Indonesian food on a golden platter

Update: January, 05/2015 - 16:36

Immersion: "The fastest way of learning about a culture is through its cuisine," chef Haryo says.


by Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

In his own words, this Indonesian culinary expert is an artist.

Haryo Pramoe is not only preserving traditional tastes with five-star presentation, the celebrity chef is also promoting local cuisine in artistic way.

The chef starts work each day with a hearty "Assalamualaikum" (Peace be with you) in his kitchen laboratory in the Space restaurant in Jakarta's tony Kemang district.

He also runs the Indonesian Food Channel on YouTube, featuring shows presented by locals in their own dialect.

"Through the channel we want to introduce Indonesia as a whole. Not only the food, but also the story behind it, the language and the culture of where the food comes from," Haryo says.

With the same spirit, he co-founded Indonesian Chefs Association, an organisation of 1,800 people nationwide who share the same concerns.

"We encourage the use of local produce instead of imported canned vegetables and preserved foods. In this country we can find freshly plucked produce available anytime," said the 39-year-old father of one.

Working with the arts and design community in nearby Bandung, West Java; Haryo plans to promote Indonesian specialty foods by selling T-shirts and other collectible merchandise for limited sale overseas.

"The challenge is how to make the illustration of the food emblazoned on the merchandise," he said.

Born in Jakarta on March 8, 1975, to the family of an accountant at state oil and gas company Pertamina, Haryo was always a free thinker.

He was the drummer of a heavy-metal cover band named Parau (Croak) during his school days, but abandoned his dreams of becoming a musician when he couldn't write his own songs.

"I was just being honest with myself. I'm not good at math but I love to cook," he said, explaining why he chose to study at Jakarta's Trisakti Institute of Tourism rather than taking his father's path.

Lab work: Haryo Pramoe at work at his kitchen "laboratory" in South Jakarta. — Photo by Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

His cooking skill brought him to the Netherlands, where he made new dish called "Lautan Cinta" (Love Ocean), mixing seafood salad with pempek, the signature dish of Palembang, South Sumatra, and an ice cream made of lemongrass, garlic and rose petals.

When Haryo moved to the US he broke the best-selling ribs record at the Hotel Hyatt in Colorado.

Upon his return to Indonesia, he soon gained popularity, as his reputation preceded him. The camera loved him: Haryo became the host of several television cooking programmes in Indonesia and even co-hosted a programme in Malaysia.

His experience overseas had triggered his nationalist pride, especially after he found out that his soft-spoken grandfather Sumanang, who always gave him chocolate bars, was a government minister in the 1950s and the founder of the nation's Antara news agency.

"I asked my father one day why he couldn't send me studying overseas like other kids and he said that he would never have his hand on the government's money. I now share the responsibility to contribute a progress to the country," he said.

Haryo is working with government officials to promote Indonesian cuisine and plans to organise Indonesia Food Festival next year.

"We're currently curating the food from each region," he said.

Haryo said that he has no interest in writing a cook book. "I don't write. I'd rather upload cooking videos, because in this visual culture people prefer learning how-tos from YouTube.

"I hope the young generation of this country knows how to cook Indonesian food, at least three dishes, because the fastest way of learning a culture is through its cuisine." — Jakarta Post