William Wongso, as the food ambassador for Indonesian cuisines, shares his recipe for a mouthwatering rendang, a spicy meat dish that emerged from Indonesia, notably the ethnic group of Minangkabau. He then shares advice for aspiring chefs.
Rendang is a spicy meat dish which originated from Indonesia, especially the ethnic group of Minangkabau, and is now commonly served across the country.
You are famous for your rendang Padang, or Padang-style rendang. What is the secret to a good rendang?
The secret to a good tasting rendang is caramelization at the end of cooking. After caramelization, the rendang will appear blackened and I can immediately tell if the rendang is a good one. The general mistake is a short cooking time and using water instead of coconut milk, the latter if used less, will also result in a poor tasting rendang.
You did a lot of workshops on how to cook Rendang. What are the challenges for people outside Indonesia to cook rendang at home?
The majority of people in Indonesia have no problem with cooking rendang at home where three are a lot of hands to help the cooking process. In Western countries, most people cook alone so in order to make it easier for them, I introduced a way to make rendang with an oven.
Do you cook at home as well?
No, I have a team of chefs who cook for me and all of the dishes are really good. I simply discuss the menu plan with them and of course, I am the one who does the tasting.
What are your health tips?
I just eat little. No matter how good is the food, I always share my food with other people.
What do you think makes Indonesian cuisines so special?
Eating is an experience, and your taste and my taste might be different. I have tried a lot of food in Vietnam and France, and in my opinion, their basic taste is very horizontal, it is not diverse all-around like in Indonesia. Here, you can go to one city to the other and taste a totally different flavour. For example, if you taste Binte Biluhuta in Gorontalo -sort of corn soup- it will be very heavy as Gorontalo people looks at Binte as a kind of comfort food. But, if I make it myself, I make a lighter version, using corn, young coconut and shrimp to serve with a clear soup, and it is still good.
How do you make Indonesian food more memorable for foreigners?
In order to make Indonesian food that are memorable, you have to study the national food, local ingredients and eating habits. When I go to Africa, they like to cook with game, so I cook their game and turn it into satay and Rendang. This way, they will taste something different with the usual game they eat. Indonesian food are fascinating, remember to always try to cook with flavours of Indonesia and experiment with the ingredients if you are in other countries.
What do you think of the young food bloggers nowadays?
It is good that they started those things, but traditionally, most of the good and reputable food critics are incognito, so you don’t really know what they look like. They actually pay for their own food and the reviews are honest. But, now the world is changing and food critics have to be careful as the establishments can sue them.
What are your proudest achievements so far?
I got a few awards before, but I think I feel most proud of my cookbook winning the Gourmand Award [Smile].
What do you think about social media?
I am only active on Instagram, which I linked to Facebook and Twitter. I dedicate my Instagram to culinary, so I don’t post other subjects. For me, my main purpose of using social media is to share; what I taste and what I see. Also, I think social media can easily breed arguments, especially in the comment section. So if I see someone who wants to argue with me, I will ask that person to sit down in front of me to argue instead of arguing in the comment section.
If you are not a chef, what would you be?
Maybe, I will become a doctor. When I was in junior high, I have so many medical books that I bet all the medical students envied me back then [Laughs].
What do you think are the challenges face by Indonesian chefs?
Learning Indonesian food is not easy. In Indonesia, chefs usually learn from their senior, instead of learning to cook authentic food directly from the natives in different parts of Indonesia. Many Western chefs can afford it, but most of the local chefs can’t afford it. I make it my mission to consistently introduce Indonesian food locally and internationally. However, I can’t do it on my own, we should work together to preserve the authenticity of Indonesian food.
What do you think is the food trend in 2018?
I am also curious to see how it will shift. You see, online platforms for people to order food will continue to rise, but you need restaurants as well because they provide ambience. If the food only looks nice, it is not enough. People try really hard to cosmeticize the food and to make it look pretty on camera lens. However, I believe authenticity will remain as a standout.
What’s next on your travel plan?
I am going to Madrid on January 14th for 2 weeks, and then by February 1st I will be in Paris. I was asked to be the judge for Masters de la Boulangerie 2018 - an Olympics for bakers all over the world. Afterwards, I will fly to L.A. to do a pop-up restaurant in Brentwood to introduce Indonesian fine-dining experience.
Last, what’s your advice to the younger generation that aspires to become a chef?
My advice is to taste, taste and taste. I want them to go to traditional markets and try out different ingredients in their spare time, so that they become better in tasting. Nowadays, the younger generations have unlimited access to the Internet, but sadly, you can’t Google taste.
The only way to improved one tasting skill is to get on your two feet and taste different ingredients out there. I have been documenting traditional market for the past 40 years, and I find that the more I taste the better I got in differentiating and understanding good food from bad ones.