Since this isn’t exactly about a Restaurant, but about a Chef… scratch that, a COOK, I can’t really start it with RESTO RAVE, so I am calling this post a Culinary Rave or CRAVE. (Get it?) Raj Abat is a culinary master of his kitchen domain, who doesn’t like to be called “chef.” He believes that food and cooks like him should be accessible to everyone. So despite his mad skills and experience in Michelin starred restaurants (not only has he worked with some of the greats but he has also brought Michelin stars to some kitchens!) he remains close to his roots, unpretentious and real.
When I met Raj Abat at Otel Lobby during one of his Swine Sundays, I was at first intimidated by the tattoos and his signature bandana (which I learned later on is a practical way to prevent the sweat from interfering with this work in scorching hot kitchens). I agree with Ellyna of Jakarta Globe Blog and Culinary Bonanza on this one:
At first glance, Raj Abat’s lean, tattooed body might trick you into thinking that he’s a leader of some brutal gang. Unlike a member of street-gang, he is actually an expert of knives, ladles and forks in the kitchens.
When I got to talk to him some more, what struck me was how funny, down to earth and passionate he is about food. He talks about food simply, but with fire in his eyes, in a language that even someone like me, who is relatively new to this world of culinary delights, can understand and relate to. Simple lang.
Raj Abat is Filipino-born and New York-bred. He has cooked in some of the most notable kitchens of the world. In New York cooked at Bouley Restaurant (of four-star chef David Bouley), the consistently three-Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Restaurant and combination market-restaurant, Market Table. In Paris, he worked at eight-time Worlds 50 Best Restaurants List placer L’Arpege and Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire (10 years on the same list). WOW right?
This culinary genius is now Jakarta-based and spreading his love for food. Raj prepares pop-up meals in various locations to showcase his unique style of cooking. His twitter account intro says it all.
I was excited when I got invited to another lechon night, this time at Alex’s in Kuningan. Lechon is what we Filipino’s call roast suckling pig. This lechon however has been taken to a whole different level. He starts of with baby pigs (for the tenderness of the meat) and slow roasts it for sixteen hours. You heard me. Sixteen long hours – this man loves his job! Dinner comes with several other courses, besides the porcine main attraction, including dessert and iced tea. Not bad at all for the price of IDR 385.000 nett. The price of these pop up meals per person also depends on the number of people attending and what other dishes he’s preparing. The one in Otel Lobby was only IDR 200.000++, and the recent one was IDR 350.000 also at Alex’s.
I like the cozy ambiance of Alex. I feel like I am having dinner in someone’s dining room. I especially liked the artwork on the walls.
Unlike the Swine Sunday at Otel Lobby (which was all Pinoy) this one was attended by people from all over. It was fun meeting and sharing a meal with new and old faces, foreigners and locals alike, who were all obviously foodies.
Heyyyy Frank aka DJ Sabotage! Join the picture!
While waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive, I couldn’t resist taking a peak at the kitchen. The three little piggies were ready and the sides were also about to go into the oven.
Jed, Tom and F!
We started off with these delicious dishes. I had to stop myself from devouring more of the pesto (SO delicious!) to leave room for some porky-goodness.
The pig arrives in style, delivered to the table by Raj Abat himself and carved portion by portion for each guest. Super crispy skin and oh-so-tender meat. It was funny because the pinoys were all wondering Walang kanin? (Where’s the rice?) The lechon also came with a yummy sauce and crispy and perfectly-season baked potatoes and roasted veggies. To be honest, I didn’t touch the veggies. I needed more room for pork. Hehe! I had a second serving of the lechon and thought that I couldn’t possibly have anything more. But Raj brought out this dessert and somehow, magically I made it all disappear in my stomach. Haha! I would never have dreamt of pistachio ice cream, panna cotta and fruits together in one dessert but the combination was somehow a perfect blend and light enough after a heavy meal. The perfect sweet punctuation to an unforgettable meal!
We bloggers got to chat with Raj Abat after the meal. We learned about how he climbed the ranks from the very bottom (his first job was a dishwasher at a falafel shop), how on his very first stint as a chef de cuisine in NY, he barely ate and slept for 8 months just so he could get a michelin star for the resto. And how he did it again for the next. He was a man obsessed and his loved ones even thought he was mixed up with no good, because he was looking rough and lost so much weight. We could see the tough times he went through and the sacrifices he made, all because of his obsession with cooking great food, in the emotions in his face. It made me recall hearing someone say that “there is no greatness without obsession.” And Raj Abat is the embodiment of this.
Even his skin tells the story of his passions… a pig tattoo here, salt and pepper there, a shrimp, a chili and 3 stars – for his ultimate goal of one day getting 3 michelin stars. More on his tattoos on Wanderbite’s blog…
There you’ll find all the five taste: sweet, savory, bitter, sour, and spicy. There’s also duck & octopus, some of his favorite kind of meat to work with. NY as his hometown and the picture of Philippines on his right arm.
Where Raj grew up, people thought that all Asians were Chinese so he finally got the tattoo to proudly proclaim he is from the Philippines. How’s that for Pinoy pride?
There are so many more stories to tell about Raj Abat… but I’ll leave that for you food-loving Jakartans to discover, when you meet him and try his food. If you love food as much as I do, and you live in Jakarta, it would be a pity not to seek out the Raj Abat culinary experience.
Raj Abat is the Corporate Chef of BOGA. BOGA is PT. Boga Utama Internasional, a new subsidiary company in the F&B sector of PT. Bukit Uluwatu Villa that owns Alila Ubud and Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali.
Hopefully he will have his own restaurant in Jakarta in the near future! For now his pop-up feasts is something you can look forward to. He is doing a Turkey meal this Thanksgiving in an Alila Property. I’ll be announcing it on my blog, so stay tuned!
How to find out what Raj Abat is cooking next!
- Like Raj Abat Cooks on Facebook to find out what’s cooking and where he is popping up next.
- Follow him on Twitter
- +62 813 15019044
- BBM pin 2921AA4A
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