MAYA ALDY: Appreciating Every Simple Things in Life

Maya Aldy cooks up this interesting blend of humility and passion, a laid back gal who seeks nothing but to create good food.

Maya Aldy cooks up this interesting blend of humility and passion, a laid back gal who seeks nothing but to create good food.

MAYA ALDY has an incredible patience to pursue what she really wants in life. At the age of 26, after labouring for about three years working for an IT company and saving precious rupiah, she finally dared to bid adieu to the well-paid corporate world and used her hard-earned money to fund her next phase in life: studying at the French Culinary Institute (now rebranded as International Culinary Centre) in New York City.

“My parents just couldn’t say no,” says Maya. “I got enough money to live for six months, eventually I’ll get a job there, and luckily I can live at my friend’s house.” And amazingly she did just that, including a stint at a five-star restaurant.

The years spent on a “conventional” career—she majored in Business Management after all—seems to be motivated by her future desire to revisit her fondest memories of yore: being in the kitchen. “I loved being in the kitchen since I was five,” says the head chef—and co-owner—of Otel Lobby. “It was my happy place: my sanctuary, a place for me to vent and unload my stress and boredom.” She has two influential grandmothers who shaped her cooking prowess: one is from Medan (from her mother’s side) who introduced her to slow cooking and richness of herbs, and the other is a Belgian who cooked for eight kids. “Sometimes she’d have one main ingredient—chicken for example—but then she’ll add other ingredients to give each dish its own unique character and flavour.”

Her grandmas definitely sound like figures of inspiration for her, in how they prepared things quickly and yet also doing it with an abundance of patience (she’s got a Sumatera-Solo-Belgium heritage running in her veins), which further emphasized Maya’s beliefs that women cut a better impression and authority in a professional kitchen. “Women are better cooks,” Maya says confidently. “We are stronger and we have better endurance which is why we can put in longer hours.” But, like most people’s perception, she admits that being a chef can be harder for a woman due to its unflinching physicality. “It’s a back-breaking job where you normally work for ten to fifteen hours a day for six days a week.”

But according to Maya the situation is relatively rosy nowadays, saying that women are catching up in terms of making themselves more visible than their male counterparts in F&B industry.


The Lady Who Loves to Cook
When asked about female chefs she most admires, Maya promptly answers “Julia Child—she’s just this amazing lady who loves to cook.” And without essaying sophisticated impressions to describe her personality, Maya, too, in a simplistic term, a lady who loves to cook.

She prized everything she creates so far. “I am always happy with my cooking, even as simple as making my own loaf of bread or brewing a cup of coffee. Everything I do I made with passion and good intentions, and I do it not to just satisfy myself but also for others.” Staying true to the people-pleaser that she is, she’s also not into the game of seeking popularity, instead acknowledging herself first and foremost as a cook. “I love what I’m doing and I just hope that people can enjoy it too.”

When it comes to her own private enjoyment it seems she’s more into comfort food. “I love Nasi Padang, especially rendang that my mother makes. And if I go out I don’t have any particular restaurant that I frequent often; I’d go for Indian or Japanese food. And if I’m showing people around I’d probably take them to Seribu Rasa because their flavours are very consistent, plus they have a nice simple ambience.” She likes Manadonese food too, and her favourites are just around the corner near her home in Menteng, like Tinor or Bunga Pepaya which in her opinion serves the best perkedel jagung.

Amongst the yoga enthusiast’s most memorable experiences, she notes cooking for two heads of states: Bill Clinton and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Cooking for the Clintons at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City was particularly noteworthy, since she and her team has three days to prepare under the glaring supervision of the president’s posse of doctors and specialists.

In person Maya Aldy certainly projects an earthy figure, tall yet not intimidating, gorgeous but approachable, a non-pretentious persona living her dreams. And she’s got no shortage of praise towards her peers on this particular photo shoot. “They are hard working women who are very passionate with cooking. Some are moms so I know when they are cooking or baking, they are doing it from the heart.”

Words of wisdom for aspiring female chefs out there? “Just be true to yourself, don’t cut corners, and put your heart into it.” And these days, it’s really non-retrogade for women to say that the kitchen is your sanctuary. Maya Aldy certainly has no qualms in saying it.

Written by Sahiri Loing Photographs by Dennie Ramon July 25, 2016.