With an upcoming book The Art of Restaurant Review and a recent appearance on Netflix’s Street Food Asia episode, Soemantri’s reputation as Indonesia’s leading food writer is firmly cemented. He recently co-founded the first Jakarta Dessert Week and published an independent food guide, Top Tables.
Is there a particular narrative that still needs to be told about Indonesian gastronomy?
We are experiencing a very interesting time, culinary-wise. Our big cities showcase a different character in terms of its dining experience. Yogyakarta is strong in its heritage, Bali is cosmopolitan and cultural, and Jakarta is an urban melting pot. It will be interesting, for example, if Jakarta can showcase a new take on modern Indonesian gastronomy. In Indonesia, we have the keepers of culinary traditions but we also have a young generation of chefs who has worked abroad and returned home, and now bring their own interpretations of modern Indonesian cuisine to the table. Each of them has their own roles to play — those who preserve and those who push for progress. It will be a new interesting narrative if both sides can collaborate.
What more can be done?
We need to look inward before we talk about going global. I see a gap between the generations, the culinary heroes, who intent to preserve the tradition versus the young generation who wish to redefine it. It shouldn’t be that way. The older generation must be willing to nurture and share while the young should be able to access their tradition, the correct way to cook things. It should be collaboration over competition.