Chef Chandra Yudasswara, host of Chef’s Table, a local TV cooking show that has been running for five years, spent much of his childhood in his family’s kitchen and naturally turned to the kitchen for his career choice. In addition to his TV show, he runs the kitchens of several restaurants around Jakarta and Java, including Portable and Bacco. Exquisite Taste caught up with him to talk about his experiences and how he achieved this success.
E: You grew up in around kitchens both at home and accompanying your father to work, did you ever want to be anything other than a chef?
Chandra: Actually, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid. My grandma used to make bacang at home and sell them to some stores and I went out selling with her. Being a chef is my stepping stone to being an entrepreneur. As well as the TV show, I am involved with 10 restaurants under the brands Bacco, Portable and Metro Coffee Bar in Jakarta, as well as Domicile in Surabaya – all founded with different investors. It’s not easy running restaurants but fortunately I work with a good team and can trust the head chefs and outlet managers to handle the day-to-day matters.
E: How did you start in five-star hotels?
C: I was lucky to be in the first trainee batch at Hotel Dharmawangsa Jakarta for my apprenticeship. I’ve also worked at the Hyatt, Raffles, Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont brands. In five-star hotels you find chefs cooking their native cuisine, so you can learn as much as possible.
E: Why did you leave Indonesia to work in five-star hotels overseas?
C: At that time, I was still hungry and wanted to see the world, but I’m happy I travelled when I did. I worked overseas for around 12 years with probably 30 chefs from all around the world. I learned so much from them.
E: What is one of your favourite memories from being a chef?
C: Making friends who become like family. I still have an Italian family who I see whenever I visit Italy.
E: Do you think it is still beneficial for young chefs to work abroad or can they gain sufficient experience in Indonesia?
C: I believe you need to see the world to learn new things. As a chef, learning different techniques and experiencing different ingredients is always good. Travel broadens the mind and provides the opportunity for so many things we wouldn’t have seen at home. Over the years, I moved through six properties and I even tell my own staff to move on when they’ve absorbed all I can teach them so they can learn new things from other people; unless, of course, they want to stay!
E: You host a TV cooking show, how did that come about and what do you most enjoy about it?
C: One of the TV station owners used to eat at my restaurant and he suggested creating a cooking show. Initially Chef’s Table was intended to showcase fancy cooking that can’t be replicated at home, but now we do more approachable cooking. Although it’s very intense work, I enjoy being more expressive and doing things I can’t do in restaurants.
E: Can you tell us something about Bacco?
C: The idea for Bacco came about from a group of friends who enjoy good food and like to drink wine, which is why we brought in the enomatic system so that guests can explore different wines – we can serve just a glass instead of the whole bottle. It was very hard the first year as it was still quiet here, and it was the same time Chef’s Table started.
E: How do you find time for all these projects?
C: I’ve been working since I was in college. I did the night shift at the Hyatt while I studied during the day; it was hard but I really enjoyed it. I knew what I wanted to do much earlier than the other students and had full-time employment even before I finished my studies. Even now I only sleep a few hours a night and rarely take a day off!
E: What advice do you have for young chefs who want to excel?
C: In the kitchen especially, you must be hungry to learn. Don’t expect an eight-hour shift, be there early and stay late. Everyone wants to be a celebrity chef, but not many have the resilience needed; to get to my position required a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
Pan-Seared Seabass & Crab Bisque
- 800g seabass fillet cut into 100g slices
- 80g dried seaweed – chopped
- Crab meat from 5 crabs – cooked & well-seasoned
- 300g tomato concasse
- 15g fresh basil
- 50ml olive oil
- 1 lemon
Crab & Shrimp Bisque
- 5 fresh crabs
- 300g shrimp shells and heads
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 5 shallots, chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
- 75ml Cognac
- 300ml dry white wine
- 4 tbs tomato paste
- 6l fish stock or water
- Freshly ground pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Pinch fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 500ml fresh cream
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon minced chives or parsley leaves
- Quickly pre-blanche crabs and remove meat. Set meat aside for topping.
- Heat a 6-litre stockpot, add oil and sauté the crab and shrimp shells until they are red.
- Add carrot, celery, tomatoes, garlic, shallots and tarragon and continue to sauté for 10 minutes.
- Pour in the cognac and ignite. When the flame has subsided, deglaze with white wine.
- Add tomato paste, crab and enough fish stock to cover.
- Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, thyme and bay leaf and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, simmer cream to reduce by half.
- Remove crab and shrimp shells from the stockpot and set aside.
- Add reduced cream, then purée the soup in batches in a food processor. Strain and keep warm.
- Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add chopped parsley or chives.
- Season seabass with salt and pepper, quickly sear both sides in a pan with olive oil.
- Top with seaweed and crab meat.
- Mix tomato concasse with basil, olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. Place onto fish.
- Before serving, oven-bake the fish for a few minutes.
- On a deep plate arrange the fish, then pour on bisque. Serve hot.
Ciputra World 1
Lotte Shopping Avenue
Jakarta 12940, Indonesia