People

Juna Rorimpandey: A master
chef with an attitude

JP/Triwik Kurniasari

He sports tattoos all over his hands, rides a Harley-Davidson and makes fabulous food. Meet master chef Juna Rorimpandey.

His blunt comments are reminiscent of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay or former American Idol judge Simon Cowell.

“Your soup is tasteless, just like air kobokan,” said Juna coldly, referring to fingerbowl water, right after tasting a soup cooked by a contestant on the reality show MasterChef Indonesia.

Without further comment, he poured the soup into another bowl, to the surprise of the contestants and viewers at home.

His straightforward manner — which some find improper and others consider a scripted act to add to the show’s drama — launched him into fame and contributed to the popularity of culinary shows on television.

“When it comes to work, I am very strict and disciplined,” Juna told The Jakarta Post during a break between filming in Pengadegan, South Jakarta.

“I never script my comments. If the dish is not good, I tell it the way it is. That’s the real me. There’s no manipulation. Period.”

The executive chef of Jackrabbit restaurant simply does not care what people think of him, but is aware many people out there may hate him for being straightforward.

“This is not a popularity contest. I realize many people out there might hate me for this, but I still have many friends who know me better. People only see the outside.”

Courtesy of MasterChef Indonesia

In person, Juna is just like on TV — straightforward and assertive. But as the conversation flows, he reveals other sides and even cracks some funny jokes.

Juna’s face or name may not have rung a bell before he appeared on the show alongside two other judges, chef Vindex Valentino Tengker and Rinrin Marinka.

The show, a spinoff of the original BBC show MasterChef, where amateur chefs compete for the coveted title of MasterChef, began airing on private broadcaster RCTI in early May. Each week, contestants have to go through a series of tests and challenges to win a place in the next episode, with the last man or woman standing taking home a huge cash prize.

Born in Jakarta on July 20, Junior John “Juna” Rorimpandey never thought he would become a chef.

His foray into the profession began in 1997 when he worked in a restaurant after finishing his studies in the US.

He was trained by mean chefs — meaner than Gordon Ramsay — but feels grateful. “If you made a mistake, they threw a hot pan at you. If you forgot to shave, you had to return home and they would dock your pay,” he recalls.

“Those chefs were rude, but I loved them. Once, we had a French chef who would pinch us and swear at us in French. My arm was black and blue but I liked working with a man like him.”

In his second year in the business, it came across to Juna that this may be his passion, something he knew he was good at and could turn into a career.

He was aware he had the passion to make something and infuse it with something else, just like creating art.

“I am an art lover and I think the final result of cooking is a piece of art,” he says. “Perhaps I’ve got the talent, or it’s the motivation that drove me to be a good chef. But even those sadistic chefs liked my dishes.”

He later spread his wings in the culinary world, gaining experience working at renowned chef Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry and at Lola under Iron Chef America Michael Symon where he learned discipline and consistency.

Working as a chef for more than a decade in the US honing his French and Japanese culinary artistry required much sacrifice. He had to give up his hobbies, outdoor activities such as hiking, riding a Harley-Davidson and snowboarding, since he had to work most of the time, even in winter.

“You have to sacrifice many things in your life, including your love life,” Juna says. “Chefs in America usually spend their time drinking with others after work. It’s a curse in this profession because there may not be any women out there who want to go out with men who don’t have any time at all.”

Fate took a different turn when he decided to return to Indonesia in 2009 for a three-and-a-half-month vacation.

Back home, he was convinced by a friend to later become his partner in establishing Jackrabbit, one of Jakarta’s trendiest dining places.

Working in Indonesia brings many new challenges, Juna says, from the different working culture to the ingredients.

He says he felt honored to take up a role in MasterChef Indonesia, something he did to make sure no celebrity would take a job in a culinary show.

“This is the culinary world. I worked hard for many years to become what I am today,” Juna says. “MasterChef is the most prestigious culinary show ever  in Indonesia so I hope the judges are prominent culinary experts, not just  pretty people who know nothing about the industry.”

His other intention is to educate people that being a chef was not as glamorous as many people think. The real chefs, he says, are not those on TV who cook  in picturesque mountain settings.

“It’s not like that. A true chef works hard on his feet 12 to 18 hours a day,” he says. “Those who are not serious in this industry will immediately quit their jobs. People who are willing to learn will stay.”

He later confessed that even though he was grateful for being a judge on MasterChef Indonesia, he did not enjoy being in the spotlight and becoming the center of media attention.

“The bad side about being on TV is now I am famous. For me that’s  not a nice thing because people start to notice me. I’m not used to this,” he says.

“I am not an entertainer. I am just a chef, who happens to be a judge on MasterChef.”

Becoming a chef requires a strong mentality, not just cooking skills, Juna says.

“Cooking is easy. All you need is salt and pepper, not to overdo anything and there you go, you have a dish. But if you want to be a real chef, that’s a different story,” he said, praising his mother and grandma as good cooks.

“Chefs are not only the ones who cook, but also who have to ability to maintain the quality and consistency of their cooking, know about basic ingredients, control the people who work with them in a restaurant, manage their time well and many other things.”

Being a chef, Juna says, does not depend on whether you attended culinary school, but about “the people themselves,” he says. “Once, I hired some people, who graduated from the world’s number one culinary school but they were awful.”

Juna himself prefers to learn by doing while keeping an open mind.

In the culinary industry, he says, it was important to continue learning new things — new ingredients, cooking techniques and the latest kitchen ware.

“I thought I knew everything already, but I don’t. So, it is important for us to be humble and open minded.”

Stern and discipline in his kitchen, Juna believes in being fair.

“I always know if somebody touches my things, or if something misplaced in my kitchen. It makes me real mad. But if my employees do their job well, they will get rewarded,” he says.

After work on a Friday or Saturday, Juna loosens up and opens a bottle of liquor to drink with his staff.

“Outside of working hours, I like to fool around with my friends. It’s really  two different worlds for me.”

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.