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Courtesy of MasterChef 2 - RCTICulinary by name,
culinary by nature.
Meet Degan Septoadji Suprijadi, the new judge in MasterChef Indonesia. The road to becoming an executive chef, and later the owner of his own restaurant, has been long and winding, spanning 30 years.
The owner of Café Degan in Bali said he was approached for the cooking show when he was still working in Banyan Tree Bangkok, in Thailand last year.
He actually missed the first season of the show, but a quick search on the Internet was enough to earn his approval.
“I didn’t see the entire show when it was aired because I wasn’t in Indonesia at the time, but I watched it in on YouTube. I think it’s not only an entertaining competition show. It also educates people a lot,” he told The Jakarta Post.
He said the display of numerous ingredients that were unfamiliar and the knowledge of how to use them gave an insight into the culinary world, especially for people who were never exposed to hospitality and the food and beverage industry.
His first name, Degan, means coconut water in Javanese. His wife, Nike Kurnia, said Degan’s mother had stomachache when she was pregnant. His father gave her coconut water, which healed the
“His father planned to name him Degan if the baby was a boy, but his mother was afraid that the kid would be mocked by his peers,” she said.
Degan’s father managed to assure his wife by saying that they would live abroad, so nobody would know the meaning of the name. Little Degan moved to Germany with his parents when he was 6-year-old as his father, who worked in a prominent automotive company, was transferred to that country.
Nike said Degan’s decision to study the culinary discipline was influenced by his mother’s suggestion to choose something that applied to anyone, anytime and anywhere in the world.
“Among the list of his passions, he found that cooking would be the best option. People will always need to eat at anytime, anywhere in the world,” she told the Post.
Degan went to Berufsbildende Schule Technik 2 in Ludwigshafen, Germany, to study food from 1984 to 1987 while at the same time taking on an apprenticeship in the Zur Pfalz Hotel in Kandel.
A year later, he came back to Indonesia to work in The Jakarta Hilton International (currently The Sultan) in the Taman Sari fine dining restaurant. He started as first cook before being promoted to Demi Chef de Partie.
Since then, his experiences have spanned from Grand Hyatt Bali, Ritz Carlton Bali, Atlantis Royal Towers in the Bahamas, Melia Bali Villa and Spa Resort and Banyan Tree Group. Like other hoteliers who climb the ladder to become professional chefs, Degan also believes that there is no short cut to the position.
“It’s a profession that requires a lot of hard work and discipline. Nothing will be given to you. You have to earn it. If you don’t have the passion for this job, you could easily leave it halfway through,” he said.
Talking to Degan was like talking to an old mentor. He keeps a low profile and has a soft demeanor that makes him approachable. As he answered questions, he spoke many wise words and told of interesting stories.
He recounted the experiences he had when he was working for a tough German chef who was also an owner of the restaurant. The chef, he said, was kind enough to teach the kitchen staff anything they needed at any given time, but he gave hard lessons in discipline.
“When we peeled potatoes too thick, he would stand behind us, but we would not know. He would twist our ears and we would have to take out the thick peeled skin, cook it and eat it. And we did not get any lunch,” he said.
He also shared a story when his friend repeatedly forgot to clean a fresh pheasant. One day, the chef did not allow the friend to go home as he had to clean the pheasant that had already turned blue.
“I remember my friend puked many times. When he was finished, the chef had a look and said ‘Now you throw it away,’” he said.
Degan said it was a tough lesson, but it was the chef’s way of teaching them how to face the consequences in life. They learnt the hard way that the moment they threw away the thick skin or forgot to clean the pheasant, they were also throwing away the owner’s money.
He smiled when asked whether he too used an iron fist approach to discipline his subordinates.
“When you have passion, you have emotion too, so it’s natural that most chefs are emotional. A long time ago when I was young, I was like that. But when you work longer in this profession, you learn to deal with people in different ways and adapt to different cultures,” he said.
Rapid culinary developments in Jakarta apparently mesmerized the chef, who had not seen the capital city for 20 years. He said back then, restaurants in hotels were the best restaurants in town, but nowadays there are many good free-standing restaurants with good chefs, atmospheres and designs.
“Now, imported ingredients are much bigger than you used to have 20 years ago. There are also a lot of Indonesian chefs who work abroad and come back to Indonesia to bring their expertise and experiences,” he said.
Food is not only his job, but it has also entered various aspects of his life. One of his best vacations was based on a passion to explore the Spanish culinary culture. Degan said he and his wife made a last minute decision to go to Barcelona in 2009.
“We were there for five days and that was the first time in my life that I forgot about time. We missed our plane back to Germany. It was the best holiday ever in terms of atmosphere and food,” he said.
The man who spends his free time jogging in Batu Belik in Bali said that cooking also relaxed him. He would grill a piece of steak or just make simple pasta after working in his restaurant, which served Indonesian and Thai food.
Cooking, he said, was a rewarding job because he could create positive emotions for other people when they liked his food. He also emphasized that a good chef took criticism on board in order to improve. Priceless moments for him are when guests compliment him on his food.
“We like to make people happy. I think this is the beauty of cooking and that’s what makes me stay in the business,” he said.