Authentic Cuisine
    Category: Forbes Life By : Grace Goodrich Read : 2623 Date : Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 21:14:52

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Serendipitous would be the word to describe the spirit of Javanegra—part Mediterranean-inspired gourmet atelier, part Indonesian-grown coffee specialty roaster, where cultures and ingredients seem to come together in just the right way. Located in a modest building in Kebayoran Baru, just finding the 25-seat restaurant requires a certain degree of fate. Once inside, home cooking and fine dining unite fortuitously by way of ceviche and foie gras, tuna tartar and grilled paprika, small plates as fresh, authentic, and straightforward as the name itself, which literally translates to “black coffee.”  

    Founded in 2008 by chef Andrea Peresthu, Javanegra Boutique Coffee Roaster harvests its beans from land inter-cropped with rainforest trees and roasts them locally, an idea that Andrea had after traveling throughout the highlands of Indonesia as part of his work on an inter-governmental sustainable investment program. After seeing the land destroyed by illegal loggers, he was able to convince a small minority of farmers to use the land to grow coffee.

    When middlemen still want to keep prices low, he chose social welfare over profits and began roasting the beans himself in the 1 x 2 meter terrace of his apartment, handcrafting each package with glue. While Javanegra sold only 250 grams of coffee in its first six months, it currently runs two-and-a-half to three tonnes. Premium prices and direct trade with coffee growers means more money going back to the farmers to improve income and living standards.

    Four years later, Andrea resigned from his professorship at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands where he studied urban and regional development, and this past year, he co-founded Javanegra Gourmet Atelier with friends Reni Alhadad and Aphrodite Firia. Case in point of serendipity: Aphrodite used to work for the oil company that occupied the building next door, but would constantly come over for coffee and conversation, ultimately deciding to go into business together.  

     “When we roast, we always make a party,” says Andrea, who likes to talk politics with friends during the day and meet and mingle with dinner guests in the evenings. “You know, cooking, drinking, enjoying. I don’t want to lose my life,” he says. Having lived in Europe for 12 years and visited approximately 300 restaurants around the world, his affinity for Spain and Spanish culture inspires much of the menu, from chuleton de buey (thick slices of beef steak) to almejas a la plancha (grilled clams with salsa verde).

     “I cook everything authentic,” says Andrea, who imports most of his ingredients from Europe and Japan. “It’s not something I try to invent or impress people.” Teak wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances line the kitchen that is situated within the restaurant, as it would be in a home. As a working architect, Andrea designed the place himself, modeling it after his own kitchen back in the Netherlands. All of the pots and pans are his and he sleeps upstairs. If there isn’t a fork handy, he has no qualms about using his hands to slurp down a clam or snack on some green olives. Andrea doesn’t like pretense, especially when it comes to cooking, which he’s done since he was seven years old.

    “The only difference is before, I cooked, I spent money,” says Andrea. “Now, I cook, I earn money. I have more liberty because I get more money to buy good ingredients, and that gives me more space to explore a lot of things. And the coffee is all relatively my previous work, which is empowerment of the people, but this time, I do it more on the social business framework.”

    Andrea cares more about self-starters and hard work than about titles or credentials. Rather than hire a professional, he runs his own social media pages and designs all of the logos and branding for the packaging of the coffee. Within the kitchen, he hires ex-criminals and those with no professional culinary training or experience as his sous chefs.

     “I don’t hire people with a diploma because I don’t trust them,” says Andrea—who himself is self-taught as a cook. “I want to see their quality. Quality in this country is very rare.” Of course, quality comes at a cost. With seven set menus starting at Rp 1.5 million, clients are confined to a certain circle that grows by word of mouth—some families, some businessman, all of them well traveled. Reservations are essential, and 50% down payment is required in advance of the dinner.  

    “For them, spending an amount like that is okay because otherwise they would have to travel twelve hours,” says Andrea. “The indicator is only one—if they come back more than two times. That means you’ve won their heart.” Javanegra is currently being renovated to include an Indonesian-style café that serves breakfast and lunch at lower prices. The spirit behind the eatery, however, will remain the same.  “I’m very comfortable now,” says Andrea. “I like to do what I do. Beyond all of the big names, the most important thing you can do is share what you do with others and make people happy. That’s a very different touch in your heart. This is where I’m happy.”