Young Gun Ari Widyanto

Published 30 November 2017   

Chef Syariat Widyanto, better known as Ari, is only 32 years old, but has experience beyond his years. He is now the Executive Chef at Sol House Legian Hotel and just happens to be the youngest Exec Chef in all the hotels and resorts of the Melia Hotel International group around the world. He also had a stint at James Oliver’s restaurant in Kuta and I must admit when I tried his food at Sol House’s Playbar restaurant last week, it was some of the best I’ve had in a while. Including one of the best burgers I can recall. What’s the secret? Let’s find out.

So tell me something about yourself, Ari. Where are you from and how did you come to be in Bali?

Syariat Widyanto: I’m originally from Bandung. The first time I came to Bali was because the restaurant where I was working at that moment, Nanny’s Pavilion in Bandung opened a new outlet in Bali. I was assigned by the company to be a line cook in the pre-opening team.

Where did you learn how to cook?

Actually I learnt from my grandma, when I was kid… I started cooking when I was five years old. She taught me my basic cooking. She had diabetes that left her with limited movement so she always asked me to help her when cooking.

What was the most important thing you learnt from her?

Never compromise with quality. Especially regarding the freshness of the ingredients and quantity of the component of the dishes (so we can make a whole some food).

You were originally studying law and then became a chef. How did that come about?

I started working in the kitchen during my second year at the college as a steward (dish washer) at a catering company in Bandung. I needed the money while studying. But I felt that I was really happy and satisfied there working in the kitchen. After I was working at a law firm for six months and I didn’t feel the same like when I was working in the kitchen, so I decided I would stay in the kitchen. What I like most about working in the kitchen is that the kitchen team are straight forward, not like the people I met in the law world… sorry about that, but it is what I felt at the time.

That was back in 2007, correct? So what have been some of the highlights in your restaurant world since then?

I suppose my greatest moment was working in the Jamie Oliver restaurant. That has opened many doors and I learnt so many things… food safety, system management, etc. But beyond that, Jamie Oliver always teaches that it is not just about the business. He also campaigns for people, like the Jamie’s ministry of food.org; the apprentice (teaching youngsters basic culinary skills so they can work in a professional kitchen).

I heard you do a form of apprenticeship too?

Yes, we do at Sol House. I mean I provide apprenticeships for hospitality students in Sol House Legian.

Is that a new initiative?

Not really… many chefs before me did it, but not many chefs teach or share the new way to handle kitchens like I do – I think I can describe myself as a new wave chef. I never get angry in the kitchen. At first I was like most chefs, easy to get angry, always screaming, etc, but I got tired of that style. I just want to cook with happiness.

Well that would depend on the other people in the kitchen too right?

Yes sure. The thing that makes my kitchen a no fuss area is that all my staff have very good attitudes. You can improve the skills and knowledge but for me attitude is number 1… That’s what I always share to my team. So I always make myself the brother, father and leader at a same time. Another thing I like to teach is that the recipe is important, but common sense is more important. So the recipe in my kitchen is number two. I don’t want them to stick with the exact measurements because the quality of ingredients is not always the same. I want them to explore the ingredients.

So, besides your grandmother and Jamie Oliver, were there any other great influences on your cooking style?

I like Gordon Ramsey… but the celebrity chefs that most influenced me would have to be Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

How about the chefs you worked with?

That would have to be Sandy Voght from Habitual (here in Bali). He is a very great chef. I learnt about dry aging beef and I also learnt how to make the best burger with him. I worked with him for a year but I actually knew him long before as he’s a friend’s brother in Bandung. The best things I learnt from him was how to make honest food, minimize waste, and utilize the ingredients to make more variety.

And how about the dry aged meat?

Yes, in that place we only used one type of beef cut for every occasion and that was also dry aged. He also taught me how to make the best Hollandaise sauce I have ever tasted. Super good.

What kind of menu do you have at Sol House?

We created it for sharing. The menu is western, Italian, Mediterranean, Asian and Indonesian.

So now after ten years in the game, working under great chefs and being the youngest Exec Chef in the worldwide Melia hotel group, what kind of advice would you give a young cook with ambition today?

They have to be constantly learning. A formal education (hospitality education) is a good thing but you also can achieve success without it. The key to success is consistency, learning, and discipline.

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