Bara Pattiradjawane: Making
people happy with cooking

Courtesy of Bara Pattiradjawane

About 32 years ago, young Bara Pattiradjawane was busy cooking in his mother's kitchen in Holland. He put together some ingredients including pepper and ketchup to make stir-fried lamb for dinner.

Unfortunately, the cooking did not turn out the way it should have. It burned because he put the ketchup in at the wrong time.

Bara, who was just 13 at the time, had no idea about cooking techniques. Instead of putting the ketchup in at the end of the cooking process, he added the ketchup at the start. The ketchup caramelized, burned and turned black.

That was Bara's first cooking experience. His failure, however, did not stop him from experimenting with new dishes at home.

"It was definitely trial and error," Bara said. "But I love it and feel a sense of accomplishment when people enjoy my cooking."

The 45-year-old man never thought his hobby would bring him money and fame.

He is now the host of the cooking show, Gula-Gula (Sweets), on Trans TV. Bara is known for his funk and style. His provides a refreshing show compared to the more stiff and formal shows.

In Gula-Gula, Bara hosts the show in a relaxed, fun manner, as if he's cooking with his friends. He even makes "mistakes" that we usually encounter when cooking.

The unique element of his show is he reveals his "sins" to his viewers, which usually cooking show hosts hide.

Bara remembered an incident in one episode when he planned to make steamed Black Forest cake. Bara prepared the cake the night before. But the next morning he found the cake was flat, just a few hours before he shot for the show.

"I was panicking, but the producer said the show must go on," he said. "So I told my viewers about the incident when the show began."

Fortunately, Bara is a man with many ideas. He later created a recipe for "flat" Black Forest cakes and suggested decorating it with canned cherries and cream.

"And you know what, the Black Forest cake incident became one of the most successful episodes," he said giggling.

In another episode, he said he burned the food he fried.

"This is an honest cooking show," said Bara, who has been hosting the show for four years. "We want to show people that even experienced chefs can make mistakes.

"We want to encourage people to be unafraid of cooking. The most important thing to take from the show is to not give up if you make a mistake."

In real life, Bara is just as he is on TV. He's warm, friendly and fun. Talking with him is like having a conversation with an old friend, and his passion for food is obvious as he enthusiastically discusses cooking.

The Jakarta Post also had a chance to taste Bara's delicious chocolate profiteroles (choux pastry filled with cream, covered in chocolate sauce). The profiterole was just the right amount of sweet and the cream and pastry melted in our mouths.

The Post also got to see Bara making the chocolate sauce for the pastry and putting the chocolate profiteroles in a beautifully decorated box with red and gold ribbons.

Born in Jakarta on July 9, 1964, Bara's passion for cooking began at age 11 in Europe, where he lived with his father, L.J.A. Pattiradjawane, who was a journalist and worked at the information ministry.

Courtesy of Bara Pattiradjawane

His appreciation for cooking began when he started making dinner for himself. He enjoyed it and later became interested in experimenting with flavor, adding spices to his dishes.

Then one day, he decided to go to the supermarket by himself to buy ingredients and cook the aforementioned lamb dish.

But the "blackened lamb" incident only drove him to create more dishes.

His passion for cooking also arose from his love for pastries. When he was little, he would even eat dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chocolate cake was a favorite.

He learned a lot from his mother, Rose Lintong, who gave him a cookbook written in Dutch.

Even now, Bara says, he still uses the old book for reference.

"I also loved watching my grandma cook, adding all sorts of spices and ingredients. She seemed so relaxed and as if she enjoyed it so much.

"Maybe that's where my love for cooking began," he said.

He also said he had no formal cooking education.

"It never crossed my mind I would spend my life cooking - I began cooking as a hobby."

"I learned to cook by myself. I read a lot of cookbooks and surf the Internet," he said. "I like to be creative, try new dishes and think outside the box when I'm cooking," he said.

But instead of enrolling in cooking schools, Bara chose to study art and design in Paris.

After he finished studying in Europe, he decided to come back to Indonesia in the early 1990s, working as a journalist for daily newspaper Kompas in Jakarta before starting his career as a marketing officer for a private company.

Even when he was flat out working in the office, he still cooked for people, especially pastries such as profiteroles and tiramisu.

In 1995, he opened a pastry shop called Gula Goela to cater to his passion for sweets.

Bara said tiramisu was one of his specialties, not only making the classic version, but creating dozens of different flavors of the dessert.

He received the recipe for the classic tiramisu from an Italian when he lived in Europe 20 years ago.

When the financial crisis hit Indonesia in 1998, the company he worked for collapsed. That's when Bara decided to fully immerse himself in the food industry.

"I didn't have a lot of money," he said. "I used cooking utensils that belonged to my mother and grandma. At that time, there was a question that kept looming: Can I really make money and survive in this business?"

But Bara had made up his mind he would commit himself to his pursuit regardless of what obstacles arose.

Word-of-mouth advertising was one of the most effective ways to promote his business, especially as there was no shortage of people who ordered his delicious desserts.

In 2005, Bara's popularity as "the cook" rose further when he secured the cooking show, Gula Gula.

But getting the show off the ground wasn't without a challenge. It took about five years for it to take off.

"In 2000, I came to a point where I wanted to share my cooking skills with other people.

"I went to one station after another pitching my cooking program. There was a time when I got rejected. It was definitely not easy, you know," said Bara.

After five years struggling to get his own cooking show, his dream came true in 2005 when a producer from Trans TV proposed he be a guest on the Dorce Show, a one-hour talk show hosted by singer Dorce Gamalama, for two episodes.

Two months after his appearance on the show, he was made the offer to host his own cooking show.

The name of the show derived from his cake shop.

Bara, however, doesn't consider himself a chef.

"I'm not a chef. A chef is the most honorable position to assume in a kitchen. I'm just a cooking guy. I cook to please others. I want to make people happy with my food," he said.

Besides sharing his cooking skills on the show, he also aims to encourage people to go back to the tradition of eating together as a family.

"I notice this simple tradition has been lost in big cities such as Jakarta.

"Today, parents tend to let their kids eat in front of TV with their nannies," said Bara. "This is so sad.

"If it's not possible to have meals together every day, at least you can do it on the weekend.

"For me, having meals with my parents and siblings were some of the greatest times of my life. I felt the warmth and connectedness of being part of a family."

Even though his cooking show has become a hit and he has gained a strong fan-following, Bara still has his critics.

For instance, he was criticized for not chopping garlic properly. "I had said earlier in the show I was making a dish for people who were too lazy to chop garlic.

"So, I was just simply putting the whole garlic in the pan. Why not? I don't think there should be limitations in cooking. I just do want I want to do," he said.

Bara's world totally revolves around cooking and food. He has published two cookbooks, Masak Seru Bareng Si Tukang Masak (Fun Cooking with the Cooking Guy) and Catatan Dari Balik Dapur Si Tukang Masak (Memoir from the Cooking Guy's Kitchen), which are currently available in bookstores.

Even in his spare time, he drowns himself in tonnes of cookbooks, browses through recipes on the Internet, goes from one eatery to another, tasting different cuisines, and goes to supermarkets to find new spices.

"I know it sounds crazy but all these activities give me such great pleasure," he said, admitting he could never be far away from the world of food.

He also has many "cooking dreams" simmering in his head.

One dream is to learn to make jajanan pasar (Indonesian traditional snacks), saying he loves kelepon (round, steamed sticky rice cakes filled with brown sugar and sprinkled with shaved coconut) and getuk lindri (snack made from crushed cassava).

He often wakes up early in the morning just to go to morning markets at Blok M, Mayestik, Lebak Bulus and Pondok Labu in South Jakarta, to buy traditional snacks.

Of all his hopes, his biggest dream is securing his very own cooking show on an Asian TV food channel.

"I want to travel Indonesia, explore all it has to offer and cook with people," Bara said. "And I hope my cooking show can be broadcast around Asia."

After the success of the show's first season, the former journalist is now taking a break.

In his spare time, he likes to keep a low profile spending time at home with his family and friends, just as we did one overcast afternoon where we spent lunch together with his family at his home in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

The rain and wind outside mightn't have been inviting, but there was plenty of warmth and friendliness with Bara and his family.

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