Meet three chefs who are more than happy to challenge Jakartans to eat better. By Eve Tedja.
One can wax poetic about Jakarta’s skyline from the 22nd floor. The twinkling lights on the elongated bodies of skyscrapers, the blanket of night haze and the distant orchestra of car horns form the background of a beautiful evening at this one particular restaurant and bar. With its elegant coppery tones, VIEW Restaurant & Bar at Fairmont Jakarta is charming to say the least. A well-lit ample display of wine bottles captures the attention of its guests, nudging them to sit back, relax and enjoy the sommelier’s recommendations. One quick look at the menu will tell you that the restaurant is ambitious in its gourmet offerings. If you come looking for modern European cuisine with an Asian influence, order the aptly named chef’s point of view, a four-, six- or eight-course tasting menu made of the richest ingredients available. If you are willing to try something different, however, ask the chef de cuisine to share his next plant-based tasting dinner.
Hans Christian, the 26-year-old Indonesian chef de cuisine of VIEW Restaurant & Bar, was the man behind the city’s first ever 18-course plantbased dinner. The special two-night only event was created by Christian and his team to showcase the potential of fruits and vegetables as the heroes on the plate. “We were not targeting vegans or vegetarians. All we wanted to do is to challenge ourselves and our guests to
become more adventurous in their gastronomy pursuits,” says Christian who holds a degree in Culinary Nutrition and tenured at Next Restaurant, Chicago under chefs Grant Achatz and Jenner Tomaska.
Despite being an omnivore, Christian believes that a plantbased diet is not just good for one’s health and well-being but also helps to broaden one’s palate. “It teaches you to seek beyond the common ingredients,” he says. Under his execution, humble plants are transformed. Yeast, tofu, cashew and lime are turned into a delightful creamy dressing accompanied by crispy mushroom, pesto, balsamic, tomato confit and basil glazed crackers for an exciting crunch. The dish? Mock Cheese.
Then, there are rambutan, lanzones, cucumber tree fruit, watermelon, banana, snakefruit – fruits that most people consume raw or turn into desserts. Instead, Christian turns them as an integral part of a dish, such as the case with the Savoury Fruit Gazpacho, a refreshing palate cleanser made of melon and black grapes that looks deceivingly like a mushroom soup. Most of the organic ingredients are locally grown and sourced from a farm in Serpong and Lembang.
Being raised in Indonesia and tutored on the culinary arts in the States, taught Christian two different approaches in cooking. “I always tried to achieve the balance between drawing the natural clean flavour of an ingredient and creating flavourful punch, especially when working with plants,” he explains. Since the first event, VIEW Restaurant & Bar has been receiving inquiries and reservations for plant-based tasting menus. Is this an encouraging sign that the urbane Jakartans are ready to embrace an alternative gastronomic experience? Christian seems to think so. “To me the greatest reward was to be able to change people’s perception and open up their minds. Everybody knows that Wagyu beef is superb, but to surprise them with the tastiness of cucumber tree fruit? That’s something else entirely,” states Christian, who will hold his second plant-based tasting dinner this month.
Green and flourishing
Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet, wrote Albert Einstein in one of his letters to a friend. This quote strengthened Max Mandias’ resolution to become a vegan as he was working to recover his health. “At one point in my life, I was overweight, depressed and suffering from some health problems. To cure myself, I consumed raw, plant-based, unprocessed food, and successfully regained my physical and mental health. It worked for me. I felt great,” recalls Mandias. He then decided to learn more on how to cook and eat better when he lived in Amsterdam. In 2013, he returned to Jakarta with his partner, Helga Angelina.
Living in Jakarta, the couple was faced with limited dining options catering to their vegan diets. There were the quintessential Indonesian staple dishes like gado-gado or karedok, but they soon grew tired of peanut sauce until they decided to open an eatery in Rempoa, a leafy neighbourhood in southern part of Jakarta. Burgreens started off by serving veggie burgers and hotdogs with a mission to offer healthier options that are as accessible as junk food, the latter which is frequently consumed by Jakartans.
Fast forward five years later, there are now six Burgreens outlets in Jakarta. “Whatever unhealthy food you can find out there, we have created the healthy version,” says Mandias jokingly. Browsing through the menu at Burgreens, even omnivores will find themselves tempted by the umami Tempeh Gomashio or the Pitaya Bliss Bowl smoothies. Seamlessly mixing Western and Asian cuisine on the menu seems to be Burgreens’ secret of success. Surprisingly, more than half of Burgreens’ customers are non-vegans who are on their journey to nourish their bodies with good, wholesome food.
“It is stressful to live in this city and that is exactly why you have to be mindful of the food that you choose to nourish your body. To me, that is conscious eating. You have to learn about the combination of food that you eat - which one can actually hurt or heal you. Every time you eat means you are given a choice,” says Mandias, who is a passionate advocate on veganism as a solution to the current environmental problems in the world. For him, being vegan is to think about the impact that his food choice is
creating on the environment and its people. Having said that, he is not adamant about converting people to a vegeterian diet as he believes that to include more plant-based ingredients in one’s meal is already good enough. “I came across this fact recently: only eight percent of Indonesians consume the right amount of vegetables and fruits daily. That is very low and unhealthy in the long run,” shares Mandias, who often can be found passionately sharing his insights about healthier dining options through talk shows or workshops around town.
Going back to the roots
As Jakartans are getting more conscious about their health and well-being, so too the need to offer them more innovative and nutritious dishes that go beyond salads or avocadoes. When Talita Setyadi introduced her concept of vegan Padang cuisine at two popup events in the end of last year, it turned out to be an instant hit. The succulent, rich-in-coconutmilk-and-spices cuisine originated from West Sumatra. Thanks to the migrant habits of the Padangese, there is almost no city in Indonesia where one cannot find a Padang restaurant. No parts of the cow is wasted in the making of many traditional Padang dishes, whether it’s the bone marrow, cartilage, tendon, skin, tongue and even the brain.
A vegetarian herself, Setyadi who first gained success with her
pastry shop BEAU, figured out a way to make Padang food healthier without losing its signature flavour. She learned on how to replace offals with plant-based ingredients.
Taking some existing vegetal elements, such as potato frikkadel, cassava leaves, and jackfruit curry, she updated the dishes to suit the needs of vegans while giving omnivores a healthier option. This approach works because when one usually says he craves for Padang food, it is the flavour of rendang or curry that he misses. As this article is being written, Loka Padang restaurant is at its last stage of preparation for its opening in Sudirman Park Complex, proving that Jakartans are increasingly open to making healthy food choices.
VIEW Restaurant & Bar Some of the dishes from VIEW Restaurant & Bar’s first plant-based tasting menu
Max Mandias and Helga Angelina
Mock Cheese, Tomato Confit, Basil Three Ways, Balsamic & Umami Purée
Burgreens at Pacific Place Vegan Ramen a la Burgreens
Burgreens’ Mini Quarto Burgers
Talita Setyadi Potato Rendang a la Loka Padang Padang cuisine is famous for its remarkable use of herbs and spices, making it a comfort food for many Indonesians.