Tag Archives: Living in Jakarta

From Short Order Cook to Chef and back…III

During an interview at the Waldorf Astoria I was asked by the Executive Chef who my influences were? I told him I was influenced by the people I worked for and trained under, they where the Chefs I admired and that had put there mark on me. He didn’t like my answer. Maybe he wanted to here me say David Bouley or Charlie Trotter or Emeril or even  himself…I’m not sure, but I didn’t get the job. I truly believed in what I said. I was never a believer in the Ego of the Superstar Chef. It is, in my mind, a team effort. But there is no denying the influence one person can have on a kitchen.

III…Introducing the Superstar Chef and their Demons!

Lets start cooking some real food

After 2 months at Christopher’s working with 2 different Chefs, serving half-ass versions of high end food and making an utter mess; the place was teeter tottering on closing it’s doors. It was that bad. That’s when Davey was enticed to come back and take over as Chef. I was excited, because I knew his reputation. He was a star. He would fix all the ills of the place, he would teach me how to cook, I couldn’t wait, I was just hanging on….I was the one positive in a kitchen in the murk of mire. I was forewarned though, as great as a chef as Davey was, he was also a real prick. I knew him a bit, and when we met up he let me know that I was his partner in this, part of his team. He was smart, because he knew he needed me as much as I needed him…it was on!

The day Davey started everything changed. To this day I use his blueprint when taking over a kitchen. First of all, we embarked on cleaning and organizing the kitchen. I mean, deep cleaning…we scrubbed out reach-in refrigerators, pulled apart ovens, cleaned fry-olators, etc etc etc….We also organized all the products we used into small plastic containers, labeled and dated everything and completed a full standing inventory. Once the place was up to snuff we were ready to get on to the fun part…cooking!

Davey carried around a copy of Le guide Culinaire, often quoting Escoffier himself; and of course we where cooking from it. In no time we were making huge vats of veal stock from scratch, filleting whole salmons, whipping up fresh hollandaise sauce, ricing potatoes to creamy puree perfection. It was culinary bliss, and I was loving it. I was Davey’s right hand man…his loyal partner…sometimes in crime.

Our Mentor

As we grew more comfortable with our situation Davey became the dictator of the kitchen, and I his willing henchman. Davey started doing shots of whiskey towards the end of the shift. This was my signal that the line was all mine. Davey would end up out at the bar…shit faced…while I mopped up. Later I would be cornered for one of his many speeches on the meaning of life. Never the less we became friends.

It was at this point that I achieved what I call Kitchen Independence. It was a Tuesday night, Davey’s day off, and I was covering the shift alone. This usually was not a problem. Weeknights were not that busy, and I had the support of 2 teenagers, one a prep cook, and the other a busboy/dishwasher. What I wasn’t aware of was that there was some sort of Spring Break keg party going on…and my teenage help called out sick…together!

I found myself alone…I had to cook, bus tables and wash all the dishes; not to mention sweep and mop and take out the trash at the end of the shift. See, in a restaurant, if dishes are not cleaned and trash isn’t discarded, the place grinds to a halt: no silverware, no plates = no business! After a short period of panic, I stepped outback and had a smoke….I told myself I was ready for this…

The night wasn’t slow; it was downright busy….but I hustled. I was so organized that I could do 6 things at once. Whipping out gourmet meals, lugging full clanking bus pans, scrubbing greasy dishes…all the while washing my hands in between and air jamming to hard rock radio. When the night was over the bartender gave me a few on the house. I was beat, but happy. I did it! I overcame one of the biggest fears of any cook. I didn’t fail!

The next day Davey took me out to the old Clam Bar that had been converted into our prep room. A huge pot of veal stock was slowly simmering on the stove to jellied perfection. He rolled a huge (bleep) and smoked it with me under the protection of that wonderful aroma of the veal stock….”Congratulations!” he said. “Welcome to my world!”

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Food & Culture


Tags: , , , , , ,

Java Junkie in Java!

The cocoa like coffee of Java

OK, lets face it. I love coffee. Always have always will. Being a Chef has it’s “perks”so to speak: free unlimited coffee consumption. This is needed when you are working 12 hr days…so instead of being coke heads, most of us Chef’s are Java Junkies.

So why when I found out that we were moving to Jakarta, which is on the island of Java, did I not get excited about the prospects of going to the land of Java? I guess I had other things on my mind, like moving across the World…but to my delight, I entered a coffee paradise.

My favorite Brand so far....they have many varities....

So what makes the coffee so good? It is rich in flavor, full bodied yet mellow and mild. It is hard to explain, you just need to brew and drink it. Java is Arabica coffee ; which tends to be smoother than Robusta coffee. Java also has hints of Cocoa and earthy tones and when it is  brewed the smell is fantastic…

People ask me how I brew my coffee…everyone I speak with uses a Coffee Press…But I prefer a traditional drip brewer. Maybe it’s because I was raised on Mr. Coffee, or maybe I prefer the smell a brewer makes; but I swear they make a better cup of coffee. The key to success with the drip brewer is to use ice cold water….it steams when heated and extracts more flavor from the grind.

My traditional Drip Brewer

Another coffee trick I learned while working in Deli’s is if adding milk or cream, add it to the cup before the coffee, pour the coffee over the cream…it will froth up and make a delicious cup of Java….Just don’t try this at Starbucks, you may cause a riot!

1 Comment

Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Food & Culture, Living in Jakarta


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

From Short Order Cook to Chef and back…II

What sets a career in the Food Services and especially restaurants apart from others is the feeling of family and camaraderie that can occur. Many hours spent together in a hyper intense atmosphere, direct contact with the customer who can give instant feedback create this unique environment. Stressful, emotional, physically demanding and instantly rewarding! It’s like being on a sports team, every day is a new game to win or lose, and like being part of a team a good coach can make all the difference between success and complete disaster!

Welcome to the land of the Gourmet Burger

II… Whiskey a Golf Cart

My next step seemed perfect. With the help of my buddy Porto, I accepted a job working for his mother at the Beekman Country Club in Upstate New York as a PM Short Order Cook. Free golf was a perk. I started work at noon, relieving the AM cook, Ned. We served breakfast and lunch to hundreds of hungry golfers, most escaping their wives for a few precious hours of golf with the boys. The menu was mostly burgers and hot dogs, fresh salads, sandwiches, and yes, of course, the dreaded turkey club…which I had still yet to master!

Ned was great. He was an old rocker, a bit washed up, but a hell of a short order cook. He had a frightful habit of pulling a chef knife across his tongue, using the back side as his trick, fully freaking out anyone who would watch!  He took me under his wing and trained me so I could handle the busiest of days. It was in his best interest, because as soon as I could stand on my own two feet, he could head off to the golf course, and then the bar and drink whiskey till his heart’s delight! Hence his nickname: Whiskey a Rocker Roller, or “Whiskey” for short.

Of course it wasn’t all fun and games. Driving into work on the weekends you could see the parking lot while cresting the hill. If it was a nice day the lot would be jammed. If it rained all day the place would be dead and you could look forward to peace and quiet and some much-needed cleaning. The dreaded combo was; a nice hot day, with a sudden downpour. That meant a stampede of hungry, wet golfers, wanting their food fast so they could jump right back out as soon as the weather let up. On those days Ned and I would work together until things were under control.

The days of free golf...

This was the perfect situation for me. I was learning how to cook on the line, having fun, and playing golf for free everyday with Porto! I mastered the Club Sandwich. The food was simple, but the pace was fast and furious!

The best thing about this job turned out to be that I had joined a work family. Porto’s mom was the matriarch of the business and she had put together a staff of loyal hard-working people who were dedicated to their work and having fun while doing it. This was a new experience for me. I felt like I was part of something. I was learning how to be a good line cook and how to be part of a team.

There was a chance I could stay on in the winter at Porto’s moms restaurant, which was down the street. I would only be able to get a job their if I proved myself over the summer. So I worked my ass off and was offered the job as assistant chef. There was a catch though. Davey, the star chef of Christopher’s, had left a year earlier. The place had been in a bit of disarray since with a constant stream of chefs falling on there face.

I couldn’t wait to get there!….

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Food & Culture


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Chinese New Year & Donuts at a the Pondok Indah Mall

Dance of Hands

We stumbled upon the Celebration of Chinese New Year during one of our many trips to the Pondok Indah Mall in Jakarta. This mall is awesome. It is actually 2 malls in one. The two sections are connected by an air bridge.

Mall 1 is more pedestrian with practical stores: bookstores, electronics, media. It is anchored by Metro department store, which is like a Macys. Mall 2 is more fashion forward: Zara, TopShop, Hugo Boss, Longchamp, and anchored by Sogo department store, which is like a Bloomingdales.

Kids lined the Mall to view the Dragon Dance!

The mall was filled with pleasant surprises: fantastic Chinese food, cool performances for Chinese New Year, and most of all, the best fresh made Donuts my wife and I have ever had. I had a Belgian chocolate stuffed, chocolate glazed donut. My wife had a chocolate sprinkled donut. They are fried right in front of you. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts are nearby, but J.CO Donuts & Coffee had the biggest crowd by far.

Shana smiling in front of J.Co

That’s right, Indonesians have a sweet tooth, and a very healthy taste for high quality cakes, donuts and confections…..This apparently is a holdover from Dutch Colonial rule.

Mango Cream and Banana Chocolate Cream!

What makes the donuts a J.CO so special is how light they are. Yes, they come in all kinds of exotic flavors: banana cream chocolate, mango glazed, etc… but the fact that they are so delicate makes them so much better than the rest. I admit, we were somewhere else in town and tried some Krispy Kreme; which felt like I ate two lead bricks! That’s when I understood just how good J.CO is….

I am very impressed with the cuisine I have sampled so far in Jakarta. I am truly surprised by the amount and quality of tasty treats. I cant wait to try some more…and I cant wait for some more Pleasant Surprises!


Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Food & Culture, Living in Jakarta


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

From Short Order Cook to Chef and back…

In the beginning…

During the interview I said yes to every question John asked. Could I handle pressure, a fast pace and the heat of the kitchen? Yes! Could I work early mornings, long hours, all the time standing on my feet? Yes, of course! Was I comfortable taking direction and being part of a team, was I comfortable making decisions on my own and telling people what to do? Did I know how to make a Turkey Club? Yes, Yes, and Yes!

Over Easy's ready for the essential skill for a short order cook.

I left the greasy spoon and lite a smoke, got in my car and sped away. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had just agreed to, but I did know that I would be reporting the next day to work at 5 am at the Hopewell Diner…for 7 bucks an hour…

What I also knew, is that I didn’t really know how to cook. I mean, I could “cook”. I had been working at a Conference Center the past two years cooking breakfast and lunch buffet, but that was batch cooking, not line cooking. I wondered if I was ready to step on the line, read tickets and cook like a pro.

Do I even need to tell you what happened the next morning? I was half asleep when I arrived, and was more concerned with finding a cup of coffee than getting prepared for breakfast. Things started out OK, but as soon as the rush hit, I was (burnt) toast. The pleasant waitresses turned into fouled mouthed demons who spoke a language I could not understand! Tickets came in at a pace Carl Lewis would be proud of. My head was spinning, yolks were breaking, pancakes were burning, all the time with that language that I couldn’t grasp! “Two eggs over back w/ a side of jack, ASAP!”

John had to step in and take over, I was over and out. He wanted me to stay. Let me know I would be all right. But I knew otherwise, I was in over my head and needed to go. I lasted 4 hours in my first attempt at line cooking.

I was embarrassed and distressed. I told myself I would never be in that situation again. My ego was bent but not broken. It was back to the lab for some much-needed inner resolve…Baby steps were required. I needed my next break….

to be continued….


Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Food & Culture, Living in Jakarta


Tags: , , , ,

Iron Maiden, an old friend in a new place!

Maiden looking over Jakarta

I was walking the narrow, busy streets of Kemang South Jakarta a few days after our arrival. My main concern was for our personal safety: motorbikes whizzed close by, Bajaj’s puttered smoke in our face, foul smelling puddles awaited my footsteps. Jakarta is an amazing place, never boring, never asleep and full of surprises, and in this Brave New World …to my surprise, I found an old friend.

A Bajaj in Kemang

I couldn’t believe it….Iron Maiden in Jakarta!

It was like I ran into one of my old best buds on those crazy narrow streets. It was very comforting. My wife asked me if I wanted to go to the concert. Well, hell ya! It would be my 3rd Iron Maiden Show. But I didn’t know anyone who would go with me, and I really am not comfortable getting around this huge city yet. I have been a Maiden fan since junior high school. I am amazed that they are still one of the top touring rock bands in the world. I also am amazed that they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!! A true crime!

Maiden on Kemang street corner

In 1983, my obsession with Iron Maiden started with the video “Flight of Icarus” off the album Piece of Mind. My friend Franky had seen them a year before when they were touring with Judas Priest. Franky told me they were the shit, and now I was a believer. Flight of Icarus was the first song in my life I couldn’t get enough of. I bought the album and fully immersed myself in Maiden. Iron F@#*ing Maiden!

That August my best bud Doug and I got tickets to see Maiden at the Mid Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. We met our other best bud Big Steve at the show. The Civic Center has one big open floor with bleachers in the back. Iron Maiden was probably one of the biggest shows that venue would ever host. The place was alive with electricity and busting at the seems. Amazingly, that night they had folding chairs set up on the floor. This would soon turn out to be a big mistake, as me, Big Steve, Doug and 5000 other fans would make sure of!

Big Steve was big, 6 foot 6 at age 15. So to make a long story short, Big Steve had a better view than everyone else. No worries, we all stood up as Maiden came on stage. Soon, people started to stand on the seats of the folding chairs…Big Steve was the last up. But that wasn’t good enough, next thing you know, people are straddling the tops of the chairs, one foot on the top of the backrest below and the other on the one behind. We actually had to hold each other up. As the band rocked the audience swayed and everyone went with the flow, screaming, head banging, all the time surfing 5 feet above the ground on the tip top of those cheap folding chairs. Every so often someone would fall off and take a tumble to the ground, quickly recover and get hoisted back up again…rock on! Needless to say it was one of the best Rock Concerts I had ever seen, and I have seen a few!

1983 Iron Maiden Tour

Big Steve, Doug and I where hooked. We decided to go see Maiden a month later at Madison Square Garden in NYC. I called my Mother and she picked up tickets for us (yes, that’s how I rolled back then, before the internet). We bought beer, had a great time, and went to the show. The funny thing is, Maiden’s Stage looked small in the cavernous Garden, even though it had seemed so massive back in Poughkeepsie. Fact of the matter is, Maiden was not yet the giant band they were to become. The show was good, but not great. Apparently we had witnessed something special back in August at the Civic Center. Something I will never forget.

That is why Iron Maiden made me feel more at home in Jakarta, some old friends made sure I didn’t feel like a ….Stranger in a Strange land.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,