For some people, food is just a means of filling yourself, some consider it as a business opportunity but for the more dedicated ones, it is their way of life. Such a person would be Chef William Wongso, an Indonesian master of the culinary arts that have been travelling around for the past 20 years to promote his country’s mysterious taste of tradition.

“I consider Indonesian food to be one of the most diverse in the world!” he proudly stated in his recent interview with Sutera.

In the early years, Chef William Wongso was trained as a baker in Europe. He later opened up a bakery and a western style Café for his previous profession. After discovering that many international countries began promoting their own country’s cuisine, the Chef felt obligated to do so with the Indonesian cuisine. Having acquainted with the Ministry of Education, Tourism and Culinary Diplomacy, Chef William travelled around the Southeast Asian countries while bringing along young, aspiring chefs to cook their proud dishes – his goal is to have everyone love the taste of Indonesian food.

His travels lead him to the country of Brunei where he commended on its indigenous and fresh ingredients. Other than freshness, he emphasized the importance of uniqueness of the ingredients such as rattan shoots, ferns and forest vegetables he sourced from the Tutong Thursday market. Even though he had only been here for the past three days, he managed to try out some of the Bruneian local dishes such as the interesting Ambuyat, bamboo chicken and one of his favourite, the sour eggplant.

At Sutera, we also had the privilege of cooking alongside the legendary chef during his meet and greet session at the Rizqun International Hotel, Bandar Seri Begawan. The dishes include his famous Indonesian style ‘Daging Rendang’, beef cooked in a spicy paste and coconut milk. The ‘Daging Rendang’ is one of the staple dishes for many of the Malay families for special occasions, such as the ‘Hari Raya Aidil Fitri’.

One of the most fascinating dish that Chef William demonstrated was the ‘Ayam Tangkap’ the Aceh dish. The chicken was succulent – cooked to perfection with intricate spices before it was ‘hidden’ under spiced sautéed curry leaves. The dish is served with the chicken  deliberately placed beneath the foliage. The sautéed curry leaves was very aromatic – a perfect combination for the chicken.

Chef William proceeded to cook one of the Balinese dishes, the ‘Sate Ikan Lilit’, fish satay grilled in lemon grass sticks. This satay is made from minced fish meat, which is then mixed with grated coconut, coconut milk, lemon juice, shallots and pepper. Chef William highlighted that the mixture should be smacked in order to have the fish easily wounded to the lemon grass stick. The satay has a stark difference from the satays we normally eat -where the meat is often skewered to a sharp, narrow wooden stick.

“I’ve only been here for two or three days and I find that the food culture here in Brunei differs slightly to that of Indonesia but that is just how Bruneians have grown up with. I would love to share some Indonesian recipes like our Rendang sometimes,” commented the Chef.

For the chef, food is not just cooking. He emphasized on having respect for the food that are served on our plates. He mentioned that food are not produced overnight but have gone through a lot of processes and complications like economy, culture and influence to get to us, therefore it is important to cherish them. He also claims that social media also played an important role in introducing the local dishes to the foreign countries. It prompts more visitors into the country to have a taste of the authentic food.

“Though their culinary cuisine, you can see the country’s background, predict their sophistication and wealth. I love the cuisine here in Brunei and wish to come back again one day” was his final remark.

Story assisted by Fahmiin Abdullah