Throughout his vibrant career in Ubud, Bali, Chef Arif has developed award-winning menus for health and wellness spas and holds weekly herbal medicine and cooking classes at the acclaimed Sayuri Healing Food Café, as well as headlining the prestigious Ubud Food Festival and Ubud Writer and Readers Festival to impart his incredible knowledge about ‘jamu’ concoction. Each year, he also returns to Java to tour several cities where he presents workshops and cooking classes for local people, encouraging them to use the healthy ingredients on their surroundings. PASSION get the chance to spoke with the man himself and discuss about lots of things; from kombucha, turmeric to misconception about ‘jamu’ he wish he could tell everyone.
You were known as an award-winning raw food chef before establishing ‘Djamoekoe’. What inspired you then? And what are the biggest challenges that you have overcome so far?
Well, I still hold monthly raw and vegan cooking classes at Sayuri restaurant, one of Bali’s most renowned healthy eating places, so I haven’t abandoned my love of cooking at all. I love creating food, and one of my business’ next steps is to introduce healthy snacks and small bites as product lines for my customers. We’re all really excited about it. Back when I was working in kitchens, my raw food was based on the same principles I brought to Djamoekoe – fresh local ingredients used to create modern dishes based on ancient Ayurvedic diet principles. So, the transition across to running Djamoekoe hasn’t been too difficult at all from a creative point of view. However, neither me or my business partner Mark had any idea what a hard journey it would be, to start a business from scratch with a small budget, limited resources and a niche product that hadn’t been market tested. There’s been quite a few tough times – and a few nasty arguments behind the scenes! But I’m sure most small business people would say the same.
Luckily, we found the original jamu product quickly found an audience. It remains by far our best selling product despite us now stocking hundreds of great things in our store, and some of our customers today have been with us from the start. And, the challenges and problems are quickly forgotten because the experience has been such a wonderful adventure. We have so many happy customers, suppliers and resellers and some of them have become good friends, and so I wouldn’t change a thing.
Through ‘Djamoekoe’, you gain a lot of enthusiasm from Western and abroad market. Was that always been the part of your plan? What about domestic market?
My original plan for the business didn’t involve the Western market at all. I despair at the diets of most Indonesians, who eat almost nothing but instant noodle and fried food. My dream was to reintroduce Indonesians to the wealth of produce around them and to make healthier choices – and also to celebrate our nation’s culinary heritage. But it wasn’t a business model that could succeed, since brewing the jamu I do, which contains no sugar or flavors, requires the best quality ingredients and takes time, and I just couldn’t sell it for a price that most local people could afford. But the Western market loved it from the start, so I switched in my mind to having Westerners discover and celebrate Indonesian healthy eating traditions.
But now, with the business healthy and grown, I’ve taken some family land in my home area of Java, and we’re beginning to plant crops as well as install some heavy equipment there to prepare for large scale production. This will cut down on costs without compromising quality and our goal is to have our products in supermarkets all over Java, where local people shop. So, my dream will come full circle after all.
What is the most common misconception about ‘jamu’ that you wish to tell everyone?
That one glass won’t change your life. Living in Bali, there’s a lot of people – locals and Westerners - who want a quick fix, and sadly, enough shady operators who cater to that at huge profit. Jamu is a great way to get healthier – but only if you drink it regularly, and make other healthy choices, not just drink jamu to make up for the pizza you ate last night. A good balanced diet starts with jamu but continues through the day with better choices. You can have something junky if you like, you don’t have to become obsessive about it, but choosing to regularly drink jamu rather than, say, Coca-Cola, is a good way to retrain your appetite towards healthier living. It’s all about balance, and consistency – hence our wide product range of teas and honeys and even organic cosmetics. One healthy drink isn’t going to make a difference to you if the rest of your diet is garbage. You have to start adding more good stuff, and phasing out the bad stuff as much as you can. We don’t make false promises at Djamoekoe. We’re just here for people who want to start making healthier choices.
Can you explain about ‘kombucha’ in general, and what differs it from Indonesian traditional ‘jamu’ concoction?
Jamu is a brewed drink, offering a range of benefits to different parts of the body, depending on the jamu you choose. Kombucha is a fermented beverage, based on tea, which means it’s full of very healthy probiotics that are great for your gut health. Kombucha rebalances your intestinal flora and this helps your health in so many ways – bad stomach and intestinal health is a silent killer, and kombucha is a great way to keep your system squeaky clean. Also, kombucha originates in China in ancient times and spread first to Russia and Japan. Today, it’s the big trend in healthy drinks in most countries around the world. We have twelve flavors, all brewed on the premises.
Most of your ‘jamu’ concoction is made of turmeric as base ingredient. Could you elaborate more about it?
Well turmeric is our business’ gold. We source the finest turmeric rhizomes and also sell the highest quality powdered gold turmeric as a grocery item. Turmeric is a key ingredient in several of our non-jamu products, including a couple of our teas, and our bestselling Kickstarter digestive aid. Though we have one Jamu, “Coco Loe” that is based on Aloe Vera, mint and coconut water and doesn’t contain any turmeric at all, all the other flavours do and I suppose that’s because of my traditional learning and also my understanding of just what a versatile and powerful ingredient turmeric is. If you travel to India, you won’t find a kitchen without turmeric. It’s similar in Indonesia. Turmeric and its many variants (turmeric, or curcuma, is part of the ginger family) are a world that any healthy chef would love to explore.
What can we expect from Djamoekoe in the future? Any plan to open dedicated ‘Djamoekoe’ establishment anywhere soon?
Shh! It’s a big secret. No seriously, there’s plenty in Djamoekoe’s future including our move into Java as I talked about already, but we are taking it step by step. Like all good things – including good food – it needs time to come together. Watch this space. But in the meantime, anybody is welcome to order from sending us an email or a Facebook message – we have customers all over the world.
What did you usually do in your spare time?
No small business owner has any real spare time (laugh). If I do have an hour or two, I love to spend time with my pet dogs, and working in my garden.
Is there any kind of ‘jamu’ concoction that you would suggest people to drink daily? Please explain the benefit as well!
A basic “Kunyit Asem” is a great general jamu, good for cooling down the body and reducing inflammation. It helps recovery from illness, and also prevents illness from developing in the body. And like I said, you do need to drink it daily – get into the habit. A small glass in the morning, or at lunch, every day, is the best way to consume jamu. Your body will thank you for it.