Chef Passion Media

Start Me Up

Starting up isn’t easy, but Farid Al Farouk isn’t a fan of easy ways

Farid Al Farouk was a graphic designer, a bassist, and now he’s Fairmont Hotel’s Pastry Chef whose talent is recognized by the President of Indonesia Pastry Alliance (IPA) Chef Rahmat Kusnedi, and Pipiltin & Anomali Coffee owner, Irvan Helmi. Chef Farid gives us one more reason to believe that looks can be deceiving, despite of his convincing appearance as punk rock band member (along with his cool name), the chef is actually a fan of pastries with neat and sleek design. It’s a story of Farid’s childhood, background influence, also his experience working in Middle East and China to hone his craft.

How did you end up as pastry chef? Is it coincidence or is it your childhood dream?

My initial inspiration is Rudy Choirudin’s show on TV (Selera Nusantara). It looked very exciting to become a chef. However, I went to graphic design school in Interstudi. One day, a friend offered me a training chance at Park Lane. I took the chance and got the job as casual worker, actually it was fun, and I was promoted as staff until I moved to Sari Pan Pacific.

Graphic design and culinary are two completely different things, aren’t they?
Actually, they’re both pretty much the same. We need touch of art in the kitchen. Let’s take the plate as example. I see plate as blank canvas, I can paint it with many different sauces. I can also play with color and shape, they’re all also part of design. Very interesting! Learning graphic design was something, but I can apply the concept in the kitchen in different ways.

Why did you choose pastry over the hot kitchen?
I felt that pastry is more artistic, as bonus, the kitchen is also colder, more comfortable. In Sari Pan Pacific, I met Chef Rahmat Kusnedi, back in 2004. Then I moved to Ritz Carlton as opening team for a year, after that I got a chance to work abroad as Commis 1 in Abu Dhabi’s Kempinski where I was able to know many chefs that continuously influence me, until now.

What are your motivations to move abroad?
I want to see the world, because honestly, I got pretty bored in Indonesia. I’ve worked for 5 years in 3 different places, but there’s nothing really different. I’m speaking about the product and variants, they’re just not challenging enough. I’m not saying that the chefs aren’t good enough; it is the market which wasn’t ready for new product. I guess, I can learn more abroad. From Abu Dhabi, I moved to The Address Hotel in Dubai, fortunately I joined as starting team, again.

Did you have any culture shock back then?
Yes, especially when I first arrived. I was used to meeting Indonesians, but on my first night, I was placed in a room with people from Africa. I was bit worried and scared, but in time, I’m getting used to it. Fortunately, all of them speak English. Once I had a staff from mainland China who can’t speak English at all! Well, he got no choice but to learn English, because if he hadn’t make any progress, he had to return to China in 3 months. I told him to bring dictionary everywhere, read, learn, and practice. Miraculously, he survived.

You love being part of starting team? Sounds like a lot of work, isn’t it?
Actually, it was fun because we start everything from zero, including the manning, we barely know each other. We didn’t even know about the recipes, ingredients, we got to set up lot of things. Being a part of starting team is more interesting because we can decide almost everything, unlike the running hotel where we can only change 1-2 products.

How long did you stay in Dubai? Where did you go next?

It was pretty long, around 6 years. I met Chef Dedy Sutan during the last 2 years of my stay. From there I moved to Macau, but only for 6 months. It was completely different environment, I didn’t really feel comfortable there. I’m speaking mostly about the food, because I am a Moslem. It’s a bit difficult to find halal food there. I decided to quit and joined another new project involving 2 stars Michelin Chef from France in Nanjing, China, around 2 hours’ drive from Shanghai. Again, I was the starting team.

You’ve met many superiors, your bosses. Who’s the most influential mentor to you?
Chef Dedy (Sutan)! Especially in technical terms, he taught me how to make proper food. His attention to details, his discipline inspires me. Until today, wherever he goes, he still thinks that “every day is a competition”. That’s why he’s mad for competition. His discipline and knowledge is transferred to everyone. I described Chef Dedy’s work as….. I don’t know his hands were just simply gifted; he got that sort of magic touch. He can put things randomly and it will look good. He is especially good at chocolate, you can tell from his showpieces.

Do you believe in pastry specialization? What’s yours?

Ideally, we have to know everything from chocolate, sugar, bread, but at the same time, we also need specialization. I put special interest in chocolate, because to me, chocolate is unique. It is similar to wine in some ways, different origins, and different soils, resulted in different taste. Chocolate with different cacao content percentage also needs different handling.

Tell us about your hobby.
I love music since I was a child, but I started to perform with bands in junior high school. It’s hard to gather the band members nowadays, that’s why I mostly play bass at home. I love bass because it’s not a complicated as guitar.

What’s your favorite band or bassist?
I love (old) bands like Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat. The current bands that I love were The Strokes, 30 Seconds to Mars. I also love local bands such as Andra & The Backones and Netral. For the bassists, I admire Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) and Bagus (Netral). Bass in band is a bit similar to pastry in kitchen, one might say they are not important, but they actually are.

What’s the correlation between punk and pastry? They don’t seem to be related in any ways, you know, punk is a bit brutal…
Actually, they’re not that brutal, punk bands just expressed it differently. Punk bands protest almost everything, but the point is, they want something right, at the proper place. Isn’t it the same with pastry? We want everything in it’s rightful place, discipline, neat. It’s just we have different delivery and style.

Chef Rahmat mentioned that regeneration is one of the hottest issue in hotel industry.

Probably because we have our own activities, we don’t have any forum to gather the old and younger generations. We just met in competition or in meetings occasionally. We’re not like Singapore who has Singapore Pastry Alliance.

We have Indonesia Pastry Alliance, don’t we?
Yeah, but it’s still very new. We had it just now. About why some hotels run without any pastry chefs, I don’t really know, it’s their internal problems. Ideally every hotel should have one, but some hotels felt that having a sous chef is already enough. Actually we need conceptor in the kitchen and of course, the executors.

Why did you decide to return to Indonesia?
I have no problem with Nanjing, it’s better than Macau. It’s easy for me to find halal food there, Nanjing also has many Moslem communities and mosques. I miss my home and family. The benefit might not be as big as what I got abroad, but in the end, it’s not all about money, family is more important. Some people might bring their wives abroad, but for those who don’t, we met our wives every one or two years.

Let’s talk about Indonesia’s pastry industry, how far are we left behind?
Pretty far. Let alone Singapore, we’re even left pretty far behind Thailand. Because, honestly, it’s a bit difficult to find ingredients here. Some can’t enter because of the customs. For example, we’ve had hard times finding lemon purees here. On the other hand, perhaps the chefs here don’t really know much about ingredients, and it stopped suppliers from importing new ingredients because of the low demand. For chocolate, I used to have Felchlin (Swiss chocolate brand) in kitchen, but I can’t find it anywhere in Indonesia. Of course it can be substituted, but different brands require further recipe adjustments.

Who’s your hero in pastry?
Frank Haasnoot, he’s a Dutch. I like his touch, very neat, very sleek. He’s more into French Asian style. Actually, many French chefs incorporate Asian elements, such as in Green Tea Opera. Opera Cake came from France, but it features Japanese’s matcha, something that is exclusively Japan. I guess this would be the future trend.

What’s your future plans?
I’d like to have my own restaurant or outlet. It’s still sketches actually, but I want to make something that is simple, nothing fancy, a place for everyone, especially the middle class.

“Punk bands protest almost everything, but the point is, they want something right, at the proper place. Isn’t it the same with pastry?”