, Japanese food is globally known for its simplicity that shows its unique characteristic, hence its wide popularity. So our aim is to get the best out of both cuisine’s culinary wealth and culture, and implement them through our menus and our restaurant design.

Is that also the reason why you started your career as sushi chef back then?
Actually, my career in food and beverages industry all started with a coincidence. Initially, I went to America to attend pilot school, but I didn’t have the chance to finish my course due to money issues. I was reluctant to go back home so I chose to work as a waiter in a Japanese restaurant illegally. As an illegal immigrant whose visa was already expired, I was determined to do whatever it takes to become the best waiter there because I was afraid to get fired and deported. I went the extra mile to make sure I could get my job done. I was also always curious and asked the chef many questions until one day he offered me to join his kitchen team. And that’s how I started learning how to cook.

Did you go to culinary school?
I never attended culinary school; I learnt everything from my chef and my colleagues in the kitchen. In my spare time I went to the public library to learn about the terms and theory of cooking while I practiced my skills in the restaurant. I had to study and work harder than other people because I didn’t have the formal education. It wasn’t easy but it all paid off when I finally got promoted as a sushi chef and got my green card for my skills.

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How would you describe your cooking style then?
My style is that I don’t follow rules (laughing). I believe that in order to be creative, we have to dare to try something new and fresh, so I don’t want to be dictated by strict rules. But in terms of managing my kitchen, I’d say that I am a perfectionist, I pay very close attention to details and I’m also a hygiene freak.

I suppose that’s how you got that fierce image in the first place. Besides cooking skills, what does it take to be a good chef?
A chef’s role in the restaurant is just like a conductor in an orchestra; you have to make sure that every single member in your team is in right harmony otherwise it could ruin the whole performance. Being a chef is not only about cooking in the kitchen, you have to understand about budgeting, kitchen and people management, food cost, hygiene, and much more. Kitchen life is very tough and challenging, so a good chef needs to know how to handle pressure and deal with problems. My philosophy is that I have to be better than all of my crew combined and bring them to the next level that they thought they couldn’t reach. You also have to be fully committed to your job since you will have to sacrifice many things to become a chef.

Like what?
During my journey in the restaurant, I barely had time for myself. Everything was all about work. There was a life-changing moment in my life when I got offered to be a cook in a French restaurant whilst I was enjoying my time as a well-known sushi chef in Houston. It was a precious learning opportunity for me but I had to step out of my comfort zone. My salary was half of what I used to make in the Japanese restaurant so I had to take an extra job. For three and a half years, I juggled between two jobs, I didn’t have time to myself, I worked during holidays and I missed so many events with family and friends. But it was a good experience, the dues I needed to pay to reach the level where I am now.

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What do you do for fun?
I’m a biker; I like to ride my big motorcycle and used to go on long tours. But nowadays since I’m very busy with Correlate, I prefer to go to the cinema to watch good movies instead and maybe ride my motorbike at night once in a while.

What is next for you?
I’ll still be focusing on Correlate at the moment, although this year I’m also helping my friend to open a Mexican restaurant in Bali. Since I’m a big fan of Mexican food, I’m very excited about this project, but again, Correlate is still my top priority. www.correlateindonesia.com