For such a large country, Indonesia hasn’t quite made its dent on the global culinary scene. Its cuisine hasn’t risen in prominence the way Thai, Chinese and Indian food has and few of its restaurants are known beyond expansive national borders.
Yet if one were to look hard enough, there are Indonesians working behind the scenes at some of the world’s best restaurants. One of them is Rydo Anton — the head chef of modernist Indian establishment Gaggan in Bangkok.
The 29-year-old Indonesian has been working at the renowned restaurant the past six years. He has seen the restaurant grow from strength to strength moving up from third place to number 1 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants where it stayed for four years, as well as garnering two Michelin stars for Bangkok’s inaugural Michelin Guide. All this while being chef and owner Gaggan Anand’s right hand man.
Now, he seems ready to inch out of his mentor’s shadow as he takes the stage at Ubud Food Festival 2018. There, he sat on a panel to discuss the effect of awards on restaurants, a masterclass as well as a collaboration with Bali’s Locavore — Indonesia’s most prominent restaurant.
We stole 10 minutes of his time to find out more about his past, what he’s up to when not in service and the dreams that he harbours.
How did you get started in the culinary industry?
I moved out of Indonesia to study with my brother in Kuala Lumpur at 11 without my parents. I was living with my brother and we had a lot of independence. We cooked on our own at home — when you’re young you wanted to experiment. I didn’t like books and then I jumped into the culinary industry.
At which point did you join the restaurant industry?
17 years old. That was my first internship in the States. It was a country club called Baltimore Country Club. I stayed there for one and a half years.
How did you come to join Gaggan?
I’ve worked there for almost six years now and Gaggan’s been around for eight years. I was staging in Singapore — I just left my job in the Middle East, at Gordon Ramsay. I was staging at Tipping Club and Restaurant Andre.
After that, I was broke so I needed a job. I like Bangkok so I went there — the city’s nice, the things are cheap and the food is fresh. I love Thai food. I happened to read the news and saw that there’s a restaurant doing progressive Indian cuisine. There was a photo of Gaggan in the newspaper with liquid nitrogen so I was like, “Oh that’s cool, this is molecular cuisine.”
That was 2010 and 2011. That was when Asian restaurants started using all these molecular stuff. I was really excited because I was bored of what I was doing. That’s why I went to Gaggan and asked for a job. He asked me to do a trial of seven dishes. I started out as just a chef de partie.
What are your culinary ambitions?
I want my own restaurant! I was just thinking that if I were to have my own restaurant it would be more of a tapas place — things that I’d like to do. There will be a kitchen in the centre to cook food that I like from the ingredients available. I’ll turn it into surprising bites and talk to the customers. We’ll serve natural wines.
Because it’s more easy going. It’s not so stiff. Now when you go into fine dining restaurant, it can be very stiff. So I like something more casual, tapas-style.
What about in terms of flavours? Are you thinking something more Southeast Asian? Or…
I personally love Asian flavours because of the umami. It will be an experience of where we came from, what we learnt and what we like.
Where would it be? In Asia?
Maybe Bangkok, because I like Bangkok. Maybe the Philippines or maybe even Jakarta or Bali.
What do you eat in Bangkok when you’re off duty?
Oh my god I eat a lot. In Bangkok now after Michelin came, there are so many new restaurants and you have a lot of choices. Bangkok normally favours Japanese cuisine because Thais love Japanese and Thai food. So we always go for Thai and Japanese too. But at home sometimes we just make ramen.
What drives you as a chef? What motivates you every day?
What keeps me going? It’s the team. I don’t think about myself, I think about the guys I work with and they look up to me — I can’t disappoint them. In order to do that, you have to create something that drives them too. Before we change menus we do R&D sessions where we create three different teams and take three weeks to one month to brainstorm new dishes. We give them freedom. If it’s good, we put it on the menu so everybody gets a chance.
Being in Gaggan must be quite a high pressured environment no?
I think it comes with responsibility. Because first of all, you need to pave your way to work hard and only then do you get the perks. Now I get to travel with Gaggan to different kinds of places but before that I’ve tasted the bitter parts. It’s tough, it’s full of responsibility and people look up to you as well so you have to give a good example. In order to run a successful restaurant, it’s not just one person. You only have two hands You need people to follow you in the right direction to help you as well. That’s why teamwork is so important.
As the head chef of Asia’s Best Restaurant for four years, do you somehow feel like you represent Indonesia?
Representing Indonesia? Yes I do, feel that way. I have to carry that image as well. And hopefully, someday I can represent it in a way that really lifts Indonesia up as a country.