The brunch at the Flying Elephant isn’t quite over when I arrive at Park Hyatt. But things aren’t as chaotic as I expect it to be when I enter the kitchen. Executive chef Teuku Syafrulsyah is overseeing a 90-strong staff, even as he puts the finishing touches to a platter of scallop ceviche topped with strawberry salsa, with avocado quenelles by the side. Beside it, a pillowy burrata with sweet beetroot purée is waiting for me. The noise around him doesn’t break his concentration, but any query is immediately answered with a smile. I shouldn’t be surprised; this 41-year-old has worked at several Hyatt properties, including the ones in Spain, Dubai and Zanzibar, and has overseen chefs from over 20 countries. Being on top of things has been the mainstay of his 20-year career.
Back to basics
It’s been a month since Syafrulsyah has taken over the reins, and he is already putting his mark on how things are run. For one, the 100-dish menu at the multi-level restaurant is being trimmed to 60. “When you have a large menu, the mise en place suffers. It is also impossible for the chef to cook all 100 items. If we streamline, then chefs can focus on those dishes, and the more they do it, the better they will get at it,” says the Indonesian, who admits to being surprised by how often diners ask him to ‘surprise’ them. So for these clients, he plans to have a weekly specials section, which will showcase each of their kitchens.
While other city hotels are experimenting with quirky in-room dining and molecular gastronomy, Syafrulsyah believes in keeping things simple, letting the food be the star. Though he hasn’t been to the local markets yet—the rain has been playing spoilsport—he feels the city offers some great produce. “The dessert and pastry menu will be updated. I’m thinking of doing some interesting pairings—of local offerings like cashew and pomegranate, but with a western sensibility,” says the chef, who travels everywhere with his set of 10 knives (from German Solingen to the Japanese Misono), but feels a little lost right now as they are still in transit. Meanwhile, The Dining Room will also be getting his attention; he wants to change the concept and give it a distinct personality.
Having grown up in Jakarta, learning cooking at his mother’s side (he made his first nasi goreng at age six), South East Asian dishes are his forte. Like the succulent chicken in banana leaf—steamed with lemongrass and chilli—and the chilli prawns that I’m loving. And they will find a prominent place on all the menus, he promises. Though he is hesitant about introducing a beef rendang, the response of a German expat recently has him rethinking his stance.
—Surya Praphulla Kumar