As this post goes live, Petty Elliott, acclaimed Indonesian Food Writer and Chef has only just stepped foot on Indonesian soil again; having returned from the prestigious 400 year old Frankfurt Book Fair, where Indonesia was the Guest of Honour country and Petty, along with other local culinary figures were Ambassadors, at the ‘Spice It Up’ Culinary Program.
But before Petty jetted off to Frankfurt, we accepted an invitation to join her for lunch; to talk about her Manadonese upbringing, her passion for regional food using modern cooking techniques, to dispel some myths about Indonesian cooking, and gather some tips on sourcing and using local ingredients.
*Kenalkan Petty Elliott
Please tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in Manado, (Me’nadu) North Sulawesi, Indonesia, one of 17,000 islands in the north eastern corner of Indonesia, and at age twelve I moved with my family to another, Java, and the capital Jakarta. After study I moved into the field of advertising, got married and moved to the UK. Since returning to Jakarta I’ve been writing for national newspapers and magazines, published various cookbooks, teach cooking classes, organise dinners with modern Indonesian cuisine often in conjunction with large hotels as well as private dining. I am also chairwoman of local charity Yayasan Wisma Cheshire, an organisation which supports disabled adult men and women in Jakarta.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was a child I wanted to be a doctor, so I could help other people. I also wanted to travel and see the world.
Where did your passion for food come from?
My passion for food came from Manado; where the food culture was influenced by the Spanish and the Dutch. I was personally influenced by my maternal grandmother. My earliest memories of cooking are with her, she was a good cook. They are strong memories. I always helped my grandmother in the kitchen and collected the eggs when they were warm. My grandmother took me to pasars (markets) and restaurants. Growing up in Manado everything we ate came from the backyard…everything was there. That’s the life I want here!
We read that one of your goals is to inform people about the variety of Indonesian foods and cuisines that exist, and that Indonesian food is not just Nasi Goreng.
Yes, that’s right, I want to prove people wrong that say that Indonesian food is no more than Nasi Goreng. My aim is to show people how to cook Indonesian food with fresh local ingredients, and in particular how to prepare traditional dishes by using modern techniques, and presenting dishes in a modern way.
What or who are your creative influences?
Firstly I’ve been influenced by the amazing things that I’ve seen in my travels and in particular the colours of nature. I am also influenced by the discussions I have with my colleague chefs, similarly with young Indonesian chefs who are showing a real interest in local regions. Indonesian cuisine is a reflection of the diverse cultures and traditions from across the archipelago, (such as the Middle East, Europe, India and China) but we need to be proud of our local produce and reinvent traditional dishes using modern techniques.
Global food trends you see taking off in Jakarta?
Indonesians are trend followers and there are definite trends that are taking hold at the moment; for example the use of almond milk, and influences from America in the form of cupcakes, cronuts and burgers. What does happen here is, many people study abroad and they want to bring food trends back to Jakarta with them when they return. People forget the food traditions from home and want the American lifestyle. I believe as Indonesians we need to ‘break through’ to create ‘our own culture and lifestyle’.
‘I believe as Indonesians we need to…break through…to create our own culture and lifestyle’ Petty Elliott
5 local ingredients you love to work with?
Daun Kemangi – Indonesian lemon basil
Bunga Kecombrang – Ginger flower
Fresh Syzchuan flower
Kencur – a rhizome that looks a little like ginger, only it is smaller and darker
Daun Kemangi Manado and Daun Jeruk Limo – Manadonese Basil and Kaffir Lime Leaves
Your recommendations for versatile vegetables to use in our kitchens?
Bayam – spinach, both the maroon and green variety
Popohan – fragrant salad leaves found in local pasars
Kacang panjang – snake beans
Pare – bitter gourd, simply hollow out and stuff like a zucchini or use in stir fries
Kacang kenari – almonds grown on the spice islands;Ternate and Tidore and cashews from Flores
Kemangi – Indonesian basil
3 herbs you would suggest to infuse Indonesian flavours into meals?
Sereh – Lemongrass
Daun Pandan – Pandan leaf
Daun Jeruk Limo – Lime leaf
Favourite Jakarta Pasars?
Pasar Modern at BSD
Pasar Petak Sembilan (Victory Market) Glodok, Chinatown
Top dishes to taste in Indonesia?
The people of Manado have a reputation throughout the archipelago for preparing some of Indonesia’s spiciest food, so you might wish to request reduced spice. Dishes to taste include: papaya salad and Manadonese style sushi with salsa.
Ayam rungkut (Sumatran) is also delicious
Where do you see the Jakarta food scene in the future?
It will be global…food becomes like fashion. Long term global recognition will happen if we continue to make a big noise and promote Indonesian food, along with the support of the Indonesian government. I think there will be a move to Indonesians eating different food, for example, less imported foods; and people will move to basic, healthy food with less rice as a staple..food that our grandmothers ate.There will be some new beginnings particularly in the areas of ingredients use and participation in foraging for example which is popular in the area of Puncak.
‘There will be a move…to eating different foods, less imported foods…and people will move to basic, healthy food with less rice as a staple…food that our grandmothers ate’
3 words to describe your Jakarta?
Mad, Chaotic, Home
People will be surprised to know?
I’m a singer in a church choir
My biggest accomplishment so far?
Definitely my two boys who are 19 and 22
What makes me laugh?
What makes me cry?
I get teary about things going on in the world such as: the Syrian refugees, the disabled at Wisma Cheshire, women who don’t have rights and women restricted by religion and culture.
Book you are reading at the moment?
Anne Boleyn by Philippa Gregory
Music you are listening to?
Everything from pop to classical, it really depends on my mood. I love music, it helps me to relax
Magazines you are reading?
FT Weekend Magazine (the supplement to the weekend edition of the Financial Times newspaper)
Tea or Coffee? Both actually
I love coffee, particularly cappuccino from Gayanti
Infused and herbal tea, such as Earl Gray and Rose
Favourite home ware store in Jakarta?
I like the recycled furniture shops in Ciputat
New projects you are working on at the moment?
I will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. I will be presenting my new book ‘Jakarta Bites‘ as well as cooking from it at the ‘From Jakarta Street Food to My Table’ demonstration and tasting event. My new book centres on Betawi cuisine (Jakarta’s indigenous cuisine) and street food. I will also be involved in cooking at the Gala dinner in Frankfurt
Where can readers find your recipes and ingredients advice, as well as follow your exciting cooking and travel adventures?
Web: Petty Elliott’s Kitchen
Facebook: Petty Elliott’s Kitchen
Books: Papaya Flower: Manadonese cuisine Provincial Indonesian food, can be purchased at Pantry Magic Jakarta
Perhaps before the end of the year comes upon us; (I hate to say it, but it’s close!) and the busyness that comes with preparing for the holiday season, we hope you have a chance to:
- Source one, two or more of the fresh ingredients Petty recommends above
- Visit a local pasar or road side market stall. Have you noticed the mouthwatering mangos being sold at road side stalls on Jl. Kemang Raya at the moment? I came home with a mango haul last week!
- Make a reservation at a good Indonesian restaurant and choose something on the menu you’ve never eaten before
- Or get cooking one of Petty’s recipes at home. Petty’s website is an excellent place to start!
We’d love to know what you think of Petty’s approach to modern Indonesian cooking?
Let’s chat about it in the comments section below!
*Kenalkan: Let me introduce
Words:Liz and Jo Photography: a journey bespoke