People

Edwin Lau: The Healthy
Chef

JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

Calling himself a healthy chef, the 28-year-old is not only willing to share his cooking skills, but is also keen to encourage people to recognize the importance of nutrition and regular exercise.

Since he was a boy, chef Edwin Lau has practiced a healthy lifestyle through athletics. Born on Nov. 16, 1982, Edwin never dreamed of becoming a chef or taking up cooking activities as a hobby.

Instead, he dreamed of becoming an athlete. He enjoyed watching badminton on TV, especially his favorite Indonesian shuttlers Alan Budikusuma, Hariyanto Arbi and Susi Susanti.

He became more familiar with badminton after his father opened badminton courts for rent in his hometown of Makassar, South Sulawesi. Unfortunately, Edwin had to abandon his dream when he was told in the fourth grade that he was shortsighted and had to wear glasses.

His shattered dream, however, did not diminish his passion for sports. He decided to get into a gym when he was only 10 to learn more about bodybuilding.

“I was the youngest and the smallest in the gym at that time. I did exercises regularly and read guidebooks during my free time to enrich my knowledge about exercise,” Edwin said.

His life changed in 2000 when he enrolled in Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta, majoring in hospitality. His studies eventually introduced him to the cooking world. Besides studying on campus, he also learned more about nutrition.

Edwin graduated from the school after three years and honed his cooking abilities by working at hotels and restaurants. He specialized in Japanese food. “I’m in love with Japanese culture, which is very rich, artistic and deep,” he said, adding that his thesis was on Japanese culture and cuisine.

“Such characteristics are also clearly seen in the cuisine. Japanese culture also reflects my perfectionist character.”  

Even with his new passion for cooking, Edwin never stopped going to the gym to keep his body in shape. With his lean muscled six-packed body, he tried his luck at modeling by taking part in a cover model contest held by Men’s Health magazine in 2006.

Edwin was later on the cover of the magazine’s Indonesian edition. He also participated in the Mister Indonesia 2007 contest and sealed a second runner-up victory.

“Why did I get into modeling? I had a feeling that I had to. If I was not in modeling, I would not be in the place where I am now,” Edwin said.

The modeling contest turned out to lead his way to the entertainment world. Soon after his appearance on the magazine cover, Malaysian-based Astro All-Asia Network broadcasting company made him an offer to appear on its new cooking program.

“I learned about professionalism and showmanship through modeling, and other basic things useful in the entertainment industry,” he said.

Edwin decided to quit his job as a chef at a five-star hotel in Jakarta to fully focus on his new world. His career, however, did not run smoothly and fame did not come over night. While he was excited to have his own cooking show, he was soon disappointed when Astro stopped its services in Indonesia.

Not even one of his 52-episodes ever aired in Indonesia, but Edwin did not want to give up easily. He believed there would be other opportunities ahead, and he was right.

“My cooking program on Astro TV might have never been aired in Indonesia, but a team from  [local station] Metro TV managed to watch the program’s dummy. They expressed interest in me and cast me for their program called Healthy Life,” he recalled.  

His name was soon added to the list of TV persona chefs who have invaded local TV stations over the last few years.

Some of these chefs are called “sexy chefs” due to their pretty faces and appealing appearances, but Edwin prefers to be called a healthy chef because he mixes culinary recipes with nutritional information and exercise tips. “Because Indonesians typically like eating and they are not really into sports and do not care much about their health.”

“I focus on the culinary world now because it’s more promising,” Edwin said.

Edwin has written a book titled Healthy Express Super Sehat Dalam Dua Minggu (Healthy Express Super Healthy Within Two Weeks), which illustrates the A-to-Z of health food and a guide for healthy living.

Edwin might be an expert in Japanese cooking, but he is also good at making other dishes.
While shooting a program on Metro TV one morning, Edwin displayed his cooking ability by creating a delicious cake he called “chocolate melt”, which is a combination of dark chocolate, chocolate éclair and butter nut.   

The Jakarta Post had the chance to taste the cake, served hot from the oven. The chocolate was soft with the right portion of sweetness melted inside.

Aside from his reputation as a healthy chef, Edwin recently sparked controversy when he took on his first TV commercial promoting an instant noodle. A health chef promoting instant noodles made little sense given that noodles are usually considered unhealthy. Edwin explained.  

“When I was offered the ad, I did not immediately say yes. I first made some observations of the company and the product, from the ingredients and production process to the working system,” he explained.

“I found out that this product is the only instant noodle brand in Indonesia which has earned the ISO 22000 certification, a standard for food safety.”

As for the monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the noodle, which some people say is harmful, Edwin has his own thoughts.

“MSG is considered unhealthy if it is consumed in excess. When the substance was invented, it was aimed at enhancing food taste. There’s nothing wrong with the substance as long as we use it wisely and in the right amount,” he said.

Edwin explained the reasons why he took the offer on his Facebook account.

He realizes that his decision might be a double-edged sword for him, but he is ready to face the risks.

Meanwhile, even though the TV industry has made him one of Indonesia’s celebrity chefs, Edwin does not want to rely on the entertainment world forever.

“I am basically a chef and cooking is my ultimate passion. If I’m done with the entertainment industry, I will keep on track as a chef,” he ensured.

Edwin has many other activities and plans his own agendas beyond the on-screen programs. For instance, he established Healthy Kingdom Community in a bid to teach people about his three basics: cooking, nutrition and exercise.

The community’s activities include a health food cooking course and health consultation.
Edwin is a man with detailed plans, especially when it comes to his life. In the near future he aims at establishing an eatery franchise.

“I’ve got the concept, chefs and product. Now I need to find investors who have the same mission and vision as I do. The concept has to be modern and the food has to be delicious with reasonable prices,” he said.  

He plans to establish the franchise in cities outside Jakarta.

“I think Jakarta is overcrowded. Even if my restaurant provides good food, I still have to deal with my number one enemy — traffic congestion,” Edwin said.

“Without traffic, for instance, I can have 100 people coming to my restaurant, while in bad traffic, there might be only 50 people eating at my place. That will cost me.”

As for his long term goal, Edwin wants to establish a reputable cooking school called the Healthy Kingdom School, which is aimed at surpassing noted international cooking institutes such as Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America.

In his mind, the school will be built out of town, far away from the hustle bustle of the big city.

“I picture that there will be a student dormitory so the students will focus on their studies there for around six months. Each student will later earn certification from the school.”

“Once I have built a cooking school, I can say that I have reached my golden era.”

During his busy time, the Chinese descendent tries to spend time with his extended family, especially during Chinese New Year, locally known as Imlek. For him and his family, imlek is eating time.

When he was still in Makassar, Edwin would usually enjoy eating at the table together with his parents and two sisters before visiting relatives around the city.

Among the most popular items served during the celebration include lapis legit (layered cake), pink-colored kue mangkok (steam cakes), kue kura-kura (cakes made from glutinous rice), sweets and chocolates.

The cookies and cakes are served to guests visiting that day, Edwin said.

“Later in the afternoon, it would be our turn to visit relatives, and they would serve us similar dishes,” Edwin said, adding that his family also practiced the tradition of wearing new red clothes.

Also found on the menu is fried noodles, which symbolizes long life, while the main course is normally either Peking duck or pork dishes.

“The pork dishes are cooked with various spices and different styles, ranging from kuluyuk (sweet and spicy style), asam manis (sweet and sour), cah jamur (sautéed mushrooms) and saus tiram (oyster sauce). Sometimes it can be roasted or made into bakso goreng (fried pork balls).”

Celebrating Chinese New Year would not be complete without giving ang pao (red envelopes containing money).

Based on an old Chinese tradition, ang pao is given by older people who are already married to younger people, especially those who are not married, and children. Since Edwin is not married yet, he still receives ang pao from his older relatives.

“Even though I’m not married yet, I also give ang pao to children and my house maids,” he said. 

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