The first time I heard of Macgyver, I said: ‘seriously?’ — how does someone with a name like that become a chef, I said to myself. Of course growing up in the 80s, I immediately had visions of the Macgyver TV character’s military bomb disposal techniques, applied physics and chemistry tricks and extreme intellect. Then I caught myself saying, well if this Macgyver was a tiny bit like the TV character then it might be an interesting meal. I was skeptical at first. I had to see and taste for myself.
Then one day, serendipitously, I was invited to join a meal at Akar. Half excited and half hesitant, I said yes. The minute we walked in, all hesitation disappeared. Mac is larger than life, literally and figuratively. Aside from being tall and large, he is immediately friendly and bubbly, laughing loudly, and is very talkative. But I was there for the food, and I was hungry. He asked: what we wanted to order and we said, ‘We’ll leave it up to you.’
What transpired next was a steady stream of excellently crafted and flavorsome dishes. The dishes tasted familiar yet were unique, stuff I had never seen before. / JVD
Akar’s reputation had preceded it, after successful collaborations with Locavore, Nusantara and August, only recently had we had the opportunity to delve deeper into the brains and guns behind Akar. Chefs Mac Gyver and Kesia Putri believe that food doesn’t only sprout onto their dining table, but roots back to the food they know from home. The restaurant encourages a family style dining experience, with a unique individual identity while continuously embracing their Indonesian roots.
That is exactly what the team at Akar tries to achieve, “When I develop a new recipe, I always keep in mind the question: ‘Will my parents enjoy it?’ expressed Mac multiple times during our conversation, reiterating its importance. “At Akar, we are always exploring ways to present purposeful and delicious food, something with a universal Indonesian common thread, but with a certain uniqueness to it,” he continued. Akar’s efforts to translate traditional recipes in the professional kitchen does not come without challenge, “It takes a certain amount of empathy to not deviate from the original soul or superimpose what I know to an original or heritage dish, there is a lot of self-awareness, respect, and restraint in putting our creations on the plate.”
Mac has spent a huge part of his life in the US and Singapore, and he first piqued his culinary interest while in a home economics class, where he cooked up pasta for his final examination. Years later, the finance graduate’s life took a sharp turn when he was living in Seattle, working for Perche No, one of the best Italian resturant in the area, “I was working at an accounting firm when I started to also work part time at the restaurant. I was not there to cook, but gravitated to it. Next thing I know, the owner’s son offered me an opportunity to stage at Eleven Madison Park, so I picked up all I had, and moved cross-country to New York, and into this cramped apartment in Chinatown,” reminisced Mac fondly.
Mac left his post at Perche No to pursue the internship at Eleven Madison Park, “There was where I really got to experience their heightened level of precision and understood that it’s what sets apart the amateurs from the big guns.” Then, Mac went home to Jakarta before leaving once again for Singapore. Mac stayed for a few good years in Singapore and concluded a final posting at Saint Pierre, Fullerton Bay in 2017, before finally returning to Jakarta.
Kesia Putri, on the other hand, is a trained chef with a degree in Diplôme de Pâtisserie from Le Cordon Bleu, London. Kesia has previously worked at Bennelong – the famed Sydney institution of Chef Peter Gilmore. “I discovered not only how to hone my skills as a chef, but also how to convey my personality as a chef.” Kesia worked at Bennelong for four years, where she rose through the ranks up to the post of head pastry chef. Looking further back, Kesia drew inspiration from her Mom, from whom she had witnessed home-baking crafts from. But it is only after working in a friend’s cake studio during high school did Kesia decide to go to culinary school.
Akar is an answer to Mac’s calling to explore Indonesian cuisine, and while developing the idea of opening his own Indonesian restaurant, Mac made his way to pasar tradisional, spoke to his family about the local cuisines, and even took crash courses with her mother. That spirit has remaind the same since Akar’s opening in 2019, Akar has committed its craft to preserving traditional flavours by championing local local produce, “There is always the question of why we don’t use Western ingredients like foie gras, wagyu, etc, but we are passionate in putting local ingredients forward. We are blessed with endless options of fresh, local produce, why not use it to its best potential?,” said Mac.
With an abundance of time on their hands during the PPKM period, Mac and Kesia have taken to the kitchen to do research and development their next project – Akar’s tasting menu, “The goal is to provide the best experience possible, and we are focusing on our craft and cookwork to get there.” One of Akar’s upcoming creations is the ten-course tasting menu that is still under development to ensure that it captures the very essence of Indonesian cuisine, “We are taking it carefully with the tasting menu as we want people to have a holistic experience of what Akar is,” explained Kesia. Surely, their upcoming dining experience will capture the essence of Akar: honest, hearty, and homey Indonesian food.
There is this Indonesian proverb, dari mata turun ke hati — from the eyes to the heart. Perhaps at Akar, we can agree that it is through the teasing of the taste buds and a wholesome modern-Indonesian dining experience, that they won our hearts.
Photos are courtesy of FoodieS Media and Akar Jakarta.
Akar Restaurant & Bar
Jl. Gunawarman no.41, 2nd Floor, Jakarta, Indonesia