The Ugly Truth

The self-proclaimed extremist, Edwin Lau, talks about the things that nobody wants to talk about. If you’re one of those faint-hearted people, please, stop reading.

If you think about a chef who’s also expert in healthy food, the name Edwin Lau comes to mind. He’s a unique combination of a chef, nutritionist, with the body of a bodybuilder. You might see him smiling on TV, but this time, Edwin talks about the ugly truth of the food industry, life of celebrity chefs, to his internal conflict as a chef and nutritionist, and his new point of view. This is certainly one of our heaviest and most intense interview ever.

What’s your current activities?

Still as personal coaching, cooking class at home, fitness, and as consultant. I’m also planning to return to TV to make a reality show about F&B industry that is unknown to most people, we’re still thinking how to present it in a fun way.

Other than that, I’m busy running catering, along with Berry Kitchen to serve series of ketogenic diet. With the ketogenic, low-carb, and nutritious concept, we got warm welcome from Berry Kitchen’s customers, my followers, and people in Jakarta. Even though people say we’re having declining buying power, for segmented product, the market share is getting bigger. Because Indonesians, especially people in Jakarta, have high level of stress, don’t have time to cook, we have more and more disease, so they need tasty healthy food, affordable, and trending.

How do you define ketogenic diet?

It was designed for people with epilepsy 100 years ago. When the sugar content in their blood rises, they became hyperactive, having seizure that can lead to death. When they are given very low-carb diet, the tremor stops, medically this diet has been officially recognized as medication.

The concept is now booming in the world along with the rising number of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The growth of ketogenic diet in Indonesia is quite fast because it was seen as very low-carb diet, so it’s an option for those with diabetes. Before ketogenic, I’ve tried almost every kind of diet, I even had vitamin overdosing. If the daily intake is 1 pill, I’d take 10.

You’re experimenting with your own body?

Yes, it won’t kill me, just doing minor damage. The small overdose of vitamin and mineral will be swept away by kidney and liver, but there are negative effects. Once, I overdosed vitamin B6, that might cause cancer. What I had was, the skin in my fingers were damaged, I was trembling, perhaps it hurt my nerve system a little, difficulty in peeing, dehydration, most of the claims were true, but some are not. Vitamin B6 is commonly used in the world of bodybuilding to gain fast muscle mass, that’s why I was doing it, so when I speak to clients in gym or in seminar, I know, not only the theory.

Please explain your concept of modified ketogenic.

With the macro of 85% fat, almost all of the food you can eat in conventional ketogenic diet is MCT oil (Medium Chain Tryglycerides), and you may only consume 5% carb. That’s crazy, because your body produce its own 5% carb without eating anything, so it means you may not consume carb at all, impossible! That’s why I make some modifications so it is accessible and sustainable to everyone.

In the ketogenic universe, the opposite of keto is vegan, keto is pro animal fat, protein, and anything animal. Meanwhile, I offer modified keto with 50% vegetable fat and 50% animal fat. As opposed to ketofastosis, which emphasizes on fasting, I prefer to work out. For the carb, you have to modify it. Every person has his own “weakness”, the carb that make you gain mass very fast. You’ll see some people who stay lean by eating ice cream, but when they consume white rice, they gain fat easily.

Modified keto can be used to your need and goal periodically. When you try low-carb diet, only 10% of the total calorie consumption, and you see no result, in conventional keto, they won’t change anything, but with my concept, you switch. Perhaps you’ll gave more protein, or replace the whole fat with full animal fat, or full vegetable fat, until you find your own tailor-made keto diet.

Imagine if you have conventional keto, everyday for a year, you work to office bringing MCT oil as your only food, impossible! However, we have some people who fanatically followed it, and they don’t like my approach which combine pleasure, health and effectiveness. They only think about effectiveness, they can lose over 10 kg in weeks. Extreme actually, similar to the culinary industry that’s getting more and more extreme, ini every way.

Extreme, what do you mean?
Nowadays, you can’t do business with mainstream product. From the cheese movement, coffee shop that has various bean, to the trend of ayam geprek. You’ll have more businesses that serve more spicy, or lower priced. As a result, you can’t enjoy food, it’s just another trending sensation. It’s different with the old time food that you can consume every day. The victim is, of course, your body. Another case of this extrememism, is the fast food industry. The advertise using active figures, who’s exercising to create healthy image. For me that’s extreme, because the mainstream products don’t sell anymore.

Are you extreme? In what way?

I’m extreme in health. I can’t stop exercising, eating healthy, and talk about health. If I sit along with unhealthy (lifestyle) people, I prefer to leave than bothering them in the end. That’s me, and I was born this way.

So what sort of food shall we consume?

God created all food well-balanced as they are. Olive is full of fiber, vitamin E, carb, suar, when you turn it into olive oil, it will become weak, become something that is unknown to your body. The same with wheat and sugarcane, the problem is when we turn them into noodle and white sugar. And then soybean oil, it was not created as oil, so stop there. To make it sound healthier, they named it “salad oil”. The world of trade know this, but they hide the truth.

If you go to oil section in supermarket, look down, that’s the healthiest fat with lowest amount of chemical and toxic. What you see in your eye level, is the other way around, ironically the product placement here is the most expensive one. Keto diet gained popularity because all tof the bullshits from industry of sugar and carb, people are fed up because they’re all getting sick, now they go back to animal fat.

I cook using “keto fat”, my own creation using coconut oil and rendered duck fat. The aroma is amazing, sometimes I even infuse some garlic, ginger, or bay leaves. With so much aroma, you’ll eat less because it tastes great. This is why people keto, you’re on diet but you have tasty food, although you have to avoid carb.

I’m getting scared to eat anything after talking to you.

Yes, we have loads of information, you have to learn for yourself, you can’t just listen to the experts. You have to find the truth and try the diet for yourself, however don’t do it just for a day, you need at least 3 months to see how your body’s reaction.

According to you, what’s the biggest mistake in Indonesian’s eating habit?

Oh my God! Let’s put it this way, even if we have authoritarian leader like Hitler, it’s hard to fight corruption because it’s been a part of our life, the same goes for eating habit. I can say this because I’ve been an ambassador under Indonesia’s Department of Agriculture to campaign “Cold Fresh Chicken”.

The point is, we want to educate people, if you want to buy chicken, opt for the chilled or frozen ones, that simple. Because most of the chicken in wet market is against the law of sanitation. Meat should be kept at 4-6o C, but in wet markets, they put it on their counter, it’s the perfect temperature for bactery to grow. When we talk to the local government, they’re having difficult time to promote it. They got halted by local thugs, when asked to use refrigerator, they take it home. After educating the housewives, in the end they go back to the market to buythe chicken because they see it as freshly-cut, but they don’t where they came from.

With chicken from factory, government has set clear regulation about the limit of the antibiotic used in the chicken, meanwhile people in the wet market have no idea of where the chicken came from. But still, both of them should use antibiotic. The same goes for beef. Just look at any food exhibitions, have you seen a meat company that claim “we are antibiotic free”? No way. I know things behind the scene.

You’re a chef, also a nutritionist, are they conflicting each other?

Of course. When I take to the chefs, “you should create this”, deep inside I know it’s not good for health, but I also have to make a living, right? I have to serve delicious food, but the tastier it gets, the worse it is for your health. The solution? I have to find a middle ground, I can’t promote the full healthy ketogenic diet, who’s buying? It’s tasteless.

Are you saying healthy food can’t be delicious?

No. Let’s put it this way, is strawberry good? There’s good and bad, right? Just like that. Meanwhile roasted food such as chocolate and coffee has carcinogenic components that may cause cancer. So does tea, except white tea. We never talk about it because the industry is so powerfl. It’s pointless for me to talk about it, this interview will also pass by itself, I’ve been through that.

What’s the biggest conflict from these two contradicting occupation?

When I have to be an ambassador of a product......that contradicted my nature as healthy chef, it was an instant noodle brand. At the time, almost half of my followers were swearing at me. However, in order to reach more people, first I have to be famous, right? The fastest way is with 3 products: cigarette, instant noodle, or alcohol. I decided to go with instant noodle, because every person in Indonesia, whether he’s poor or rich, consume it. When the ads got out, everyone knew Edwin Lau, that’s all I need. Eventually, people will see how I live, they will know it’s just a tool. Of course, the contract expired long ago, but I carry the responsibility until now, perhaps until the day I die.

Were you prepared for the consequences?
I had. There’s no way for me to be endorsed by healthy product, there would be no impact. All unhealthy foods have the biggest influence. Now, we even have more celebrities who are willing to be endorsed, even with no money. Or even if they have money, they will pay you the next year. That’s why you rarely see me on TV, don’t you? Many celebrity chefs lost their directions, having drop in career, failed businesses, meanwhile the non-chefs gain success. Sometimes, knowing too much is not good.

Please note that, chefs don’t own the money, it’s the businessmen. I met chefs who boast himself for have been working in the kitchen for 25 years, so what? In the end you still serve those who have trillions. Sorry, I don’t mean to insult the chefs, but we have to open our eyes, we are so powerless. You may be able to make great product, but the billionaire can buy it in a heartbeat. If they got bored, you have to make something else. Insane, isn’t it? Even though you’ve been thinking about the product for years.

What’s your dream outside culinary?
I want to start a school or a house of chances for those who don’t have them. I’ve lived in poverty, even without any cents in my pocket. When I need a chance, it came to the wrong person. I don’t desire for fame anymore, I’ve been through that phase. Since I had a child, my mind changed completely. I want to help as many people as I can before I die. I know in this life, I’ve made many mistakes, I learn from them.

What’s your biggest mistake?
Arrogant. There’s a point in my life when I felt on the top of the world, and it made me arrogant. Who doesn’t know Edwin Lau? Every TV and product approached me. No matter how much I asked for, they’d pay. Then I start losing humility. I take all jobs, almost every day I went out of town, almost all airport staffs knew me. But I took too much, as a result, my quality declined, and people started to forget me. When you’re pride is still high but the chances have gone, that’s when God spoke to me, “hey, you’re arrogant!” I’ve been through that.

I’m no longer thinking about myself, now I think about my daughter and wife. When they need vacation, I have to make money. Before, all hotels let me stay for free as long as they have the name Edwin Lau, now I have to start all over. You can say this catering business is small money, persuade people to try, I have to be humble. If you meet arrogant chefs, just wait, they’ll be in my shoes.

What kind of place do you choose to dine?
I’m on a phase where I don’t want to eat tasty food anymore, let say, save some money to eat at a Michelin star restaurant. Now, what I’m thinking when I dine out is, “is there a baby chair? What will my daughter eat? Will my wife enjoy the place?” I go to gym just to stay fit, so I can get money for my family. The idealism is fading, if not dying.

“I’m extreme in health. I can’t stop exercising, eating healthy, and talk about health. If I sit along with unhealthy (lifestyle) people, I prefer to leave than bothering them in the end.”

“Who doesn’t know Edwin Lau? Every TV and product approached me. No matter how much I asked for, they’d pay. Then I start losing humility.”