Fruit Fixes: Chef Ragil

Tropical Treasure

Archipelagic and equatorial, Indonesia is one of the world’s richest nations in terms of biodiversity. It’s home to more than 40,000 species of owering plants and more than 3,000 tree species, including durian (the heavenly fruit or the devil in bite size, depending who you ask). The islands are rich in fruit species, both seasonal, such as, rambutan, mango and mangosteen, and non-seasonal, such as salak. There are also a number of introduced fruits like avocado, pineapple and apple. Because people outside Indonesia are missing out on homegrown, fresh and juicy mini papayas, bananas and dragon fruit, the Indonesian government is working to boost tropical fruit production to become the biggest tropical fruit producer in Southeast Asia by 2025, and in the world by 2045. Yup, we’re making the durian debate global.

There are people who believe that pineapple on top of pizza is a disgrace to humanity. There are also people who embrace the idea. Chef Ragil of Nusa Indonesia Gastronomy is the latter. We dig deeper into his passion for Indonesia’s indigenous fruits.

Speaking about pineapple, Ragil feels strongly that people should go further. He encourages everyone to buy a ripe pineapple, panfry it and put green pepper on top of it. “Seriously, try it. It’s just the best thing,” he said.

Ragil started to develop a curiosity and awareness of Indonesia’s indigenous ingredients about 10 years ago. He had been traveling, encountering cultures and along the way, it shocked him to find such vibrant indegenous material all over Indonesia that was not being fully utilized.

He asked himself: “We have such amazing ingredients here in Indonesia, will I abandon the calling?” The answer manifested in NUSA Gastronomy Indonesia and Lokarasa, through which he showcases his love for food and Indonesia’s indigenious ingredients.

“Indonesia has so many varieties of fruits. It has better flavors and varieties. Right now, Nusa has a mission to develop and use these indigenous fruits. We consider indigenous fruit as any variety that has been planted and harvested in Indonesia in the last 50 years,” he explained, citing that their latest creations involved fruits from North Sumatra such as Berastagi tangerine, passion fruit and tamarillo.

For him, the weirdest and best fruits are gandaria, gohok and Bogor’s grape.

Of all the fruits from across the archipelago, his must-haves are avocado, banana and durian. These three often make an appearance in his creations.

For Ragil, everything he creats start with visits to traditional farmers markets anywhere across the country’s islands. Without any particular plan, he lets his mind and eyes wander. When he sees something fancy, be it fruits, spices or anything, he buys and brings them home.

He will then experiment with his findings: turning them into gelato, jam, etc. Up until now, Ragil has employed mostly Western techniques such as making fruits into pie or gelato. He admitted that he is still trying to find newer ways to treat fruits with Indonesian techniques.

“If you want to use fruits to spice up a dish, use fruit that has high acidity. We know sometimes people make sambal using mango or apple. However, if the fruit is to be the main ingredient, use fruit that has high carbs, such as banana,” Ragil shared.

For FoodieS, Ragil prepared two desserts; a gelato and mille feuille both with durian in the spotlights and avocado in a supporting roles.

For the gelato, the idea came from an Indonesian way of drinking black coffee mixed with durian. The dish consists of avocado gelato accompanied with durian parfait stuffed with coffee mixed with coconut milk sauce.

“Coffee with durian is really good, but not many people know that durian with avocado is a match made in heaven. They are both creamy and sweet. I used to make fried durian topped with avocado sauce. It’s heaven.”

To make a great gelato, Ragil suggests using very, very ripe fruit. “If you can, use fruits that are only an hour away from rottenness. The reason? Fruit will reach a certain phase of fermentation in which the closer it is to being rotten, the lower the sugar content. This process will bring out the real flavor of the fruit.

For the mille feuille, the inspiration comes from bakpia durian. The crust from bakpia is represented by mille feuille and it is stuffed with durian and mung bean foam. The result is a superb mille feuille inspired bakpia.

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Written by Tatu Hutami Photographs by Dennie Ramon July 1, 2017.