Between Talent and Open Mind

In valuing the success of S.K.A.I Beach Club, we cannot overlook the man behind its kitchen, Theodorus Immanuel Setyo, also known as Chef Theo. Easy-going, brilliant and passionate, he has actually been around for quite some time before, even to the TV industry by being the creator of Indonesian Master Chef series for season 3 and 4 and also participating himself in Iron Chef program. Nowadays, he is focused back in developing the menu at SKAI Beach Club. Passion has a chance to meet and chat with this amazing lad in-between his excruciating work hours. Here’s some fascinating stuffs that we could extract.

 So how it all started? Who / what drives you the most to pursue this career?

It all started from myself, actually. My mom and grandma is really great in make home-cooking. So I think the talent is flowing in my blood. From the 3rd grade of elementary school, I already tried to make my own cooking! There are two people that influence me the most in pursuing my career, one is Chef Degan, and then Chef Vindex. I considered them great friend and mentor. Thanks to them for shaping me so I can become who I am right now.

Let’s speak a bit about Indonesian cuisine. Which one do you think is the most underrated traditional food from all across archipelago?

I’ve been trying to cook Bebek Bumbu Putih, an Aceh traditional meal. Basically its similar with Opor, but with more spices. We made this on last SKAI’s UnOaked series, and I infused modern presentation with tortellini and pulled duck breast, but I leave the taste to be as authentic as the traditional one, and it was a great success!

What is the trickiest Indonesian food you ever cook? And how did you overcome the said challenge?

I once cooked rendang, actually it’s not ‘tricky’, but there’s a lot of elaborate steps to make it from start until finish. The main challenge here is since most of our guest are foreign so we have to adjust the flavor in some way. So I used wagyu meat instead, and I wrapped it with rendang spice itself, then we put it in vacuum pack overnight, then the next day, we cook it in slow temperature and we serve the rendang spice separatedly as sauce. In the end, the menu name become pan-seared beef bumbu rendang, but still, it preserve the original flavor of  traditional rendang.

Tell us what you have done so far in SKAI Beach Club? Is there any new innovation that we should anticipate?

I help shaping all the menu and always strive to innovate in the future. For the next plan, SKAI will shift the concept to be more Mediterranean-style menu. There is another one project other than this establishment, but I will tell you more detail about it later. It’s coming soon!

As a chef, how did you maintain your creativity? And what you usually do to find inspiration?

First of all, you should be open-minded, assured and never stop learning. Always be alert of what your client expect from nowadays food. I think that’s all what you need to maintain your creativity constantly.  For inspiration, it usually come suddenly in any kind of situation, even when I’m on the bathroom. But to maintain the innovation of my method, I read books quite often. That’s the support factor to let your inspiration keep flowing anytime, anywhere.

For such a massive country, what do you think is holding Indonesia back from making impact in global food scene? And what should we do to help with it?

This is our main responsibility as Indonesian chef, and we also need backups from government and hotel owners to support the cause of promoting Indonesian food abroad as well. What I have done so far personally, with chef Degan, is through Indonesian Food Promo campaign in Europe. We have done it several times before to Germany and French. This is to introduce the foreigner to vast arrays of Indonesian food other than nasi goreng or rendang. Nowadays I also observed that many young chefs have been bold to bring up their Indonesian food creation. They should continue to do this! Even our fellow Indonesian chef who are on duty abroad has been asking around about making a good Indonesian food, so I think on ground level it already started, now we just need to keep promoting for the world to see. Viva Indonesian food!

We heard that you are a hawker grub enthusiast. Please do share four of your most favorite Indonesian street food with us, along with explanation of each one

a. Bakso
Who doesn’t love bakso? Come on!

b. Mie Ayam
The best one for me is the one at Gunung Soputan, called Mie Ayam Wonogiri. You should try it for yourself

c. Tongseng Kambing
Because my father is a big fan of tongseng. Since junior high I always been involved to hunt the best tongseng kambing on my region (Wonosobo). Unfortunately in Bali I still haven’t found a personal favorite, so I made my own until now (laugh)

d. Ketoprak
I used to live in Jakarta, and then I grow fond of ketoprak. On the area where I stayed at Gandul, Cinere, there is one ketoprak maker that I think is one of the best I ever tasted

Any words of advice for passionate cook which dreaming to become a successful chef one day?

Don’t be quick to feel satisfied, keep on learning, open-minded, don’t be too idealist to your own cooking, because in the end, the one who enjoy them is others (guests), so we have to look at it with others point of view. Last two things: always be grateful and don’t forget to pray!

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