ANDRIAN ISHAK MOLECULAR GASTRONOMIST

 

“I don’t like to say that I think outside the box. I prefer to say that there’s no box at all.”

As Indonesia’s leading molecular gastronomist, Andrian Ishak prides himself on finding new and innovative ways to put his country on a plate.

For most people, three minutes isn’t a long time to wait for instant noodles. For Andrian, this was an opportunity.

“I always thought that ‘instant noodles’ should really be instant, so I started researching,” he says. “Normally edible gel sets when it’s cold, but there’s one type that sets when it’s hot. Put it in broth, and you have three-second instant noodles.”

And he didn’t stop there.

“They tasted even more authentic than regular ones. We made the noodles out of chicken itself; we took Indonesia’s mie ayam (chicken noodles) to a new level,” he says.

Molecular gastronomy is a type of food science, made popular by British chef Heston Blumenthal, which manipulates the physical and chemical properties of ingredients to create unique dishes. Tools such as liquid nitrogen and dry ice are used to blur the lines between cooking and science.

As the first restaurant of its type in Indonesia, Andrian’s Namaaz Dining in Jakarta is combining these scientific techniques with Indonesian cuisine. Andrian says, “To be a really good chef, you have to beat the hot oil and the knife skills. At my restaurant, we use only Indonesian ingredients, and we want to showcase all of Indonesia. Food and taste is priority, but it’s not just about that. It’s about art, culture, places.”

Although he once studied hotel administration at university, Andrian’s creative side has always shone through. Having previously owned two traditional Indonesian restaurants, his self-led research and experimentation propelled him towards molecular gastronomy from 2007.

“When I was little, I loved art and painting. Cooking is an art in itself, and these molecular techniques let me give an original, multisensory experience to guests,” he explains. Together with his creativity, Andrian’s inspiration is sourced from his travels around his country. In Namaaz’s early days, when it housed just eight guests (it now has up to 32 guests a night), he once blocked reservations for two months in order to explore Indonesia.

“Last year, I hiked the Ijen Crater near Banyuwangi, East Java. It’s famous for its crater and ‘blue fire’, which technically glows in the dark. I remember observing the blue lava with smoke coming out of the crater, and I thought, ‘How do I put this on the menu?’ So we made glow-in-the-dark manisan buah (candied fruit) and turned off the lights in the restaurant when we served it.”

A night at Namaaz is an atypical fine-dining experience. Food at their special Valentine’s dinner is theatrically brought out by cupids, while guests are always instructed to bring a raincoat with them.

“There’s an icy dessert in Indonesia called es potong (icy pop). So we turned it into ‘explo-tong’. The dish literally explodes with chocolate chunks all over the room. We try to make our dishes relate to the guests, so they go home with smiles on their faces. We’re so proud of that.”

Nowadays, a night at this restaurant needs to be reserved around a month in advance. The menu changes at least once a year, in line with the current ‘season’. The next is ‘cinema’, aimed to give guests a theatrical experience. “Or we might get Tom Cruise to come and cook,” Andrian laughs.

Constantly seeking inspiration, Andrian is a regular traveller with Garuda Indonesia and has trips to Bali, Yogyakarta and the Middle East planned. “Garuda Indonesia has opened lots of new routes recently, which lets me visit different parts of Indonesia all the time. Owning a restaurant means I have a tight schedule, so the timeliness of Garuda Indonesia’s services is really valuable for me. And, of course, it’s always nice to be greeted by friendly faces.”

 

From Colours April 2018