Leaving behind her nursing job in Colombia, Luisa Caicedo took the road less travelled and decided to pursue her passion for food in New York, working at Michelin-starred restaurant Perry St. Now chef de cuisine at Vong Kitchen & Le Burger Jakarta, Exquisite Taste spoke to Luisa about her journey.
E: How did you first get into cooking?
L: I grew up in a big farmhouse in Colombia and my grandfather used to farm a lot of vegetables. My mum cooked every day and my aunt had a little catering business. So I was always around food and fresh products. I guess that’s how it all started.
E: So, your family was probably your biggest inspiration?
L: Yes. All round I got it from my grandfather, even though he didn’t want me to be a chef. But he always inspired me to do whatever I wanted and pushed me to be the best at whatever I did. My mom and my aunt were into cooking; you can say it runs in the family, it’s just that I’m the only one in the family who pursued it professionally.
E: What are some of the most memorable moments in your career?
L: Having the opportunity to meet and work closely with Cedric Vongerichten and with Jean-Georges Vongerichten was pretty memorable for me. Cedric is a very smart and talented chef and Jean-Georges is one of the most highly-rated chefs in the world. Also, being given the opportunity to handle two restaurants in Indonesia, flying all the way, 24 hours from New York, was a memorable moment for me. I told Cedric that I wanted to leave New York and he got this job for me in Jakarta; I said yes immediately.
E: What piece of advice or culinary knowledge has he shared with you that has influenced the way you cook?
L: Cedric always pushes me to try everything, especially not to be afraid of using new ingredients. It’s always that thing, how do you know you’re going to like it or not if you don’t know what it tastes like. So I always remember him pushing me to the limit.
E: How would you describe your style in operating the kitchen?
L: I’m a very fair person in the sense that I do believe everybody has something to give and I always try to push my team to give the best they can. I don’t like yelling because I believe yelling at people and being nasty to people doesn’t accomplish anything, and you never know if the person is having a hard time that day, right? I just don’t want my team to fear me, I want them to feel comfortable to say, “Hey chef I made a mistake how can I fix it?” Instead of trying to hide their mistakes.
E: Is there a language barrier?
L: Absolutely. English is not my first language either so I try to help them out and correct them and show them how to say it properly. Google Translate helps sometimes!
E: What is your approach to creating new dishes?
L: Sometimes I get inspiration from tasting a flavour in a dish or ingredient that I’ve never tasted before. Visiting local markets gives me ideas too. I also think of my childhood, what I loved when I was a kid, and I tend to bring it up to a different level. Luckily, I’m now living in Indonesia where spices and chillies are easy to find. I like to explore combinations of flavours that I’ve never thought of.
E: Have you found any ingredients that have caught your attention in Indonesia?
L: I’m beyond happy to find fresh turmeric so effortlessly here. I play a lot with turmeric.
E: Do you consider food to be culture or art?
L: I think food is culture, but it becomes an art when you know how to play with it. I mean, play is how you process the food and how you elevate ingredients to become something else you could never have thought of.
E: When you’re not cooking, what do you love to do in Jakarta?
L: Sleeping, swimming and travelling. I’ve had some of the best times travelling in Asia and Indonesia. I went to Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, and tried the delicious seafood at a night market.
E: Any future goals you want to achieve?
L: I have too many goals. My responsibility is to teach my team as much as I can. We always do something different, so I always push my team to do better. As a personal goal, I want to continue to keep learning as much as I can, to really keep going in my career. Of course, I’d like to have my own business, but I don’t know what it is going to be; I’m working on it.
Caramelised Beef Tenderloin
Market Carrots, Parsley, Salsa Verde
200g beef tenderloin
Season with salt and black pepper, sear in a hot pan, let rest.
- 1kg assorted spring carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm
- blique cut pieces
- 200g butter
- 80ml honey
- 4g lime zest
- 600ml water
- 400ml carrot juice
- 400ml fresh orange juice
- 12g salt
- 1g red Thai chilli, minced
- Combine all ingredients, cover and cook over a low heat until tender and glazed.
- Remove from heat and cool in juices.
- Reheat as needed in a small pan with some of the braising liquid until nicely glazed and shiny.
Roasted carrots and parsnips
- 5 carrots, 2cm oblique cut
- 5 parsnips
- Olive oil
- Salt or black pepper
Toss in mixing bowl and roast on rack in convection oven until caramelised.
- 670g peeled carrots, sliced very thinly
- 2l water
- 30g salt
- 60g sugar
- 25g butter
- Combine in a pot and bring to the boil. Cook on high heat until carrots are very tender.
- Strain through a chinois and purée until completely smooth.
- 50g parsley
- 35g cilantro with stems
- 3g oregano, fresh
- 10g garlic
- 6g red Thai chillies
- 5g salt
- 20ml sherry vinegar
- 1½g lemon zest
- 200ml olive oil
- Chop herbs finely and mix together.
- Add second set of ingredients and mix well. Reserve.
- Leave overnight so flavours develop.
Decorate with sliced serrano and dill.
Exquisite Taste June – August 2019