The Rise of Indonesian Cuisine

In May 2017, Indonesian retail’s sales have dropped by 35-40% compared to 2016. We ask Stefu Santoso the question you’ve been wondering: “should we worry now?”

Those number came from Aprindo (The Indonesian Retailers Association). To make it worse, we have seen many news about the consumer’s declining buying power in the previous Ied. Seven Eleven even closed down the business in Indonesia by the end of June 2017.While those facts seems discouraging to many, we felt the urge to verify the data with someone competent to interpret them. Someone like Stefu Santoso, The Executive Chef of Aprez Catering and The President of Indonesia’s ACP (Association of Culinary Professionals).

Is it true that F&B industry is slowing down, along with the retail sector?

If we look at it, actually the business is going along with the economy. When you say we have many resto businesses are closing down, it’s true, because many business owners who just want to have a restaurant, following trends, although we also got other who’s 100% serious. That’s business, some are going up, some are going down. It’s just the trend continuously changing over the year. Italian food was trending, followed by French. Now it’s Indonesian cuisine time to shine, no wonder many people opened up new Indonesian food restaurants.

F&B is a very unique business. We have places which serve bad food but survive, meanwhile the good ones are closing down. Some people choose comfortable places for hangout or meeting, we also have restaurants which maintain the quality food but the outlet are not that good, and then we have trending places because of the great branding strategy, the one that makes you feel proud just by hanging out in those places. There are other business aspects in this industry. Let say you cook well for yourself, up to 10 people. What if you have 100 guests? There’s cost control for food, ingredients, staffs, and other overhead expenses.

Who’s moving this trend?
It is always up to market to decide. We can say that we predict that African cuisine will be trending next year. Really? Not necessarily. Indonesian cuisine is trending, one of the reasons is because we talk about nationalism everywhere nowadays. The opening up of new travel sites also help the culinary industry. In the past, who would want to go to Tana Toraja? Now people are going there because they held international festival, of course Toraja culinary is also exposed.
The change of Minister of Tourism also matters as he (Arief Yahya) stated that culinary holds the key to move the creative industry. In addition, we got Rendang as CNN’s World’s Best Food in 2017 (followed by Nasi Goreng as runner up, and Sushi in the third place). The fact that the world is admiring our cuisine has encouraged the people within the industry.

Some people said that this year’s Ied is not as busy as the previous ones?
Don’t get it wrong. It might be slow for western restaurants, but it was great for the Indonesian counterparts. What actually happened is the change of level (class), if people used to hang out in hi end cafes in malls, perhaps now they just order the drink. After that, they might look around for food worths Rp 30.000-40.000 somewhere else. Look at the boom of ayam geprek, Warung Upnormal, or let’s put it this way, please tell me any slow Padang restaurants last fasting month. Everyone was busy, it’s just the buying power is dropping. From what I’ve seen, people who used catering service switched to rice box.

Does it mean that hi end restos suffered the most in this case?
Not necesarrily, if we talk about fine dining scene, it’s still quite stable. However, now we have competitors with similar concept. Let’s take Amuz for example, there are many fine dining restaurants in the same level with us, but the market for fine dinig is not that big. How many people are willing to dine every day in fine dining place? Let’s say we have an orange and there are 5 people to share to. Then we have 8 people, of course everyone is getting smaller portion.
It’s a different story for Bali. Look, the target market for fine dining in Jakarta are mostly businessmen, they go to fine dining restaurants for business or entertaining their guests. So the economy plays significant role, especially when the business goes down. Meanwhile, Bali’s target market are tourists, it resulted in different type of service. People in Jakarta are living on the fast lane, they usually hold meeting for 1-2 hours, and then move on to the next one. In Bali, the guests come to have fun, for experience. Bali depends on tourists while Jakarta’s on business. Take a look at the last Ied holiday, Jakarta was empty, wasn’t it?

According to you, what’s the biggest challenge in running fine dining resto?
I’ve discussed it a lot with Gilles Marx (Amuz Gourmet Group’s Chef Founder). It’s the premium product availability, imported goods issue. Fine dining guests are expecting premium products such as foei gras, truffle, caviar, dover sole, sea bass, trout, the kind of products which are not available in Indonesia, we have to import them. Because if we use regular products, where’s our added value? Fine dining is identical to quality of service, products, and ingredients.
To overcome it, we maintain good relationships with suppliers, updating the current available products, knowing which products have sustainable supplies. Lately we had an issue with imported seafood, even salmon got its own import quota. We used to have fresh dover sole regularly, but it’s very difficult to find them nowadays. If it’s available, the price sky rocketed, or the supply amount isn’t sustainable.

This is the problem, there are some regulations that we can’t fight. We had the quota of imported beef years ago. Every restaurant was struggling because for steak, we got to use imported beef. We haven’t have a good tradition of farming the cow for consumption. We’re still farming cows mostly as asset or as dowry, not as commodity. In addition, Indonesians usually stew or slow cook the beef, so it is not significant whether the meat is tender or not. However, it’s a different case for steak.

Amuz have some sister companies: Aprez and Artoz. Please explain your strategy.
we’re not actually company sister companies, we’re under the same name, it’s just we have more outlets now. When started out, everyone wants more than 1 business, right? If we’re stuck to one, everything will be stagnant, from the scoop of the business, the market, to the staffs’ career. It’s the company’s policy to expand the business, because we can’t only focus only on fine dining, we know the market size is pretty small. We also understand, there’s no way an officer would spend 3-4 times a month in Amuz, perhaps only on special occasions. We decided to open a catering division to open up new market called Aprez, and a whisky lounge, Artoz. Aprez is a catering company that is on the same level with 5 star hotel which serve outside catering. Mostly our clients are corporates, even though we have some private clients for birthday parties, or weddings. One of our mission is to maintain the career path of our staffs. If you have a good staff but you still have the restaurant manager above him, he won’t get anywhere. It’s either he resign or got stuck.