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The Brunch Specialist: CHEF FERNANDO SINDU

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Chef Fernando “Nando” Sindu’s eyes widen with enthusiasm talking about the growing appreciation and respect for brunch in Jakarta, something which he had pushed for in recent years.

“JAKARTANS have welcomed brunch with arms wide open. Everybody is now doing brunch. Foreign brands known for their brunch menus have started to set up in the capital,” Chef Nando gives a gist of the state of the scene in a recent interview.

Four years ago, Nando and his collaborator Ivan Wibowo observed that brunch was very much underserved in Jakarta: no warm enough effort on the supply side, and even colder gesture from the crowd.

Chefs Nando and Ivan, who met and became good friends during their time studying at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, then decided to start their brunch campaign by doing pop-up brunch events.

“Back then, we saw that brunch menus did not have any hype and very few of them were composed dishes. At that time, we observed that brunch was practically a void in the Jakartan culinary repertoire,” Chef Nando reminisces.

The duo started their venture low and slow, but quickly ascend.

“We started with simple food such as omelletes and eggs benedict, but of course with our own twist and presented as not a fulll-on breakfast,” Chef Nando says.

Indonesians being Indonesians, Nando and Ivan also offered rice-based brunch dishes in the form of rice bowls. “The market reacted very positively, from then on we grew and began to explore more,” Nando said.

Nando and Ivan are now the masterminds behind Benedict, a cafe and restaurant at Grand Indonesia specializing in an all-day breakfast and brunch menu with their own twists on flavor and texture.

Brunch, the concept
As a Western menu, brunch is self-explanatory. It is a portmanteau and a combination of breakfast and lunch; it is said to have started in England two centuries ago and became popular across the Atlantic in the 1930’s.

“Brunch in the U.S. or in the Western hemisphere started as a weekend thing. People waking up late and going to restaurants to get their brunch,” Nando explains.

As food evolved, brunch turned into a meal that could also be enjoyed every day and all day. “The term brunch usually refers to food with eggs in it, food with protein and some form of carbohydrate. Brunch refers to one dish meals, usually based on eggs and toppings,” Nando continues.

Nando, however, admits that he is sick of eggs. “I work with eggs all the time, but it is so versatile an ingredient, I cannot escape from it,” he says laughing.

Entering the second decade of the 21st century, brunch took a beating, with people on both sides of the Atlantic deriding the menu and event.

But in Australia, brunch has been revived and magnified into a different beast.

According to Nando, whereas the American brunch menu tended to sway on the sleazy side: fatty, greasy dishes accompanied by alcoholic drinks; Australian brunch was more ingredients-driven and pushed strong on healthy style.

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“You saw granola, pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls, vegetables with poached eggs in the Australian brunch menu,” Nando says.

Or as Melbourne-based journalist Cara Waters explains it: brunchers in Australia come straight from their yoga class or crossfit session or roll out of bed so hungover that they cannot bear alcohol.

“Because I studied culinary in the U.S., my first brunch dishes were very American, but now as we see the wave of changes from Australia, we have started injecting healthy ingredients into our menu,” Nando says.

The chef’s favorite brunch place is The Prune, a tiny eatery in New York City which draws long lines thanks to its brunch menu, which Nando says has been good since “forever”.

In Jakarta, at Benedict, Nando says they put a focus on egg dishes, but they also develop other main courses to enjoy during brunch so the guests can still relate.

“One of them is a dish of braised short rib combined with poached egg and mushroom croquettes. It’s a composed dish,” he said.

For him, brunch is a concept not just a time of day. “These dishes can be enjoyed not only between 11AM and 3PM, you can enjoy these around the clock; these are all-day dishes,” Nando says.

Jakarta-style
After years of tinkering with brunch dishes amongst the locals, Nando has come up with two bulletproof menu types, which he claims will always sell anywhere in the city.

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One of his findings is a no-brainer: dishes with rice in them.

“Any dish with some kind of rice, poached egg with golden dripping yolk and then some meat. Any meat: gyutan, braised short rib, chopped chicken, anything will work. Indonesian eat rice day and night. Create a rice dish with familiarity, make it spicy, it will move. Fast,” Nando says with a smile.

The second type, surprisingly, are pork-based dishes.

“Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but many, many people enjoy pork,” he says.

In Nando’s observation, pork dishes is the current hype, with many customers entering the restaurant asking for pork dishes.

“Pork belly, ham, ribs. I honestly don’t know why; somehow customers look for this kind of food. Actually, in the U.S., the same thing has been happening; ham and bacon always sells,” Nando puts forward.

For himself, Nando’s favorite brunch dish is everything hash. “Corned beef hash, hash browns, anything hash. The dish always reminds me of weekends in New York and my friends in New Zealand,” he says with eyes gazing at the distance.

Asked to peer into his crystal ball, Chef Nando is quite optimistic that in the future more and more places —coffee shops for starters—  will start doing brunch.

“The more people doing it, the better. It means that the trend, which we had help encourage, is spreading. It will be positive as it will push us to maintain quality and interest in the food to keep people coming,” Nando says.

“We always try to push boundaries and create something different,” the Nando promises.