The Indigenous Taste Ambassador

Despite his stalwart appearance, Henry Alexei Bloem has an utmost fondness (and solid talent) in cooking and culinary creation. The newly-appointed executive chef of Manisan Restaurant sits with us and shed some insight of Indonesian food as well his fascinating personal experiences. Here goes..

When did you get your first tattoo? Any story behind the ink?

I got my first one done when I was in junior high (circa 1970s). I made it because I saw my father have one on his upper arm, an anchor. He was a soldier for KNIL (Dutch Colonial Army) and then TNI (Indonesian National Army) when Indonesia got its independence. I made my first tattoo by myself, under a banana tree at the army dormitory. My father saw it and scolded me; he said I can’t make a good one myself, and has to be done by a professional. So I cover the (DIY) tattoo with a help from my friend who was an amateur tattoo artist. The result, as you can see, is quite messy (laugh)

 If you’re not being a chef today, what profession would you choose?

Honestly, I don’t know. After finish my high school; unlike all my friends who got big scores in their finals and went to have a great career or off to prominent college, I spent some times roaming around Kuta, jobless, with my old bike. One day, my mother asked me what I would like to do in the future, so I start to think about it and continue studying F&B in Dhyanapura Campus. That’s when I discovered my first interest to work behind the kitchen. After 6 months of theory and practice at campus, I asked to be put in the kitchen and land my first job at Bali Mandira Hotel as a cook helper.

Tell us about Balinese grill technique. What is the best kind of meat to be grilled according to you?

Best meat to be grilled for me would be pork, and as for the technique itself, Balinese grilling method is actually the unification of two concepts; grilling and smoking. A great example is in the making of ‘Babi Guling’ (suckling pig). A good traditional babi guling should be smoked accordingly to get flavor from coconut fiber used as the burning materials. Nowadays, people tend to forget this and make their babi guling in the modern, conventional oven. This will compromise with the taste itself. Balinese people has an astonishing method for cooking babi guling since the ancient time, but now, most of the restaurant tend to go the instant way to meet the demand. If we do it this way, we wouldn’t get the authentic flavors from the traditional cooking itself.

As the current President of Indonesian Chef Association (ICA), what is your vision for the future? And how would you implement it into action?

ICA was formed in 2007 at Bandung as a form of commitment from 17 provinces around Indonesia to promote the nation’s cuisine so it can become more well-known worldwide. Since we are a non-profit organization, we move and work according to sponsor and proposal that we send to the vendors to conduct workshop, trainings and competitions related to Indonesian cuisine. We also create ‘ICA ambassadors’ through our colleague who are working abroad to feature Indonesian menu in the restaurant they work in. As chef or assistant chef, they have the authority to create or change the menus. We also have a routine training and roadshow program to schools and campuses to inspire our brothers and sisters who are still studying their way in the F&B field.

If you could choose to own one model of Harley Davidson bike, which would it be?

From the beginning, my favorite type of Harley is the Touring type. I used to owns two; Electra and Ultra. For now, I might look for the Road King or Road Glide, the smaller version of Ultra. The main reason is actually my age (laugh). My feet obviously couldn’t stand to bring 300 kg bike as long as I did back then!

What’s your most memorable riding experience?

One time, me and my wife (girlfriend, back then) went off on a touring trip with friends through Rinjani Mountain, Lombok. Since we are a bit late when crossing the ocean from Padang Bai Harbour, it was 6pm when we arrived. That time, all gas station in Lombok already closed by that hour, and it was only me who hadn’t get the chance to fill the gas, and even get left the safety car! Upon entering the mountain area, it was pitch dark but luckily I still have a friend riding behind me to light the path along the way. Finally, we arrived in a small village and all our convoy is still there. They didn’t realize that we are still left behind! The clincher to this story is when we saw the path we took that night the next morning. It was narrow, winding and sandwiched by steep ravine. That was one of the most thrilling riding moments I had in my entire life.

We heard that you have history with the legendary ‘Nasi Jenggo’ street food. Could you elaborate a bit to us?

Originally, ‘Jenggo’ was taken from my childhood name. Because my father is a big fan of  classic cowboy movie and he even sang phrases like ‘Jenggo, Jago Tembak’ (Jenggo The Undisputed Gunman) to make me sleep. Around 1972, my mom started selling Babi Guling wrapped rice with chicken and other meat variants on the Benoa harbor along with four other sellers. Her customers consist of truck drivers, heavers, fishermen and also tourist that come off the boat at the harbor. The sellers used to call the rice ‘Nasi Be Guling Men Jenggo’, and the name kinda stick for a long time, even after my mom stop selling them in 1982. But the type of business eventually started booming around the island, and everyone started calling banana leaves-wrapped rice ‘Nasi Jenggo’ until now.

So, if someone or Wikipedia page said that ‘Jenggo’ derived from Chinese words ‘Jinggo / Chenggo’ (means IDR 1500; the price of the rice when it became famous), that wasn’t true. Back in ’72, who would like to buy a portion of rice for that amount? My mom started selling this street food around that year!

Any piece of wise advice for our beloved readers?

If we want to make Indonesian cuisine the staple food on its own home, we can start from our own family by educating and familiarize our kid’s palate to Indonesian home-cooking; babi guling, lawar, sate lilit, rendang, etc, before we take them to try pasta, pizza, steak or hamburgers in international restaurant. Indonesian food is really more than meets the eye; there are tons of lesser known indigenous dishes waiting to be tasted and explored around this vast archipelago.


Jl. Hanoman, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali

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