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Indonesian chefs shine on global stage

Sebastian Partogi
Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, June 12, 2017 | 02:00 pm
Indonesian chefs shine on global stage

Two Indonesian chefs have taken home prizes from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  (Shutterstock/File)

Two Indonesian chefs have taken home prizes from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. They believe, however, further steps need to be taken to propel local culinary arts to the global scene.

Two Indonesian chefs and food writers — William Wongso and Petty Elliott — attained the highest accolades at the prestigious 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held in Yantai, China, recently.

William’s book, Flavors of Indonesia: William Wongso’s Culinary Wonders, won the ultimate prize, as it was named Best Cookbook of the Year, while Petty’s book, Jakarta Bites: Exploring Vibrant Street Food from the Heart of Indonesia, was the winner in the street food category.

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards was founded in 1995 by Edouard Cointreau. Annually, it honors the best food and wine books in both print and digital as well as food television. Books from 205 countries are nominated at this prestigious awards, the only international competition in the sector. It is free and open to all languages. The annual ceremony has always been an occasion where hundreds of publishers, authors, chefs and journalists gather.

Read also: William Wongso’s book wins at 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

William is a prominent Indonesian chef and food writer. He served as president of the International Gastronomic Society Chaîne des Rȏtisseurs as well as the International Wine and Food Society. Petty, meanwhile, has been a food writer for various publications over the last 10 years. She also provides cooking consultancy and demonstrations for various five-star establishments in Jakarta and Bali.

In his book, William explores the Indonesian culinary scene from the country’s westernmost part to its farthest east. He presents not just the recipes for these dishes but also the history behind them. Petty’s book, meanwhile, introduces readers to some of the recipes and history behind famous Jakarta street foods, desserts and drinks from different parts of the country.

According to Petty, she was quite surprised and proud to win the award, considering that her rivals for the street food category came from France, the Netherlands, Singapore and other countries.

“The world is starting to recognize our culinary traditions,” she told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview.

Petty added that she hoped young Indonesian chefs would be more motivated to write books to promote Indonesian food, which is also part of our culture, and strive to attain such awards.

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“In order to win international awards, the book’s whole package is important. Not just the content but also the cover and design. They have to showcase Indonesia’s regional culinary uniqueness to make it attractive for the international market,” William told the Post during an exclusive interview.

William’s book is now available globally as it is being distributed by the Periplus Publishing Group.

Petty, however, is still looking for an international distributor to have her books available in the international market.

Pushing forward

Both authors agree that international awards for Indonesian cookbooks are great tools to promote Indonesian food on the international stage. They, however, believe that Indonesian food still has a long way to go to gain global popularity.

Indonesian foods are quite few and far between in other countries, despite the growing interest of foreigners, through exposure in the tourist sector, according to Petty.

“The only word ‘Indonesian’ I ever saw in the US was in a restaurant in a Trump Hotel in New York, and it was attached to ‘coconut water’. What a shame if the only thing Indonesia could contribute was merely coconut water, considering the richness of our culinary tradition,” William lamented.

Petty added that when Indonesian chefs worked for foreign restaurants or hotels, they usually had to cook European food, having no chance to introduce Indonesian foods.

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“Therefore, for international foodies, Indonesian food still remains pretty much a mystery,” William said.

“We have to create the international demand first. If relevant stakeholders do not devise concrete, long-term and sustainable food diplomacy programs for Indonesia, such international awards will not have much of a global impact,” Petty said.

She said an ecosystem needed to be created to help Indonesian food gain the same popularity enjoyed by Korean and Thai foods overseas.

“Nowadays, Thai food has taken over the European market. Thailand, however, has started to develop their agriculture sector parallel with the culinary industry because both of them are tied together. So by the time the Thai culinary industry was about to enter the international market, they had already been ready with the ingredients,” Petty said.

According to her, aside from a lack of sufficient local produce to be used as ingredients for Indonesian food overseas, there is a lack of Indonesian restaurants overseas due to a number of shortcomings.

“They have to sell food that is able to tell stories. Local produce capable of storytelling our Indonesian heritage,” she said, adding that she was hoping local restaurateurs would be motivated to seek investors that would help them expand overseas.

According to William, considering that the ecosystem to propel Indonesian food overseas does not exist, the goal to establish many Indonesian restaurants overseas seem to be too far-fetched, at least for now.

“Therefore, the most efficient way to promote our food globally right now is by joining bigger, well-established international food festivals and programs,” he said.

“For instance, we can join Anthony Bourdain’s street food market — known as the Bourdain Market — to penetrate New York and we have to request that they feature authentic Indonesian foods, no fusion,” he said.

He added that we could also seize opportunities at various halal food programs in Japan to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“We can train them to cook halal food by using Indonesian food as an example,” he said.

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