People

Arnold Poernomo: Putting
food first

Growing up with a restaurant as his playground, chef Arnold Poernomo considers the kitchen as the place where culinary knowledge and skill are best learned.

Arnold’s arrival in the latest season of MasterChef Indonesia created a buzz because he replaced Juna  Rorimpandey, whose blunt comments reminded viewers of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and X Factor judge Simon Cowell.

“I’m not going to try to fill in Juna’s position. He is who he is, and I am who I am. I am easy-going, but I will speak my mind,” Arnold says.

The 24-year-old said he enjoyed very much participating in the third season of the culinary smash hit where he, along with two other celebrated chefs, Degan Soeptoadji and Ririn Marinka, put a group of contestants through a series of exciting elimination rounds and turn one amateur cook into a culinary master.

 “I entered the show weighing 75 kilogams; now I tip the scale at 88 kilograms. This is proof that I’ve been working very hard,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Arnold has been exposed to the culinary world since he was young, growing up in a family that has been involved in the restaurant business for generations.

He was born in East Java capital Surabaya, where his parents, Junarmo Poernomo and Boyke Malada, operated a number of restaurants.

“As a kid I spent a lot of time at the restaurant. I would run around, ‘disturbing’ the patrons, getting yelled at by my parents.

“As I grew older, I began dabbling in the restaurant business. Around third or fourth grade I started sitting at the cashier or would help make drinks for customers,” he said.

After he completed elementary school, his family migrated to Sydney in 1999. His teenage years in  Sydney opened his eyes and exposed him to the fast growing food industry, which he considered very different to the Indonesian culinary industry.

“They have restaurants I didn’t even have in my vocabulary, a different kind of service and different ingredients. I got more interested in the culinary world,” said the second of three siblings.

Soon, he started taking side jobs at restaurants, initially to make use of his free time and gain pocket money.

“I first worked three days a week and later four days a week and then every day. I enjoyed it more and more.

“However, the drawback of working is that I became lazy at school. I would go to school in the morning reluctantly,” Arnold said with a smile.

He has been employed as a kitchen-hand at Pan D’arte Café, an apprentice at Bills modern Australian restaurant and bar manager at Lanzafame Italian restaurant.

“I chose not to go to college, continuing to work at restaurants instead. I got hands on experience in the kitchen
and I got to work with amazing people,” he said.

In 2009, he landed on a position as restaurant manager at another modern Australian restaurant, Sydney Dance Lounge. A year later, he was involved in the creation of The Nest Grill in Jakarta.

“I was offered a position as general manager at The Nest Grill. I always wanted to work overseas. I just never imagine it would be in Jakarta!

“Although I was working with the restaurant management, I immediately turned my head to the kitchen, wanting it to improve more and more. Three months later, I was appointed chef as well,” Arnold said.

A three-year contract at the restaurant ended late last year. Before being offered a place at MasterChef, Arnold got to sample the television world with his own cooking show Catatan Chef Arnold (Chef Arnold Notes), aired by KompasTV.

Arnold said that MasterChef, which is aired at 4:15 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday on RCTI, offered an opportunity for him to learn and share knowledge with fellow chefs, amateur cooks and the audience.

“Like my mom always says: It’s always better to work with other people because you can learn new things from them,” he said.

His next goal is to open his own restaurant in Sydney. “I hope can start with the construction next year.” Working with the family?

“Not a chance. I can’t yell at my mom, especially not in the kitchen,” he quickly stressed before booming with laughter.

— Photos Courtesy of MasterChef Indonesia

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