At a recent diplomatic reception in Dubai celebrating the 78th Indonesian Independence Day, one man stood out showcasing his country’s rich heritage. He was Idin Asmitha, 49, a long-time UAE resident who not only prepared culinary delights for diplomats and dignitaries but was also previously asked to prepare meals for the president of the fourth most populous country in the world.
Asmitha’s task on Tuesday night was to spread the culinary traditions of his beloved country. He led a team of around 30 cooks and kitchen staff who prepared all-time Indonesian favourites such as nasi goreng, chicken satay, tempeh, soto ayam (chicken soup), beef rendang and more.
What they did – in diplomatic parlance – is called gastrodiplomacy or cultural diplomacy by way of promoting and sharing distinctive local cuisine. “People always come together around food,” noted Asmitha, “and one way of sharing values, culture and tradition is by sharing meals.”
Asmitha and his team accomplished their task with aplomb – they not only serve food, they also explained to foreign and local dignitaries the details and origin of each dish.
The experience of preparing meals for VIPs is not actually new for Asmitha. He told Khaleej Times that he was requested on a couple of occasions to prepare meals for Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is a frequent visitor to the UAE.
“Our president is known to enjoy simple home-cooked Indonesian meals but they must be authentic, that’s why I was asked by our embassy to prepare meals when he came here in July last year and during his visit to World Expo Dubai in 2021,” Asmitha said.
He added: “I can consider those occasions as part of my career highlights. Imagine preparing food for the leader of the fourth largest country (in terms of population) in the world. President Widodo is not only the leader of over 270 million Indonesians, he is also popular here in the UAE. In fact, a street in the Capital (Abu Dhabi) is named after him and I had the honour of serving him.”
Asmitha himself is considered a VIP in his profession. He was recently included in the Top 50 Executive Chef Power List 2023 in the region which has over 1,000 excellent and highly-competitive chefs.
But what brought him to the top he said was his attitude and perseverance to always work hard. “I always serve with a smile – yes, it’s very important because if you don’t have a positive attitude, it will always reflect in your food,” Asmitha said, explaining: “If you’re stressed out, your food will taste bland; if you’re angry or upset, your food will also taste bad.”
Asmitha, whose wife is a also chef, was born in Bandung, the capital of Indonesia’s West Java province, which is known for its volcanoes and tea plantations. He graduated from Sandy Putra Hotel Tourism Academy and began his professional career at the age of 19 at Jakarta Hilton Indonesia. He started from the ranks and also worked at various hotel. Then one HR (human resources) director saw his potential and recruited him to work in Dubai in 2000.
He started as a demi chef de partie (station chef) and worked his way up to become sous chef, then head chef, and executive sous chef at various hotels including Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, Park Hyatt Jeddah and Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas. He is currently the executive chef overseeing various restaurants at Media Rotana Hotel.
Throughout his three-decade of culinary journey, Asmitha said one thing that has never left him were his notebooks with recipes and procedures he personally jot down through the years.
“When I started, there was no YouTube. I belonged to that generation of chefs who underwent personal mentorship so I had to write down everything. I have worked with many well-known brands and establishments in Indonesia and across the Middle East; as well as internationally recognised Michelin-starred chefs such as Henrik Yde-Andersen, Igor Macchia, Michael Schlow, and Giorgio Locatelli,” he said.
“Everything I learned from them I have written down and I now have several notebooks of recipes which I hope to pass down to my apprentices,” he added.
“But the most important recipes to success I would always like to remind my juniors – as I told them when we served the dignitaries during the recent event at the Indonesian Consulate – were hard work, passion, creativity and enthusiasm. Cooking is actually hard work and passion is the fuel to creating good food. But you also have to be creative and also learn something new with enthusiasm,” he concluded.