Spreading Indonesia’s Rich Culture One at a Time with Brand Director Lisa Virgiano
KAUM is more than just a place of great food and history, but it’s a place where the melting pot of culture in Indonesia shines for all to enjoy and experience all thanks to the endless work and knowledge from Lisa Virgiano.
Located in Menteng in the heart of Jakarta, KAUM Jakarta is the place for showcasing Indonesia’s rich culture in new contemporary ways, while also dining on authentic and traditional Indonesian cuisine that will transport the taste buds into happy memories of home and comfort. Inspired by the archipelagos indigenous tribes, KAUM opened its first post in Hong Kong in May 2016, followed by Bali in October 2016, then Jakarta in May 2017.
As someone who champions Indonesians culinary heritage and indigenous ingredients and has used her wealth of knowledge to promote such things, Brand Director Lisa Virgiano has set the bar for dedication in her work. Before joining Potato Head Family, Lisa was involved in a number of programmes and projects aimed at bringing wider recognition to quality Indonesian products.
As a special treat, Lisa sat down with Eat Vacation and talked about her inspiration, experiences, and the future plans she has with KAUM and what it can accomplish.
- What’s the story behind KAUM Restaurant?
Kaum is inspired by the wealth of Indonesian food culture which is deeply influenced by more than 300 ethnic groups/clans/tribes and its diverse nature. Artisanal ingredients, which are cultivated with abundant values of heritage wisdoms, spices and indigenous cooking techniques, are widely manifested in many heritage cuisines throughout Indonesian archipelago.
With special emphasis to showcase almost forgotten techniques and hidden ingredients, Kaum develops an engaging relationship with many indigenous groups in most part of Indonesia, collaborate closely with small scale and responsible food producers, conduct research in flavors, heritage values, and cooking techniques to make sure that Indonesian food culture and its values is cohesively put in global gastronomy map.
Our culinary concept is anchored through unfathomable understanding of hidden ingredients of Indonesia, recognizing the craftsmanship of producers and its terroir, and reviewing almost forgotten cooking techniques done by many ethnic tribes in Indonesia. In that way, we will be able to produce inspirational cultural narratives, which not only to complement a gastronomy experience but also to induce profound understanding of Indonesia in a delectable perspective.
- What inspired you during the process of making the menu and the concept of the restaurant? Has anything changed since you first opened up?
Kaum team were inspired by several uniqueness of Indonesian cuisine:
- 2.1 Composition of herbs and spices
Most Indonesian cuisines involve fresh spices and herbs, grown wild in rain forest or small scale farms, native plants or introduced plants by Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Indian, Arab, were commonly ground or sliced, cooked in coconut milk or braised in coconut water. In one province (Indonesia has 34 provinces) we can find more than a hundred types of cuisine, using more or less the same ingredients but the composition of each ingredient and cooking method/stage are different. Indonesian cuisine is well known for its balanced taste of savory, sweet, salty, spicy, and brightness in acidity. But never too much. And from Sumatra until Papua, we have polarized taste character by using heirloom ingredients.
- 2.2 Biodiversity in ingredients
We grow almost food ingredients on our soil. We are the largest archipelago in the world with top notch collection of sea water fish. We understand the concept of terroir : taste of origin, it is in our blood, but we often take it for granted. Rice grown in highland of West Sumatra, Solok and in Magelang, Central Java have different tasting note, even though coming from the same variety. We used to have 7.000 more or less rice varieties grown in Indonesia, and all of them have different tasting notes. Not forget our local tubers, bananas, salak (snake fruit), tamarind, etc.
- 2.3 Cooking techniques
These techniques are also almost forgotten or rarely critically discussed, even among Indonesians. Such as rendang. People often regard rendang as another food category. In fact, they should regard rendang as a process of cooking. The word of rendang resembles similar meaning to marandang(local Minangkabau language). Marandang is the cooking process which involves constant stirring to achieve the desired color transformation under a low and constant heat, usually using a traditional firewood technique. We also have our own way of baking non gluten bread made from sagoo flour or cassava starch flour, using heat transfer technique, commonly found in eastern part of Indonesia (Forno Baking Technique), I assume this technique was introduced by the Portuguese. We also have various ways of bamboo grilling techniques. Not forget how we make creation from our sambal (chili relish).
In Kaum, we are trying cohesively to introduce authentic Indonesian flavors around this archipelago. Starting from Aceh in Sumatra until Papua in the east part of Indonesia, they utilize amazing techniques in cooking, preserving, and balancing the harmony of nature through taste recognition and local ingredients. However we implement varied menu in 3 outlets based on available local ingredients and different market.
- When you went abroad for your studies, what lessons or experiences did you bring back to use in Jakarta and in KAUM?
When I learned so much about rural development and I did a research about Indonesian coffee development for my master degree, I expanded my horizon in developing deep and intimate relationships with small scale farmers, breeders, fishermen, food producers/artisans in Indonesia. I learned a lot from them and starting from that moment, I commit myself to explore, promote, and defend my food culture and biodiversity so our future generation could at least taste the original products and they see that working in agriculture is very sexy and lucrative.
I recognize how massive the challenges are working closely in agriculture. But once I remember that Indonesia, for once, was well known for its capacity and capability to produce great works and minds from our history of mankind, I never settle for less.
- How has the world changed and how has KAUM kept up with the change in order to be different and relevant so guests keep coming back for more?
The world is interconnected seamlessly nowadays. Social media has brought us together, bypassing the physical boundaries. Consumers become more highly aware and conscious about what they eat, where it comes from and how we process it. We gradually communicate it through social media platform while refining cooking techniques to enhance the quality of our menu. Every outlets of Kaum in Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Bali generate different strategy to adapt to the market and availability of ingredients.
- What has been your favourite dish to have at KAUM that you recommend to everyone?
I personally like something simple such as Nasi Kuning (using heritage rice of Jatiluwih Tabanan Bali), Bobor Daun Kelor Kelapa Muda, Gohu Ikan Tuna, and Tahu Gejrot.
- Why is sustainability important for Jakarta’s future?
It is not only important for Jakarta but for the world. Because sustainability creates and defines the future.
- What does the future hold with KAUM as a restaurant and as a brand?
Food issue is closely related to climate change and sustainability. I believe that Kaum can be part of an initiative to inspire and motivate other similar business to introduce biodiversity, local ingredients, and support small scale local producers/agro business.