E: How did being a chef capture your imagination in the early days?
A: Actually, the main reason I decided to become a chef was to travel! I didn’t have any strong ambition to cook, but my mother is a very good cook. I studied and worked in Milan, but as soon as I had the opportunity, after my national service, I moved to New York, then to Southeast Asia; I think I’ve worked in 12 countries now.
E: Do you have a favourite among those places?
A: They all have their positives and negatives. Indonesia is beautiful, but it’s not that easy to import certain food produce; Europe has wonderful fresh ingredients, but I’m not keen on the winter weather. There is always something to enjoy, though.
E: Do you enjoy working in Jakarta?
A: I enjoy being here at Hotel Borobudur Jakarta; we have a beautiful view over the gardens from the restaurant and I like working with the staff here. They are very keen and you can really get the best out of them. They are talented, they just need teaching.
E: What do you most enjoy about being a chef?
A: I really love tasting food. It brings me great joy, it’s a true-life pleasure. When I was in South America, it was wonderful to be able to try all the different dishes. It’s like Jakarta; I love trying out all the street food here and the local cooking. There are certain stalls that cook amazing fried rice, there is one place near here with wonderful rendang that keeps me coming back, another place cooks incredible duck. The pleasure of tasting food is what I really like. Talking about food opens up the world and is a never-ending story with everyone having their own opinion.
E: What are some of the highlights of your career?
A: I think Milan, when I started. My chef there was very tough and had worked for royalty. He gave me my direction. He said, no matter what you cook, if you like it, everyone will like it; no matter what you cook, cook it well; give it personality, give it taste. I also enjoyed working for Hotel Indonesia, because it felt like Indonesian history was alive there. I also enjoyed New York; I worked in the oldest Italian restaurant in New York, which opened in 1908.
E: You’ve worked in some very different places, including Kazakhstan. What brought you there?
A: You know, you always have to balance free time and career opportunities and at that time Kazakhstan was very busy with an oil and gas boom. My contract was six weeks on and six weeks off, with a very good salary. It was a very interesting post, the culture is so different from anything I had experienced before.
E: How have your travels impacted on your cooking?
A: I think travel always impacts on cooking. In London I worked at Suka Restaurant, which served Malaysian-French fusion, so we served things like satay and oxtail soup, but we tried to cook them in a more fine-dining style. I also worked at Asia The Cuba restaurant, which served Cuban food with a Chinese influence, serving 400 customers a night. To be honest, if I opened my own restaurant, I would cook food with a lot of Asian influence, using turmeric, white turmeric, all the spices. Europeans, even Italians, are becoming more adventurous these days.
E: Your chef teams have won a lot of medals in various cooking competitions, can you tell me something about those?
A: Competitions are not just about competing; they are an opportunity for you to see what other people are doing. I teach my people not to look too much at other people, but to concentrate on their own dish and they win medals. It builds confidence and shows the participants that they can trust their own skills.
E: What advice would you give people who are thinking about a career as a chef?
A: Don’t think about the long hours; think about what you can achieve. There are many more positives than negatives, and you have to just get on with the work and enjoy the good times.
Barramundi in Padella con Casseruola di Cannellini e Crostacei
- 120g barramundi fillet
- 20g prawns
- 20g squid cut in slices
- 4 mussels
- 4 clams
- 4 cherry tomatoes
- 40g boiled cannellini beans
- I garlic slice
- Basil for garnish
- Salt, pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Put a little extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan.
- Pan sear the barramundi on both sides for a few minutes until golden.
- Add the garlic and the cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute.
- Add all the seafood and the cannellini beans.
- Season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes on a low heat.
- When the fish is cooked, arrange the sauce on the plate then place the barramundi on top of the sauce
- Garnish with basil leaves.