What happens when fine dining goes high-tech?
In Jakarta, it means diners can dig into mushroom ravioli soup or salmon sashimi with wasabi ice cream and savory seaweed chips, at least when Ivan Wibowo, 26, and Fernando Sindu, 31, are in the kitchen.
The chefs are busy making these other-worldly dishes in the homes of a prestigious clientele base as part of their private fine-dining business, aptly called G48: Good For Eats.
“A chef’s ultimate goal is to make good food for eating, hence Good For Eats,” said Ivan, who coined the name. He said G48 aimed to give clients a new experience in the comfort of their own dining rooms, leaving them so satisfied that they can’t wait to stay home for more.
A Fusion of worlds
Part of G48’s unique character comes from the different backgrounds of its chefs. Ivan specializes in modern Japanese food, while Fernando has trained mostly in Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine.
In addition to contrasting food cultures, G48’s philosophy was also born from the collision of two different disciplines: science and the culinary arts.
Ivan grew up helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen before going to study food science and technology at Iowa State University in the United States. When he graduated, he started his career as a researcher in a food lab, developing recipes for barbecue sauces and mayonnaise, but he soon yearned to do more.
“When I was in the lab, I had to abide by certain guidelines, monitor the acid levels, sugar levels and everything. You don’t really get to go beyond that,” he said. “But in the kitchen, you get to make something real out of your ideas and play out your creativity with the flavors and everything.”
Fernando got his start in the kitchen with a different mentor, learning not from his mother but from a family maid. His parents initially refused to let him attend culinary school, insisting that he get a “real degree,” but he kept his culinary dreams alive while studying engineering and general sciences at the University of Windsor in Canada.
After fulfilling this “duty,” his parents said he could pursue his passion on one condition: He had to study at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, a school recommended by family friend and culinary guru William Wongso. When the institute accepted him, he knew that “this was meant to be.”
During his final year in school, he met Ivan, who was just starting his first year, and the two became good friends.
After graduating, Fernando worked his way up to become a sous chef at upscale restaurants in New York and Bali. He currently owns and runs a salad bar in Singapore, which he established in June 2011.
Ivan had his own share of travels, working as a station chef in gourmet restaurants in New York and Sydney, as well as interning for Copenhagen’s famous Noma, a two-Michelin-star restaurant known for reinterpreting Nordic cuisine with molecular gastronomy.
Ivan returned to Jakarta earlier this year and quickly earned a reputation among family and friends as an esteemed chef. In March, a friend introduced Ivan to the chief executive of a top Indonesian conglomerate who, after reading Ivan’s proposed menu, set a date for a party of 10.
Overwhelmed and looking for help, Ivan called Fernando, who just happened to be in Jakarta. It was supposed to be a one-night gig, but when it was over, Ivan said, “We were like, ‘Let’s do this together!’ ”
G48 was born.
Marriage of ‘mad science’ and creativity
G48 tries to keep people on their toes with dishes they never imagined possible, such as fennel avocado salad with citrus and jalapeno vinaigrette or skate (a type of ray) a la meuniere.
Ivan and Fernando credit this innovative philosophy to their science backgrounds, albeit in different lights. Ivan’s lab experience has given him an edge in food research and development. His internship with Noma gave him a touch of culinary chemistry and physics.
Fernando’s science background, though less linked to the culinary arts, gave him the curiosity to track down the history and origins of food.
“[I always ask] why do you have to go through this step? Why is it important? Those things help me explore different techniques to develop recipes,” he said.
He demonstrated how to prepare Hollandaise sauce, which combines butter, egg and lemon juice.
“Hollandaise sauce can break because of the emulsification of the butter and egg yolk, but the protein in the egg white allows them to bind,” he said.
With an understanding of the physics and chemistry, he can do more than just make Hollandaise sauce correctly; he can experiment with temperature, acidity and chemical reactions, which can all lead to different results.
Fernando also works to develop his artistic eye.
“Chefs are like painters and the plate is the canvas,” he said. “You put colors on it and you have art.
“We both want to present something that’s completely different, in the sense that when people look at the food, they think, ‘Wow, I never knew that food could be this way.’ ”
The future of G48
Ivan and Fernando have been in business for two months, and have yet to establish a website or social media presence. But their more “underground” marketing strategy seems to be working: They are fully booked for private dining gigs this month, finding clients mostly through personal introduction or word of mouth.
“Feedback is the most important thing,” Fernando said. “Every time we cook for someone, we ask for truthful feedback, positive or negative. Even the negative feedback is good because it pushes you to be better.”
The two want to own a restaurant, which would be set in a garden that grows ingredients for the kitchen. They advocate buying local organic ingredients and “turning them into something great.”
With a growing consumer preference for imported ingredients, Ivan admits that going local is no easy commitment. “We hope to challenge Indonesian chefs by showcasing our food and proving that with the right techniques, local ingredients can make dishes that are just as high-quality as imported ingredients,” he said.
When he and Fernando started their business, acquaintances at upscale supermarkets referred them to major suppliers, but they quickly learned about quality smaller suppliers tucked away in the West and Central Java
“To find them, you just need to do your homework and some research,” Fernando said. “Many people think it’s so easy to buy imported products — they don’t have to do anything and the products will automatically be good.
“But why spend so many resources importing when the potential to raise these ingredients is at home,” he said, adding that Indonesia’s volcanic soil allows you to grow almost any ingredient.
He and Ivan envision taking the Indonesian culinary experience to a new level as they teach people where fresh food originates and how little doses of science and creativity can make a big difference in gourmet cuisine.
They are also looking at a future side project to make fine dining accessible to the middle and lower socioeconomic brackets.
“Ivan and I have been fortunate to study abroad and get acquainted with fine dining,” Fernando said. “Why shouldn’t others share in our culinary experience?”
To book G48:
Ivan Wibowo, 0878 3298 8338
Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org