Originally from France, Antoine has lived in Indonesia for over 20 years. Chef Antoine researched and developed the cuisine concept behind Kaum Restaurant, which I worked on the opening in Hong Kong. He loves his batik shirts and his nickname is the Chef in Batik!
Let’s learn a little more about Antoine…
Was there a dish you ate, that led you to decide to become a chef?
None…I decided to become a chef, not because of food but by an honest passion for cooking!
What is your personal favorite cuisine?
I do not have a personal favorite cuisine (even though I love my native French food). It all depends on the moment’s mood! But I tend to like spicy and tasty food which respects the true values of each ingredients.
What is your favorite cooking technique?
I do like cooking over plain wood (or charcoal) fire…could be either directly grilling some ingredients or just braising some food in a natural clay pot.
Name three of your favourite ingredients you like to cook with?
Garlic – Chili – Seafood (Including Fish)
You have been researching Indonesian cuisine and travelled all around the Archipelago which is very diverse in culture and cuisine. Which island did you enjoy the most? And why?
I do like Kalimantan (don’t take me wrong I do like all the islands in this country)…few reasons: the jungle and wild life (which, unfortunately) is slowly disappearing), the Dayak people (for their joie de vivre and mysticism), the ingredients which can be found only there (Salt Krayan – fruits – Herbs – Game), the cuisine (which is primitive in term of technical preparation skills) match very well this island spirit and identity, their ancestral cultural heritage based on family and tribal values.
How diverse is the Indonesian cuisine?
With over 300 tribes living in this Archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is definitely a paradise for culinary diversity. Indonesian cuisine was, as well, heavily influenced by the different nations which colonised it (or at least using this country as a trading platform). Diversity comes as well from the different weather patterns and the fertility of the soil, which ultimately will affect the taste and the availability of the basic cooking ingredients! Depending on the region, you will find food which is utterly spicy, while in some other province the food will be sweet and mild. Unity in Diversity!
Can you name ingredients that are only found in specific islands and cannot be exported?
Turmeric flower – Rotan stems – Ulat Sagu (caterpillar) – Dangke Cheese – Kulat Bentilung (mushrooms) – Papaya Flower – Buah Kapuk (fruit) – Tiwadak Banyu (fruit) – Daun Kelakai (Leaves) – Mangrove Apple – Oncom – Coconut Crab…to name few of them.
Can you share interesting experiences that you had whilst you were living with local tribes?
All the experience that I went through, were very interesting and unique indeed, all different and all teaching me some new knowledge not only about food, but on life, spirituality, art and human interaction! Let’s say the Dayak tribe taught me how to live in harmony with our world, the Toraja tribe taught me how to respect family, alive or dead, the Mandar taught me how to live in harmony with the sea, the Papuan taught me how to laugh all time and how to get the best effective medicine from our immediate surrounding. By past experiences, I have learnt how to adapt my lifestyle to the tribe tradition with the do-and don’t do rules! Being a foreigner visiting remote areas, I was always very warmly welcomed with all the people eager to share their knowledge, experience, culinary skills and lifestyle!
How different were the preparation techniques used by the local tribes? What do you think we can learn from them?
Local tribes are living in an open supermarket…with all fresh ingredients easily accessible and at no money or little cost. The culinary heritage of the tribes, could be divided in two sections: the food for everyday meal – the food for special occasion (religious, harvests, births). I personally learned from them, how to respect the food as a life ingredient. Most of the tribes are using very similar cooking techniques: using mainly wood as basic source of energy, so food could be either grilled, baked (stone baking), boiled, braised, sautéed. The concept of deep frying is somehow quite new for many of those tribes, however, they start to understand that deep frying ingredients could extend their shelf life as well! We shall learn from them, on how to respect our planet in order to be able to give and take in a harmonious and sustainable manner…it is as simple as that!
What is your favorite dish from Indonesia?
Babat Gongso, a dish which is originally from Central Java (Semarang region). It’s basically, some cooked beef tripe with are wok fried with a lot of red chili bird, some sweet soya sauce and vegetables. The combination is just outstanding, as the wok cooking process caramelises all the ingredients which not affect only the taste but the texture as well.
Which one of the cooking technique is your favorite one? Bakes, grilled, fried…?
I do like to cook, using the basic fire in its simplest way. Even raw food could be considered as a technique, wouldn’t you agree? I personally do not enjoy the frying technique though I do have to use it from time to time.
Can you share with us, what are you working on these days?
I am presently finalising my Indonesian culinary book which will be published in French, by end of this year. I am as well working on a concept of an Indonesian culinary school, open for all. I’m also working on some videos to showcase the culinary heritage of Indonesia.
Where does Indonesian cuisine rank on the international culinary scene, in your opinion?
Unfortunately, still very low…due mainly to the lack of synergy between all parties involved in promoting the Indonesian cuisine abroad. All the actions which are currently done are purely cosmetic without any proper long term planning! Things are slowly changing and I am very optimistic that in a couple of years Indonesian cuisine will be treated on par with its neighbouring country cuisine! Another issue as well, is the total absence of knowledge about Indonesia in the Western world. Most people know Bali but won’t be able to pinpoint Indonesia, as a country on a map.
What is your ultimate trick that home cooks can use at any time?
Do not try to make things too complicated, just be yourself, follow your style and your inspiration!
Thanks Antoine! We really appreciate your time! We can’t wait to explore some of the flavours you’ve told us about! To find out more about Antoine please click here.