Saras Dewi

 

 

“We are lacking individuals who genuinely recognize the liberty they have; to think about who they are, their place in this world, and to take action.”

 

Saras Dewi

Poet, Author, Activist, Philosophy Professor & Lecturer – University of Indonesia |
On her relationship with intuition, our need for critical thinking, and how teaching has changed her life.

 

There is an inherent truth within the melancholic sound of a “Ney”- a traditional flute made from a single giant reed found by the river banks of the Middle East. As a center piece in the music of the Sufis – an Islamic order centered around mysticism – its voice echoes that of a cry – a yearning – to both know and return to the reed bed from where it had been cut off from. It is, in essence, symbolic of ourselves – in that within the soul of each human being lies a yearning to know their true place in this world, and return to where they belong.

To understand – let alone achieve – the aforementioned in a commercially driven world is an enduringly difficult task; over a thousand years after the birth of Sufiism, the philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson famously acknowledged, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

This is a virtue that Saras Dewi – Professor and Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Indonesia – is championing in both her work and life. Many in Bali will know her as the immensely gifted singer of Lembayung Bali, and others for her impressive feats in academia; authoring philosophy books such as Hak Azasi Manusia (Human Rights), and Cinta Bukan Cokelat (Love Is Not Chocolate), including an anthology of poems called Jiwa Putih (White Soul). Her recent publication, titled Ekofenomenology (Ecophenomenology), explores the imbalanced relationship between Nature, mankind, and technology from a philosophical perspective.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Saras at the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers festival. Ever discerning and sharp, she explains her relationship with intuition, the sustaining impact teaching has had one her life, and stresses the need for philosophy at a crucial point in time. She also gives prudent advice on finding a better relationship to nature for those living in cities.

 


Saras, why would an understanding of Philosophy, however basic or thorough, be important for the world we live in today?

 

We tend to view philosophy as something distant from our everyday lives because we often attribute very complex theories to it. But scholars and researchers are faced with a task to prove otherwise. Philosophy is simply about the freedom to explore and express our minds, and to question life around us.

With the current events going on in the world right now, that kind of critical thinking and healthy criticism is desperately needed. We need critical individuals engaging in the world; an act itself that is very philosophical.

The basic ideas of liberty, freedom and a sense of compassion are all philosophical pursuits, and at its bare essence, philosophy is the act of thinking for yourself. The quote, “Sapere Aude” (Dare to Know), by Immanuel Kant comes to mind. Yet we are seeing a lot of the opposite these days.

“I believe that a deeper, more authentic self is shown when it is in harmony with nature and its cycles.”

External forces can heavily influence what individuals think about, and are seemingly able to dictate what they say! It’s all too common. We are lacking individuals who genuinely recognize the liberty they have; to think about who they are, their place in this world, and to take action.

In Bali, for instance, our culture and spirit are essentially bound to nature – our source. Yet I see an increasing amount of distractions that lead a lot of Balinese away from that source – towards a life that is, in my opinion, unrealistic. I believe that a deeper, more authentic self is shown when it is in harmony with nature and its cycles.

Yet how does one find that relationship with nature in an increasingly urbanized Indonesia? Especially those who are born and raised completely urban environments?

 

I have great hope that those who live in cities will have some access to this relationship through literature. And by literature, I don’t mean Instagram captions, and tweets reduced to 250 characters. I mean reading great works of writing that are centered around nature, and truth.

Living in Bali, we are surrounded by nature, and so it is more difficult to differentiate ourselves from it. But I also live in Jakarta, where we are forced into the rhythms of urban life. It shouldn’t be as bad as it is though, and we can do better with our cities… if we have the right intention.

Ecofenomenology – Saras Dewi

 

What are some specific teachings that you’ve embraced in your life the most?   

 

There are two great philosophers that have influenced me: Felix Gautarri and Gilles Deleuze – both are French post-structuralists. In a broader sense, they both explain how we shouldn’t bind ourselves to either Western or Eastern philosophies (they were students of Michel Foucault, who leaned more towards Eastern philosophy). I find that very interesting, and I think we have to view both as equals and find how they overlap in various ways.

“I felt awkward navigating through Balinese society.”

My life has always been around that dynamic. I was raised in a very traditional Balinese way, but my family was very vocal about politics. They enrolled me at a school that adopted western perspectives on free speech and thought.

So, I felt awkward navigating through Balinese society. My parents were both Muslim and Hindu, yet it was very hard for me to think about religion. I found it difficult in the beginning to comprehend why it was a big deal to have different values coexisting peacefully – yet now that Indonesia is becoming increasingly conservative and polarized, I can see why. Now is a crucial time to exercise some common sense.

“I don’t believe humans are entirely good or evil. We simply become better at being aware of ourselves.”


What is your relationship to Intuition?

 

To give you some context, I’m a huge fan of science. I love logical positivism, where the only trustworthy method for practical understanding is the scientific method. I certainly think Indonesia is definitely lacking that.

Yet, I understand why philosophers rebuke that claim because they are aware of the mysterious ways in which humans can intuitively know about the world. Therefore, on a wholesome level, I believe intuition forms a part of our reasoning, but incorporating direct experience and logic creates a more rounded human being.

Fundamentally, I don’t believe humans are entirely good or evil. We simply become better at being aware of ourselves, and intuition is one of the tools that we use by feeling that helps with our reasoning.

The fields of Neuroscience and Neurophilosophy are definitely working to better translate the phenomena of intuition – the success of which goes hand in hand with our advances in technology. Of course, there are “languages” that we haven’t scientifically made sense of, yet can begin doing so intuitively.

 

Describe what goes through your mind when you teach. What do you feel? And how has your relationship to your students changed you?  

 

There was definitely was a sense of anger in the beginning; I was keen to reveal realities of our world without any sugar-coating. But this realism plays a strong part in why I am teaching. I feel obligated to do it especially at this particular point in time with Indonesian society.

As the years go by, I find that teaching also plays a part in my own learning about the young minds of Indonesia. I realize now, that that is what is most rewarding to me – to learn what is inside these young minds and then collaborate with them. This interaction is what keeps me going.

Of course, I also care about my own research and the things I am accomplishing with my colleagues within the scientific community. But apart from those duties, I’m still here and hopeful because of the experiences I’ve had with my students.

“There is huge gap in Indonesia between the academic communities and the realities of suffering and poverty that exist in life.”

I took some of my students to several political rallies, or, more rather, they asked me if we should go! They wanted to know the heart of politics and where it takes place. Being with this kind of spirit is what encourages me. It makes me who I am today, and that is what teaching means to me. It’s a very personal view of mine.

However, I always tell them that I can only go so far as teaching Philosophy in my class; the beautiful ideas of Liberty and Freedom look great on paper – but exercising it outside the classroom is a completely different thing. There is huge gap in Indonesia between the academic communities and the realities of suffering and poverty that exist in life. It’s a gap that I am trying to eliminate, and I know it’s a hard task, but the wave of young Indonesian thinkers that I am seeing now gives me confidence for the years ahead.

Lisa Siregar

With: 

 

“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

Lisa Siregar

Features Editor | Jakarta Globe
On adjusting to different perspectives, avoiding the spotlight, and bringing voices of women to the forefront.

 

 

One can leaf over any given newspaper today and most likely find a column depicting unique perspectives for the abstract, hilarious, fascinating or downright horrifying world around us. This is the world of feature writing – a place that can, at times, offer softer spaces for contemplation and understanding from the hard-format crisp and of everyday news.

With equal parts creativity and curiosity, the feature writer selects, examines and scrutinizes culture and society in its endless facets – books, history, science, television, sports, film or the arts – and funnels ideas through an internal maze of possibility to produce creative and inventive work at varying depth and length.

As the editor of the features desk at Jakarta Globe, Lisa Siregar stands on a unique literary foundation; A love for writing and culture synthesized with unique experience gained as a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (The Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the Ford Foundation in her earlier years.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing the speakers of this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, where we had a short chat with Lisa. In this interview, she reveals the opportunity and responsibility of her position to bring fresh perspectives of women in culture to Jakarta Globe’s readers. She also tells a story on learning adaptability on an eye-opening experience researching in a small village in Central Java, what has become more important to her over the years, and more!

 

You worked as a a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (Indonesian institute of sciences) and the Ford Foundation. For those who don’t know, can you give a brief explanation of what a social researcher does?

 

I studied sociology in university, and that is simply about gaining a deeper understanding of society and the changes that happen in it. Social research mostly requires talking to people, and there are of course a lot of different methodologies involved, such as quantitative (using computational, statistical, and mathematical tools for results), and qualitative (understanding underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations) research.

It’s challenging and exhausting work. You have many focus groups and discussions, and have to call people endlessly on the phone. At Kompas they would have a room where they give you a list of phone numbers, and a list of questions. You just had to call these people, say you’re from Kompas doing research about a subject, and ask them these questions.

Many people weren’t keen, but you just have to do it! All of this work is for a data bank that is needed by the Kompas journalists. So, it’s like a research and development department for the statistics in the news.

So, as a journalist with a background in social research, I can trust the statistical information I get, because I was there too doing the social research work, and therefore I can also understand the philosophical issues behind whatever phenomena I am confronted with. I get the best of both worlds!

“I get the best of both worlds!”

 

What particular project you worked on gave you the most excitement and why?

 

It was a university assignment when I was studying Sociology in University of Indonesia. In my third year I had to go to a village in central Java for two weeks to conduct some real social research for the first time!

I was researching political education and wanted to find out how politics affects the people there, or if they even bother thinking about it. I realized how hard it was to do; not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing. They all had such different perspectives.

For example, I would ask where I could meet a particular person, to which they said he was close, when in fact he was an hour away! Even their sense of distance was completely different from mine!

“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

 

I had to change the way I talked, how I looked and acted just so others wouldn’t be so scared or hesitant! It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.

I lived in Jakarta, and so the experience was so transformative for me because I got to see what these villagers talked about – and it was so out of touch with any aspect of modernity that I was used to – and yet – I still had to find a way to make them understand what I wanted to ask. I had to be adaptable, and it was the most challenging and rewarding experience I’ve had. I loved it.

“It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.”


You’ve written about a diverse amount of topics as a feature writer. What are some the themes that you are personally most attracted to and why?

 

 

I like the topic of gender, and I consider myself a feminist. I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices. Working in media, I do have some power and responsibility to push these voices to the front and bring them to a larger audience.

Even in my panels, I like to refer to them and ask women what they think. I want to challenge the stereotypes here and I want people to see it happening. So that applies to writing about film, music, and fashion; I would tell my reporters to get stories about women!

“I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices.”

Are there any Books, Music or Movies that have played an important part in shaping your life?

 

 

I enjoy any movie with a female leading role. Frances Ha by Noah Baumbach is my favorite movie, as I can relate to the story! Amelie (by jean-pierre jeunette) is another one.

More recently could be Sekala Niskala by Kamila Andini – a truly beautiful one. It has incredible Balinese dancing choreography made with local communities. I do traditional dancing as well – both Balinese and Javanese – and when I saw this movie, I cried! It had everything that I loved.


What has become more important for you over the years? and what has become less?

 

 

It’s a tough question! At the beginning of my career, I was surrounded with such great people and I wanted to appear great as well. I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!

But now, because I run the desk, and in fact, I became the editor of the desk that I started with. I’m only concerned with the topics and the message that we present and send out. I personally think that keeping your name out of the spotlight is better! You just feel more comfortable and have more room to work.

“I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!”

 

If you would like to get in touch with Lisa, you can do so at :

Email: lipsiregar@gmail.com

Helianti Hilman

“You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.”

Helianti Hilman

Founder | Javara
On growing consciously, practicing what you preach, and advice for young Indonesians.

 

Somewhere in a bustling Japanese city, delicate hands scatter a dash of Krayan salt, harvested from northern Kalimantan, over warm fish and rice. In Switzerland, a knife glazes creamy organic cashew butter from Flores over freshly baked bread, and in America, a bowl of Menthik Susu, a milky white rice grain native to Yogyakarta, carefully rinsed and cooked, awaits hungry mouths for supper.

Each of these ingredients stem from the wellspring that is Javara, a company spearheading the awareness and revival of organic artisanal Indonesian food products throughout the world.

At the helm of this endeavor sits a resolute and determined social entrepreneur in Helianti Hilman – a woman keen on showcasing the stories and behind the archipelago’s indigenous farmers and their way of life.

One can ponder the audacity and ambition behind a company with such a vision; working closely with some 50,000 farmers to craft more than 600 products is no easy feat. But growth at this scale, by her own admission, shouldn’t be done for the sake of it.

Equally merited for Javara’s success is a deeply rooted sense of responsibility to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder organic farmers they work with. By paying them more, providing technological assistance and quality control, and celebrating their stories on their products, Javara’s model effectively helps to preserve their native indigenous food heritage.

Such is why Helianti was recognized as a Forbes Indonesia Global Rising Star 2014 and awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Schwab Foundation in the ensuing year.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Helianti. A calm and thoughtful woman, she fondly reflects on what true ambition means, the endearing moment that spurred her on to growth, and reveals the habit that has helped her the most over the years.

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One would imagine the amount of ambition needed for Javara to grow as big as it is today. Was ambition something you’ve always had?

 

Good question! It’s something I have never really reflected on, and honestly, I never thought this would end up being my passion as I grew up. I’m not an agronomist or a food technologist – I was a lawyer before doing any of this. I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.

I was privileged to grow up around a coffee plantation in a very remote area, so all this travelling to remote places and meeting young farmers was not something new to me when I started.

I was also raised by a strong-willed mother who had strong social interests – she was the first social entrepreneur I knew, and I think that’s something I inherited in my DNA!

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“I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.”

But I think Javara is growing organically – it’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it. A lot of times when our investors asked for a business plan, I tell them, “What business plan?”

When it comes down to it, it’s about truly discovering ways to serve farmers better, and give customers with healthier options.

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Image Credit : Javara

 “It’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it.”

 

If ambition wasn’t something you had at the beginning, was there a moment that changed you or gave you the inspiration to grow?

 

Something that definitely influenced our growth happened when my parents passed away. The time between their deaths was very short, and before they passed, they wrote me a long love letter that basically was about Javara. One of the biggest messages of the letter was them telling me “We love what you do, but if you keep it small, it will blow away like dust.” Simply put, Javara won’t have a systemic impact.

Their mandate was not in making Javara “big”, but in creating a philosophy, and business models that would change the current system.

If Javara is too small, few people will notice, appreciate and adopt our system. So we grow big to get people to see that this is a better way of doing business, and has a social impact for the producers as well.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

 

How has Javara changed you over the years? What has become more important to you? What has become less important?

 

Personally, to be exposed to farmers who carry indigenous wisdom and knowledge about healthy consumption as well as a diversity of ingredients and indigenous food relationships, changed the way I saw food and our food systems.

That’s something I passed down to my son, who I had after Javara. It’s been a privilege for me to go through this journey because I can take this understanding that I have and pass down the experience to my son. As he grows up at this moment, I already am seeing the impact of that.

Secondly, I think I was trying so hard create a success story and send that message out to inspire people, but now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.

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“Now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.”

When you’re on a journey like mine, it’s not always pretty, and there are a lot of consequences. Indonesia, being an archipelago is hard to travel through, especially outside of Java where there is little development. The disparity is huge.

I believe it’s important for people to know that it’s OK to fail sometimes. You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions. That understanding is very important.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions.”

 

What are some of the specific habits that you’ve developed over the years that have helped you?

 

I became really interested in collecting seeds for any edible plants and herbs in all my travels over the years. From that, I developed my family’s food diversity garden in an effort to understand the ingredients more.

What I’m trying to allude to is that you can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.

Find balance in walking the walk, and talking the talk. I think that’s the habit that I’ve grown into. Any time I want to share something to people, I have to reflect and ask “Am I doing it myself? And do I have the integrity to talk about it?” It’s about representing what you talk about.

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“You can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.”


What advice would you give to young Indonesians?

 

It’s important for us to explore the world. Just see as much as possible. As far as we know, you only live once, so, it’s important for any young person to just go out there and explore the options before really deciding which direction you want to focus on. You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.

 


 

If you would like to get in contact with Helianti, you can do so at :

Email: helianti@javara.co.id
HP: +62811210271

If you would like to know more about Javara, visit :

https://www.javara.co.id/
Instagram: @javaraindonesia
Facebook: Javara Indonesia

Santhi Serad

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“There are so many layers to uncover for each dish in terms of taste – but the same can be said about their stories.”


Santhi Serad


Author | Founder – Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago & Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia (ACMI)
On nurturing responsibility, developing intimacy with food, and life lessons from her father.

 

It was centuries ago when powerful European nations scuffled for control of the global spice trade with Indonesia as its beating heart. Trade routes carrying cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves flowed like currents through the Middle East and into Europe where they were coveted and consumed by those willing to pay a hefty price to immerse themselves in the exotic flavors of the east.

Today, the eagerness to discover Indonesia’s spices and cuisine remains just as strong. The archipelago is home to an eclectic spectrum of dishes teeming with flavors, textures and aromas; enticing the curiosity of food connoisseurs from diverse backgrounds and professions who seek to connect with, and retell the stories of their origin.

One such woman is Santhi Serad.

A self-driven culinary explorer with a Masters in Food Science and Technology, she founded Kebun Bumi Herbal, a eight-hectare herbal garden nestled in the bustling city of Bandung, built on a foundation rooted in a deep sense of responsibility to preserve and cultivate herbs and spices and a love for the stories behind Indonesian cuisine and its ingredients.

After traversing the country for years, she authored Leaf it To Tea, an intimate and illustrative book documenting the various herbal infusions and Tea-drinking rituals of different Indonesian cultures.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Santhi. A kindred spirit with evident passion and enthusiasm, she reflected on her approach to writing, lessons from her father, and suggested ways on how we can better develop intimacy with our food.

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Can you describe your love for writing, and your love for food? How are they related and how are they different to you?

 

The way I see it is, people say a lot of things, but people forget a lot as well. As a matter of fact, I feel that the things I do can’t be completely understood until I’ve reflected upon them and have written them down. In writing these words down, I know they can last forever. When I’m gone, people can still read about what I’ve learnt and done. “Verba volant scripta manent”, which, in Latin means, “Spoken words fly away, written words remain.” It’s a quote I keep in mind.

I love Indonesian food in all its variants, but it’s more important for me to be aware that behind every dish is a story of how it came to be. Sayur Asem, Rawon, there are stories of how they arose in certain places. For example, what are the journeys of the spices that arrived in certain areas in Indonesia?

There are so many layers to uncover for each dish in terms of taste, but the same can be said about their stories, and that goes right down to the farmers who grow the food.

Each ingredient, as well as the markets they are sold in, have their own identity, and I find that beautiful. That being said, if you want to get a feel for the scope and essence of a place, go to their traditional markets. You can notice the abundance of chilies in Padang, and the enormous amount of fresh fish in Ambon.

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“Each ingredient and the markets that they are sold in have their own identity, and I find that beautiful.”


You’ve mentioned that it took almost 4 years to write Leaf It to Tea. How do you approach your process for writing and how did it feel?

 

I start with a lot of reading, where I tend to look for references. I also do a lot of interviews for the same reason. I wrote this book, first of all, because tea is so well known everywhere here, and I wanted to know how different places and traditions in Indonesia consumed tea.

The thing I realized was that travelling and writing for this book really required my full commitment to it. It’s a lot of hours sitting and writing, which can be hard to concentrate on when you’re on the road.

But at the times where I want to enjoy travelling, I make a habit of writing notes as I go and keeping them in my bag. That’s the important part of writing actually –  the process of looking back and putting the pieces together from my notes. When getting an idea, it’s easy to say “Oh I can remember to write that later on,” but its never the case! Our brains have a limit to what they can remember.

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“That’s the important part of writing actually –  the process of looking back and putting the pieces together from my notes.”


What’s one important thing you’ve learned from growing your own food in Bumi Herbal that you didn’t expect?

 

First off, Indonesia is one of the world’s Megadiversity countries – we’re only behind Brazil in terms of biodiversity. I saw the huge potential of this archipelago. 17,000 islands, 34 provinces, home for 1,300 tribes, with 250 million people.

Each part of Indonesia has different traditions and unique ingredients for food, and I felt that if I didn’t do my part in cultivating our country’s herbs and spices in my garden, there’s a chance that they’ll be gone over time.

That being said, what ultimately grew in me throughout the whole process of creating Bumi Herbal Dago was a sense of responsibility. I saw that the best way to learn was to dive straight into it, and of course, there was a lot of trial and error involved.

 

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal

“If I didn’t do my part in cultivating our country’s herbs and spices in my garden, there’s a chance that they’ll be gone over time.”

 

How can we develop our intimacy and relationship with the food we eat?

 

One of my life principles is to share my knowledge about food, and I feel successful whenever I am allowed to do that. At ACMI (Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia), we have a potluck program that we do once   every two months that is centered around a theme, such as the “process of cassava” or “tempe”, where the participants bring their own dishes made from scratch and share their processes.

It’s the small things like that, done within a community that can inspire those who come to appreciate their food better, especially those who aren’t cooks themselves.

The sharing of knowledge and process also blows away the perception that cooking isn’t as complicated you think it is.

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago

Who do you look up to and why?

 

My father. He taught me how important it is to be consistent, patient and to keep working. He taught me that hard work can always out-do intelligence. I always read to improve myself as well, and I think in an era of social media, we need to put down the screens and pick up the books more often.

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“Hard work can always out-do intelligence.”


What can local schools do to educate the youth of Indonesia about food?

 

As far as I know, there aren’t any official programs about it. But I figure they should start introducing the awareness of food through simple but clever ways. For example, younger students can be challenged in competitions to draw or color in Indonesian dishes instead of the typical natural scenery that we’re told to draw. These things are a fun introduction to food and a gateway to further learning.

The knowledge of food also starts from the home, and parents have a role in it too. I think that families should make an effort now and then to cook with their children, especially nowadays when food can be easily ordered.

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago

 


 

If you would like to know more about Santhi Serad, visit:

www.santhiserad.com

Instagram: @santhiserad_food

If you would like to get in touch Santhi Serad, you can email her at:

shserad@gmail.com

If you would like to know more about Kebun Bumi Herbal and ACMI, visit:

www.bumiherbal.com

www.akucintamasakanindonesia.org

 

 

 

 

 

Andrian Ishak

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I’m not really into winning anything. I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do, and how to do it.”

Andrian Ishak


Founder & Chef | Namaaz Dining
On the nature of creative ideas, approaching food as an artist and musician, and the culinary arts as the ultimate multisensory experience.

 

Tempeh under the guise of cotton candy, rehydrated watermelon slices that look and feel more like beef carpaccio – these are a few of the elaborate and delicate culinary inventions of Andrian Ishak, a curious molecular gastronomy chef, hell bent on expanding our perceptions of institutional Indonesian Cuisine.

Despite gaining attention in recent years (most notably getting continuous smoke to blow from talk show host Sara Sechan’s mouth and nostrils), it comes as a surprise that he only recently has begun his immersion into the culinary arts.

Having originally played his trade as a musician and artist, Andrian is a man at the captivating intersection of food, arts and music. Anchored in this unique position, he feels liberated, allowing freedom to give birth to a holistic curation of the senses.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

The result? An unorthodox approach with a Willy Wonka-esque imagination and the showmanship to match. Think of a dining experience where a chef blasts music from  Mötley Crüe and plays along with his electric guitar while your dessert explodes and ­­­crackles on the plate before you, culminating in a tossing of liquid nitrogen in the air that evaporates into a thick cloud of cold smoke.

It is this indeed this exciting permeation between crafts gives that has given notoriety to the multisensory 17-course dining experience of his restaurant, Namaaz in Jakarta.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Andrian. A pure joy emanates from him as we find out where he get’s the creativity to transcend taste and to question the existing boundaries of food, his background as an artist and musician, and the Indonesian dish that describes him the most!

 

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You came from a background of arts and music, and said yourself that you were a late bloomer in the culinary arts. What parallels and differences do you see between your approach to Art and Music, and Food?

 

I think the main difference is that the culinary arts involve all of your senses. In music, you can hear beautiful songs, and get some form of visualization from concerts and music videos, but somehow you’re missing the sense of “touch” when it comes to the final product you make; you can’t really touch music.

It’s the same in terms of emotions that come from the act of listening. We can feel a lot when listening, but it’s all a very internal process.

I did a lot of painting too, but again, it was mostly about entertaining myself in what I saw visually. It was missing a lot – the hearing, and tasting parts.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“We can feel a lot when listening, but it’s all a very internal process.”

So it was interesting to approach the culinary arts from that background. When we talk about the culinary arts, we seem to focus mostly on taste. But somehow, the dynamic nature of molecular gastronomy became very liberating for me, in that I could express my artistic side and incorporate all the senses.

I decided to incorporate music, and enhance sight. I put laser shows in the restaurant, and use smoke like in concerts – but I make smoke out of Pandan and Rendang! Can you imagine that? It’s an elaborate form of art. That’s what I love about this craft.

Coming at it from this angle forces you first study and think about the way we see our food and the culture behind it, especially in Indonesia.

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“The dynamic nature of molecular gastronomy became very liberating for me, in that I could express my artistic side, along with all the senses.”


You’re very much a person who’s pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as food here in Indonesia. Is creativity something you’ve always felt you had, or was it something you’ve developed over time?

 

I’ve always loved and have been involved in art ever since I was a kid. When I drew, I took serious intention in it – my drawings always had to mean something.

I remember now, there was a painting competition I once took part in, and instead of using regular paints, I used a typewriter to paint a robot with the letters ‘X’ and ‘O’, and that blew away the judges.  So, creativity was always with me.

But I’m not really into winning anything, I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do and how to do it.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“I’m not really into winning anything, I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do and how to do it.”


When you look for an idea for any aspect of the multisensory experience you provide in Namaaz, where do you usually start? What’s the process like for you?

 

First of all, for me, the very idea of creativity is abstract. You can’t really find anything that directly teaches you how to be creative. You can learn all the techniques from books, and chefs, you can find all the best ingredients and markets anywhere around the world, but creative ideas still seem to come from nowhere. I don’t really need to know where to go to be creative.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“The very idea of creativity is abstract.”

I usually get ideas when I go travelling, but sometimes I don’t find what I’m looking for. But on any other given day, like going to the ATM, it can come!

That’s creativity. It’s about keeping your mind open.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra


What is one Indonesian dish that describes you the most?

 

Martabak! and It’s for sentimental reasons.

In primary school, I wanted to learn guitar from my neighbor, but he asked me to pay him. My parents didn’t want me to learn guitar and didn’t want to help pay.

I negotiated a deal to cook him martabak instead. I went to a street vendor and learned how to make it, and it was the first thing I learned how to cook!

It’s for that reason that Martabak is the only dish that I choose to not deconstruct and leave in its pure form, just to preserve that memory.


 

If you would like to get in touch with Andrian you can email him at:

andrianishak@namaazdining.com

Instagram: @andrianishak

If you would like to know more about Namaaz, visit:

https://www.namaazdining.com/