||Chef Johannes, who considered retiring in the middle of this year after spending 30 years in the cooking profession, has decided to resharpen his knives and join Decanter. Why, we wonder?
Why did you decide to join Decanter?
Firstly, it was a professional challenge. I’d been working at hotel kitchens throughout my entire career. Established though these international hotel chains might be, the system had already been set in their kitchens and we were only expected to come and put our skills to good use. I have never been involved in single kitchen operations before. I see that sort of challenge (and learning opportunity) at Decanter.
Why not join other restaurants, then?
That’s my second reason. I feel at home with the vision of Decanter’s founders. Running a restaurant is business after all, but their unique vision keeps me motivated.
What sort of menu do you prepare?
The food selection is based on Mediterranean cuisine due to its wide variety of fares, from salads and pastas to grilled meat and fish. The sauce is generally not too creamy, though we do have some pasta dishes with thick, creamy sauce. The menu is concocted to suit the Indonesian palate. And most have a fresh tang to them.
Do you synchronize your menu with Decanter’s wine collection?
I discussed this with Yohan and it does seem that our fresh Mediterranean cuisine goes really well with the wine.
Chef Johannes completed his gourmet education at NHI Bandung in 1976, being one of faculty’s first batch of students. He had the chance to travel around the world while working for the Hilton chain, and had spent time living in Canada, UK, Australia and Switzerland. He went back to cooking in Jakarta in 1993.
What exactly do you seek from your career?
The easy answer would be… self-satisfaction. When I was young, whenever I was assigned or transferred to a new place, I always set new targets for myself. I always tried to obtain certification for new cuisine skills that I acquired. Most of the time I was successful and I feel grateful for it. Certificates are like recognitions of your skills after years of hard work.
Isn’t it always like that? What’s so special about it?
It’s not really that simple because there is always that temptation to stray off the path especially if you’re into earning some easy money. While I was living in London, for example, everything was expensive and I wasn’t earning that much as a junior. A vast majority of my friends took side jobs on the weekends, but I continued to focus on my training and kept cooking at my workplace to accumulate points.
So, what do you get after years working in the kitchen?
I get to learn a lot about people’s characters. Kitchen work is teamwork, yet everyone is bound to have his or her own sets of egos. Moreover, people say cuisine is like art and kitchen staff are the artists. As a chef in command of the kitchen, I have to understand these characters and initiate discussions with them. I always want my colleagues to garner extra skills from working with me. I openly admit that I learn a lot from them too.
What about customer satisfaction?
That is surely the Holy Grail of this profession. And I have a simple way to measure it: Look at the plates as they are brought back to the kitchen. Is there any food left? If the plate is sparkling clean, then the customer enjoys my cooking. If I see some left-over, that is a warning sign for me to work even better.
||Yohan’s decision to “reinvent” himself as a general manager of a wine house-cum-restaurant is an interesting one, seeing that he has established himself as a wine writer. Yohan’s book, “Rahasia Wine” (The Secret of Wine), garnered an award from Gourmand International in London in 2008 as the world’s best book on wine education. If Yohan has been accustomed to giving comments, complaining or even criticizing about wines, now he has an obligation to put into effect what he has said and learned over the years. Here is what he has to say:
What comes to your mind when you think back to the time when you opened your first bottle?
I've been living a passionate life and I feel grateful for it. My life is full of this passion and temptation for wine. It's all about the passion.
So, in search of this passion, you didn’t mind sacrificing a promising career in IT?
If I hadn’t made that decision, I would not have been here now. I never felt that my decision to quit IT was a mistake. Besides, if I were still working in IT right now, I’d be having major headaches, har har…
What does Decanter mean to you?
For its founders, Decanter is a labor of love. For the wine-loving community, this is a snug and comfortable place to be enjoying and appreciating good wine. Decanter doesn’t position itself as a “sophisticated” restaurant. We deliberately set its ambiance to be as homey and cozy as possible so patrons can focus solely on their culinary and wine experiences. Our vision here is to share experiences on appreciating and enjoying wine. And every element in Decanter is geared toward that purpose.
Could you give us some concrete examples?
How vast is your wine collection?
Well, in terms of wine selection, we always try to imagine the kind of experience a particular wine would bring on the customer. Our wine list may not be extensive, but there is a story to every wine bottle that we do pick. The same goes with our choice of food. We serve mostly Mediterranean cuisine that makes for great wine pairing. Then there are other details such as using the finest quality glasses and decanters, serving wine within the right temperature, using proper wine storing methods and continuously upgrading our staff with wine knowledge, which we take very seriously.
We have a total of 57 brands from all over the world. All have made it through our intense tasting process. We want to make sure that Decanter sells only superior quality wines that taste good and are good value for the money. Many of our collections are exclusive and not available anywhere else in Indonesia. This we consider one of our strong points.
Wine storage is yet another crucial concern. What is the Decanter view to this?
We built a special room fitted with built-in wine chiller. It isn’t going to help much just to rely on air conditioning, seeing that AC dehumidifies air and causes wine oxidation. Our storage room uses layered glass infused with special gas in between to prevent condensation. This is the first time such technology has been applied in Jakarta.
What about serving technique?
We take our idealism very seriously with this one. Decanter uses Schott Zwiesel branded glasses, which can be categorized as the Rolls Royce of wine glasses. This might be the best glass in the world for serving wine, thanks to its ability to strengthen the taste and aroma of wine. Decanter also has a comprehensive glass collection. Almost all glass variants that are available in Jakarta can be found here.
Who should go to Decanter? Socialites? Partygoers?
Basically anyone who is up for appreciating some good wine. Even if time and ambiance are vital for appreciating wine, having some nice friends makes for a major plus. We do have a rule, however, not to serve customers below 18 years of age.
What about novices who have just begun to learn about wine?
There is no need to be nervous. Come on over, and we will gladly share our wine knowledge and passion.