If you’ve been to our outpost in Seminyak, Bali lately, you might have seen this familiar face: our next guest chef for Kilo Cooking Beats—Raíces is Kilo Bali’s executive chef, Yohans Gozal. Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, he will bring a taste of authentic Indonesian cuisine to the Kilo Kallang kitchen come Thursday, 25th May. Yohans spent most of his childhood and teenage years growing up in Malaysia before going on to study in Australia. It was there that he fell in love with “the buzz, the heat, and the screaming inside the kitchen” during a part-time stint while studying, and although he went on to work in the IT industry in Singapore for two years, he found himself back in the kitchen soon after. Having worked for established hotels and restaurants such as Mandarin Oriental, Marina Bay Sands, Ola Cocina Del Mar and Restaurant BAM!, Yohan resumed his position as executive chef in Kilo Bali in May this year, after first taking up the role in 2015. We caught up with Yohans ahead of his session:

Could you tell us a bit more about what you liked about working in the kitchen?

My first part-time gig in the kitchen was in this modest, small-sized Turkish bistro in Brisbane. Like many other kitchens, it was humid, hot, and noisy; the working hours were gruesome; and if you heard the way everyone talked to each other, you’d be surprised they weren’t trying to kill each other. It was madness, but somehow organised, and if you looked closely everything was actually in harmony. It was organised chaos, and I liked it.

How different were the experiences and the food scenes in Singapore and Indonesia?

Professionally, as a chef, I’ve worked mostly in Singapore. I came back to Indonesia to work in Bali only since early 2015. The restaurants in Bali have an added advantage of having the beautiful backdrop of Bali’s tropical landscape. Bali is a holiday destination and the weather is usually hot all year round, so people are more relaxed, unhurried and are usually in shorts and flip-flops. This translates to the feel and atmosphere of the dining scene in Bali. Singapore, however, has positioned itself as a gourmet destination in recent years, on par with other gourmet destinations in Asia like Hong Kong and Japan. I miss how easy it is to literally eat the world without having to leave Singapore. The choices are plenty.

You were born in Indonesia, grew up in Malaysia, studied in Australia, and worked in Singapore—how have these different cultures influenced your cooking?

I have been lucky enough to have lived in and travelled to many different cities since I was a kid, experiencing different cultures and cuisines. I guess all that now adds up as a library of flavour in my head, like how I always write things down when I see or taste something new, so I don’t forget. This is one of the key things that dictate my way of cooking, or when I’m looking for inspiration for a new dish. 

What’s a lesson you’ve learnt in all your years of cooking?

Humility, focus, and not giving up—these all go a long way.

For Cooking Beats—Raíces, you’re returning to your roots to cook Indonesian fare. What do you think makes Indonesian cuisine so special? What are your thoughts about Indonesian cuisine in Singapore? 

I’ve always known that there is so much more to Indonesian cuisine than just what I’ve grown up eating in my 20 years living outside Indonesia. Typically, you’d find dishes like ayam penyet (fried chicken), gado gado (mixed vegetables in peanut sauce), or deep fried food served with some sort of chili sauce.  But Indonesian food is so much more than that. With five major islands, over 100 cities and more than 300 ethnic groups, the diversity is amazing.

What’s one dish on the menu for the evening that you’re particularly excited about, and why?

Sop Rawon Sapi. Simply because I’m a soup person, and I like having my meal with a soup or something stew-like whenever possible, whether I’m having Chinese, Korean, or Thai food. Sop Rawon Sapi is one of my favourite Indonesian soups. It consists of beef chunks cooked till tender in an aromatic spiced soup. What makes it unique is the use of buah keluak (the seed of a Southeast Asian tree) in this dish, hence the dark colour and nutty taste, and it is typically served with salted egg. It doesn’t look and sound as beautiful as it tastes.

Have you thought about the music playlist for the night as well? What can guests expect?

I grew up in the mid-’90s when the Britpop/rock scene was in bloom, so tunes from bands like Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Blur, Stone Roses, Travis and Stereophonics were my go-to music choices back then. This genre soon opened doors to many more independent sub-genres (synthpop, new wave, indie folk and many more), and over the years, produced bands I like to listen to, ranging from Arcade Fire, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, Mew, The National, and my most recent favourite, Future Islands. In this episode of Kilo Cooking Beats—Raíces, I put up a short playlist for diners to experience some of my old and new favourites.

You mentioned you’ve been living away from your hometown for 20 years. What are some things you miss from back home?

Family, of course. Being away from home and with my line of work, I have missed many important family events and occasions.

What’s your earliest memory of food, or the first dish you learnt how to cook?

As a kid, when I was still living in Jakarta, my dad would drive our family to my late grandmother’s house for a weekly weekend gathering with every extended family member. My grandmother would usually single-handedly cook a family-style meal for all of us. She was an amazing cook, your typical grandparent who cooks with guts and instinct—no fancy tools, no measurements.

Can you describe a typical dish from your childhood?

Meals during my childhood years in Jakarta were usually home-cooked, throughout breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was either Chinese or Indonesian, and even when we dined out as a family, we usually just went to a restaurant serving Chinese or Indonesian food too. There weren’t many choices back then compared to today. Fish stewed in fermented black bean sauce and pork satay with sweet chili peanut sauce by my grandmother are definitely my favourites.

What’s your signature dish to cook, or something that you always make when you have guests over?

I do like a one-pot kind of dish when I eat at home or have guests over. It is tasty, easy to prepare and can be served immediately when the guests arrive, making sure I have ample time to spend with them. I don’t really have a signature because I like to cook different dishes from many different cuisines, but the Beef Rawon Stew, which I’m going to prepare for Cooking Beats—Raíces, is one of my favourite things to cook and eat.

What’s something you would tell people to do/see when they visit Jakarta?

Street food stalls, carts, and small shophouses selling speciality food that is unique to that shop—think of it as one of those popular hawker stalls in Singapore. Those are the true culinary gems of Jakarta. Just like when you’re in Bangkok or Saigon, you want to go to the street to feast. 

If you could invite someone, whether living or dead, from your hometown to dine with you, who would it be and why?

This is very easy—both of my parents and my brother. It’s very rare that we get a chance to sit down and have a meal together.

Take a look at Yohans’ menu for the night below, and make a reservation at www.kilokitchen.com/reservations.