Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago. It only makes sense then that a region so vast and encompassing so many little cultural pockets would have a cuisine as rich as the land it springs from. It’s not just local influence that has shaped Indonesian cuisine though – any gourmand worth his salt will no doubt recognise the characteristic Chinese, Middle Eastern, and European touches that permeate traditional Indonesian fare. It’s no surprise then that a region of such culinary abundance has stirred the creativity of certain artisans gifted in the craft of manipulating taste and texture to tantalise and delight the taste buds. Top 10 of Malaysia has combed the islands, picked its ingredients, and polished up its list of Indonesia’s ten most talented chefs – serving them up here in no particular order. Enjoy.
With a pastry chef for a mother and a cook cum restaurant owner for a grandmother, you could say Arnold was born into the culinary world. It was at the tender age of 14, when living in Australia, that he first got his taste of the kitchen experience. Starting out as a junior kitchen hand, Arnold then tried his hand as a waiter, barista, and bartender before finally finding his true calling lying behind the stove. Having never received any formal training, Arnold relied on intuition and instinct to hone his culinary abilities. Today, Arnold’s many successful openings and the resulting recognition have seen him become one of Indonesia’s foremost celebrity chefs – earning him a spot on MasterChef Indonesia’s panel of judges.
William Wongso is an author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Called the “rendang diplomat”, it was his wealth of experience that prompted Gordon Ramsay to seek him out as his mentor on the second season of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, with the Englishman stating Wongso could teach him and just about anybody else how to be a better chef – high praise indeed. And it is precisely this that Wongso has been doing for the better part of five decades in the culinary industry, with many of Indonesia’s finest chefs having profited from his tutelage. As if he hasn’t already done enough for the Indonesian culinary industry, he seeks to collaborate with more famous chefs globally to further elevate the profile of Indonesian cuisine.
Santhi Serad is an Indonesian chef and food writer fuelled with a passion for sharing her knowledge of Indonesian cuisine with all and sundry. Born into a family of food lovers, Serad was introduced at an early age to the ingredients that would come to mean so much to her through regular visits to the wet market with her mother. They would bond by cooking together afterwards, making many of the local dishes from Malang and Banyuwangi in the East Java province where her parents came from. Serad’s book, Leaf it to Tea, won widespread acclaim and clinched second place in the tea category of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2019.
Karen Carlotta is a chef and owner of the Union Group. Starting her culinary journey with an internship at the prestigious Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore, she established the Union restaurant together with her husband just three years later. The restaurant has grown today into a group that comprises eight other highly-regarded eateries. Carlotta’s forte is transforming traditional Indonesian desserts into pastries, with her Pisang Ijo and Martabak cakes being particular highlights. Her culinary skill is held in the highest esteem with Carlotta and her husband getting the opportunity to curate a private dining experience in 2019 in which Barack Obama was one of the guests.
Renatta Moeloek is part of the new wave of Indonesian culinary talent. The youngest of MasterChef Indonesia’s panel of judges between season 5 and the most recent season 9, she is an alumnus of Le Cordon Bleu Paris where she graduated with Superior Certificates in its Cuisine and Pastry diploma programmes. Going on to specialise in French cooking through her stint at the renowned Garance in Saint Dominique, Moeloek has nonetheless stayed true to her roots – introducing Indonesian food every chance she got during her time abroad. She returned to Indonesia in 2018 to open a private dining service, Ruma Dining, and a health-conscious restaurant, Fedwell.
Sisca Soewitomo is a veteran of Indonesian culinary television, having been around since the 90s when she shot to fame through the television cooking programme Aroma. Upon graduating from the Trisakti School of Tourism with a diploma in hospitality, Sisca earned a scholarship to the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan and travelled there to sharpen her skills. Having written around 150 cookbooks centred on Indonesian cuisine including the best-selling Step by Step series, Sisca has been honoured by the Museum of Records Indonesia as “Pengarang Buku Resep Masakan Terbanyak” for her prolific output. Often dubbed the “Queen of the Indonesian culinary arts”, Sisca’s contribution to the industry has been immeasurable.
Juna Rorimpandey is no stranger to setbacks. Having had to drop out of university in Jakarta in his youth, he flew to the United States in the hopes of becoming a pilot. Whilst trying to get his commercial pilot’s license, his school ended up going bankrupt. It turns out life had other plans for Juna. Starting work in a sushi restaurant, the head chef there took a liking to Juna and took him on as his student. He ascended the ranks and soon became an executive chef before moving to a French restaurant to learn more about French cuisine. He has since returned to Indonesia and you might have caught him in his appearances as a judge on MasterChef Indonesia.
TV presenter and celebrity chef Farah Quinn stands as an inspiration to all those who have hopes of entering the culinary field and indeed to all those who have a passion they’d like to follow. Amidst the difficult times of the Asian financial crisis, Farah pursued a degree in pastry arts at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and worked as a waitress in the meantime to finance her studies and stay afloat. Farah’s career took off when she had the opportunity to create speciality Indonesian desserts for Laura Bush, then the First Lady of the United States. A familiar face on Asian Food Channel, Farah also has her own bakery, Cookie Love.
Gilles Marx is a French-born culinary innovator that has brought a taste of his homeland to the heart of Jakarta. His talents were obvious early on, leading him to hone his skills at a host of Michelin-starred establishments across Alsace, Lyon, Burgundy, and Paris. Having headed restaurants in Australia and Southeast Asia, he soon found himself in Indonesia where he opened AMUZ in the central business district. The success of the restaurant then led Gilles to form the AMUZ Gourmet Group. A shining light of Jakarta’s fine-dining scene, AMUZ continues to excite and delight its patrons with its creative gourmet expressions.
Andrian Ishak is a man of many interests. From economics to music, from physics to chemistry, Andrian sees a lot of what makes the world beautiful through these lenses and this is what he seeks to express through his cooking. Selling his electric guitar to raise funds to open Namaaz Dining in 2012, it’s under this roof that Andrian lets his imagination run wild – utilising a variety of techniques to concoct playful renditions of traditional dishes or to create something entirely unforeseen. The self-taught chef counts Heston Blumenthal among his inspirations and it’s easy to see why. The unmistakable drive to experiment, the continuous zeal to innovate, the relish in shattering the boundaries of convention – the culinary world might’ve just found the great British chef’s heir apparent.