Kaum and Get It
A passionate team of cultural entrepreneurs is redefining what it means to eat, drink and live like an Indonesian—in Sai Ying Pun. Ronald Akili introduces Charmaine Mok to Potato Head and its celebration of his island nation THERE IS A CERTAIN CHARM TO TH
n a time when dining trends are dictated by how intricately a chef can plate his microgreens and edible flowers, there is a certain charm to the rusticity of a simple plate of rendang—a rich elixir of coconut milk and spices enveloping meat and vegetables—unfussily garnished yet proudly presented. The version we try comes with a flutter of purple sweet potato crisps, a drizzle of ivory coconut cream and a tangle of red chilli and fried shallots. We knock elbows with our fellow diners, each desperate for another helping of the tender beef and red beans, which have soaked up the flavours of ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric leaves and ground red chillies—the thick sauce a product of at least eight hours of slow cooking to achieve its sultry complexity.
Rendang daging sapi is one of the standout dishes of the newly opened Kaum restaurant at Potato Head Hong Kong, and the ritual of eating it is an ideal way to start exploring the philosophy behind this ambitiously multifaceted lifestyle project by PTT Family, headed by Indonesian entrepreneurs Ronald Akili and Jason Gunawan. The duo started their business seven years ago in Jakarta with the original Potato Head, a casual restaurant serving comfort food and killer cocktails, and have since created several of the region’s hottest destinations—most famously the Potato Head Beach Club at Seminyak, Bali, and Potato Head Folk in Singapore’s Keong Saik district, where international hipsters mingle with Chinatown denizens. At the heart of this budding empire, though, is a yearning to capture and disseminate the richness and diversity of Indonesian culture and cuisine while presenting it through the eyes of the global citizen.
Ronald, who is of Chinese and Indonesian heritage (his father’s side hails from northern Sulawesi), explains that the Hong Kong project has been an opportunity for him to continue learning about his own culture through creating a microcosm of Indonesia via its food, drink, design and architecture. Ronald spent 13 years at school and university in Hawaii, graduating with a master’s degree in entrepreneurial studies, before returning to his hometown of Jakarta in his early-twenties to do an internship with a property developer. After a year, Ronald started his own residential project, Tanah Teduh, with acclaimed architect Andra Matin and nine other leading Indonesian designers, who instilled in him an appreciation for local materials and sustainable design. “When I went back to Indonesia, I realised how rich and unique our culture was,” he recalls. Indeed, just two years after embarking on the project, Ronald decided to launch the first Potato Head in Jakarta’s Pacific Place; Tanah Teduh was completed in 2012.