Plant-pow­ered city

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

Hans Chris­tian

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.

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