Gordon Ramsay in a rendang showdown with Indonesian celebrity chef

  • TV
  • Friday, 10 Jul 2020

Chef William Wongso (left) and Gordon Ramsay during the big cook. Photo: Handout

Off a dirt road in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is facing off in the rain against Indonesia's famed culinary expert William Wongso in a beef rendang showdown.

Set against the picturesque backdrop of Tabiang Takuruang cliff and the lush greenery of Ngarai Sianok valley, the duo are cooking a feast for West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno and his family.

The spread includes the region's signature beef rendang, eggplant balado (eggplant cooked with spicy chilli sauce), fried fish with rendang sauce and yogurt made with buffalo milk.

The governor and his family clearly enjoy the feast, especially the rendang, and show Ramsay and Wongso their empty plates.

Yet Ramsay, 53, is not satisfied.

After a 20-minute interview with regional media, he refuses to leave till their critique of the rendang is given.

The dish is a laudable effort from the usually foul-mouthed television personality, and he humbly accepts comments such as "not tender enough" and "too salty".

It is day five of filming for the second season of National Geographic food and travel series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted in late January.

Ramsay is put through his paces. The Ironman athlete is dragged through mud in a bull run, has dung flicked on him while milking a buffalo and falls into the water while working as a deckhand in the open ocean.

This season of Uncharted sees him pushing his limits across seven episodes - diving into shark-infested waters for giant saltwater spiny lobsters in Tasmania, fishing for piranhas in Guyana and leaping from a helicopter into high waves to harvest mussels along the South African coast.

Each episode concludes with Ramsay taking part in a cooking challenge alongside a local food legend where they cook a meal for locals.

"Everything scares me. So the only way to overcome your fear is to just do it," says the father of five as he tries to dodge what he calls a "swallow-sized" bee.

On cooking food from other cultures, the self-proclaimed "crazy student" says: "Last year, we took a lot of flak opening an Asian restaurant (Lucky Cat) and I'm not from Asia. You're saying that in every country, you need to be from that country if you want to learn the food. That's total rubbish.

"I'm not an Indonesian chef, but I will certainly use beef rendang when I get back to my restaurant in London, without a doubt. Because I know I've been to the heart and the essence (of the dish)."

Calling Ramsay "spontaneous and lovable", Wongso, 73, says: "This is the first time a Western chef has learnt the right way to cook rendang in the West Sumatra style."

According to Wongso, Ramsay's version of rendang - which has a creamy gravy - works best after it has been kept in the freezer. It can be cooked again later to achieve a drier version.

Wongso - a veteran chef, author and TV personality known for his show William Wongso's Culinary Adventures - says there are more than 200 varieties of rendang and likes to use red meat for the dish. Good-quality coconut cream with 24% fat is also essential.

He was instrumental in getting West Sumatra highlighted for "its complexity and culture" in Uncharted and helping to pave the way for a warm reception of Ramsay and the filming crew from the governor and the friendly locals.

The show's executive producer Jon Kroll notes that the destination is also less commercialised. "With Indonesia, people usually think of Jakarta or Bali, but there's so much more to it," he says.

Agreeing, Ramsay highlights the "unmanufactured, self-sufficient culture" with bustling markets packed with ingredients "any top-flight kitchen would dream of".

On his "incredible" first time in Indonesia, the chatty restaurateur adds: "Uncharted is about coming off the glamorous side of the tourist attractions and going into the real heartbeat of what this country stands for.

"Indonesian cuisine can sometimes get lost in translation. You won't understand until you come here."

No challenge is too great, especially when Ramsay never says no to anything, adds Mr Kroll. Even when it rains, the cameras are still rolling. The rain is made part of the plot. "Challenges can make for a greater adventure," he says.

For future episodes, he is putting Malaysia on the list and hopes to include Thailand, but only if they can feature it in a unique way.

But do not expect Singapore to be featured any time soon.

He adds: "We've talked about Singapore, but that's a little too charted. A show where everything goes right - that would be Charted and that's not this show." – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted airs every Monday at 10am/10pm on National Geographic (Astro Ch 551/unifi TV Ch 508).

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