Yoocy Teintang has been living in Stockholm since he was little, and here he sits down with us to talk about his experiences as head chef in Jamie’s Italian and to give some tips for chefs who want to work in foreign countries.
How do you decide to become a chef?
I guess I was inspired by my grandmother. I always watched her cook in the kitchen and I always remembered all the fond memories that I shared with my grandmother in the kitchen. When I moved to Sweden, I was a 13-year-old boy who was always left alone at home because my dad needed to go to work and my mum remarried, so we don’t live together. I ended up cooking for myself because I need to survive especially seeing that there aren’t many maids in Sweden.
So how did you become better at cooking?
When I was 16 years old, during summer holiday, my dad asked me to help his friend: an Indian man who worked in a restaurant as a chef. So I ended up becoming his assistant and worked my way through summer as his assistant chef. Even though the summer job was just to fill up boredom, I really liked it because I had been used to working in the kitchen ever since I was little. So the fluidity of movement and being inside the kitchen was something I was familiar with. Then I took vocational studies in cooking until I was certified to be a head chef. I am proud to say that my hobby became my job.
How did you get into Jamie’s Italian as the head chef?
In the beginning, I was working in Scandic hotel for six years. During my time there, I would be moving around from one chain to another chain. I worked in several hotels in different locations. What I was doing was that whenever there was one chain that was in trouble, I would go there for a few months to stabilise the financial situation, manage the staff, and make sure that everything was in good order before the new executive chef comes in. After six years, I was placed as Jamie’s Italian’s head chef.
As the head chef of Jamie’s Italian, were you familiar with Italian food?
Not really. I’m actually more familiar with Swedish and Scandinavian food. What I am doing as head chef is that I am focusing on the management side. Even though I am more familiar with Swedish and Scandinavian food, it doesn’t mean I can’t differentiate between bad-tasting Italian food and the good ones. As a chef, we rely on our senses, like our tongue and eyes.
My sous chef is actually better at cooking Italian dishes. All I do is manage and make sure the restaurant churns out profit. It is no use if the chef is a genius in cooking, but the restaurant is not profitable. So when the finance manager checks the ledger every month, he or she is happy.
What is the commonest mistake people make when it comes to food tasting?
I think the most common mistake is calling a food spicy. Remember that spicy is not a flavour. Spicy is part of the bitter flavour. Our tongue only recognizes sweet, salty, bitter, and sour tastes. Do you know that chilli is actually a form of poison that is acceptable to our body? Yeah, it is. [Laughs]
Can you explain to us a bit about umami?
Now there’s a new flavour they call umami. Umami is a flavour that we get when we eat mushrooms, truffles, or when we bite into rust iron in extreme cases. MSG is considered as umami flavour as well.
So who does the menu planning for Jamie’s Italian?
Everything in Jamie’s is standardized, just like McDonald’s. They have their own menu catalogue that they will spread through the internal system, so all we did is picked a few from each category and then make an entire menu out of it. For example, in the catalogue they send us there will be 10 different types of pizza. So all we did is pick three out of 10 pizzas and then do the same thing to other categories such as pasta or antipasti.
If you have any idea that you want to add to the menu, it needs to be approved by Jamie first. Inside the catalogue, all the ingredients and cooking processes are put there in detail, and no matter which Jamie’s Italian we go to, all the utensils, interiors and even the chairs are all the same.
What are the food trends in Italian cuisine this year?
Jamie is opening Barbecoa, so I see that there is a desire from people to know what is an Italian-style grill barbeque.
Can you explain to me the pizza culture in Italy?
In Italy, there are two types of pizza: one is from the northern side and the other from the southern side. Pizza in the northern side is wide and thick[ML1] , whereas in Napoli, which is where pizza comes from, the pizza is thick and round. In Napoli, the pizza doughs are bigger than the ones in the northern side of Italy. So basically you eat more of the flour in Napoli, which also tastes really good in my opinion.
What are some interesting things you do as head chef of Jamie’s Italian?
In Jamie’s Italian, we can make our own daily lunch. So we will prepare daily lunches from Monday to Friday. What I do is that I gathered everyone working there from the waiter to the sous chef and explained that day’s special lunch. I will also explain the special features of the meal. For example, if it is free from dairy, which were dangerous for lactose intolerant guests. This is to ensure that everyone is familiar with the special lunch menu.
Are there any tips for chefs who want to work in other countries outside Indonesia?
You have got to take risks. I see a lot of potential in local chefs here, but most of them are too scared to take risks and move out of their comfort zones. I have seen a lot of chefs from Nigeria and Bangladesh in Stockholm who are willing to walk across different countries to reach Stockholm to get a job. I have one chef working for me who is a Mongolian. He came to Stockholm 12 years ago, working hard until he became the assistant chef and finally the sous chef in Jamie’s Italian. He got a permanent residence card now in Stockholm and he regularly sent money back home to buy some land. The difference is that those people are willing to experience hardship in order to succeed in outside countries.
What is your kitchen disaster story?
When I was working in a small hotel in Stockholm there was one kitchen disaster story. That day, there were only three chefs in charge, and both of them called in sick and I was left alone. It was quite chaotic that time because I had to prepare food for 100 people and at the same time I needed to handle the administration side and also be an actor that convinced the guests that everything is alright. There is also another story where one of the chefs I was working with turned out to be an alcoholic that had been secretly drinking restaurant wines in the toilet, so I had to fire him.
How do you motivate your staff?
I told them that learning is all about seeing. So if they see me run, they also run. If I label the food, they label the food. If I sit, then they sit. For me, there is no hierarchy when it comes to being a chef. I choose to take off the sponsorship stickers that head chefs usually have on their uniforms and choose to wear a normal one because for me all chefs are the same. The most important thing is the aura of a head chef, so no matter where I am, they will still work hard.