Sunday, March 04, 2012
TONI PATTONI INDONESIAN CHEF
Keep it simple – keep it tasty
Feel like starting a restaurant in Australia? There are plenty of Oportunities and a particular demand for Indonesian food in Perth, according to chef Toni Pattoni.
Now for the fish-hooks. Australia has tough laws on business, particularly record keeping and paying tax. Capital costs are high; the days of shoestring start-ups have long gone.
Toni said he’ll happily offer advice to other Indonesians, confident such generosity won’t dilute his income. After feeding Australians for 27 years his family from Tasikmalaya in West Java believes it has the essential ingredients for success that newcomers will take time to learn.
“In this business you really need to appreciate Australians, and they’re eighty per cent of our clients,” he said. “Good customer relations are critical. Fortunately I’m talkative. If you don’t like to chat don’t get involved.
“In Indonesia people get served, eat and leave. Here diners take their time choosing food, talking, drinking and relaxing. They like to relate to the owners. There’s a culture of understatement and a lot of humor. Ambience is important.
“Even with lots of money you’d find it difficult.”
Toni, 31, hasn’t found it hard because he was educated in Perth, arriving as an eight-year old. He was thrust into a State school with no English ability apart from knowing numbers, the most essential skill for any future entrepreneur.
His father, Mimid Mimid had been invited to Perth in 1985 as a hotel chef. He was 28. At the time Indonesian food was starting to excite Western palates. His cooking appealed and he was in much demand. His wife Enung Nurjanah, son Toni and daughter Rika Riwayani followed. Soon the whole family was involved.
This was before international terrorism, when movement across borders was easier and enterprising foreigners without certified skills still welcome. Mimid originally ran a kaki lima (mobile food stall).
“My father is a remarkable self-taught man who comes from a village. It was so isolated that if we ever saw a bule (foreigner) we’d run after them and wave in excitement,” said Toni.
“We’re so lucky he came to Australia at that time. He pioneered Indonesian cooking in Perth. His signature dish is sop buntut (oxtail soup), so widely known we’ve even had orders from the Eastern States.”
Luck and good timing certainly, but hard work was clearly the other major factor.
The family hadn’t been burdened by privilege. Living a simple life without servants in Tasikmalaya helped them adapt to a culture where bosses and their kids get their hands dirty. Toni was soon peeling carrots and chopping broccoli after school.
He was also watching Mimid – though the lad was rapidly becoming westernised. “Dad never weighs ingredients,” Toni said. “He knows instinctively what’s too little or too much. I need to measure things exactly. But I always follow his teaching – keep it simple and keep it tasty. Fortunately our customers say they can’t taste the difference between us.”
Equally important was absorbing the culture of school, living in suburbia, then working in a hotel. All this helped him gain the intimate vital knowledge of his new homeland that cross-cultural courses and dense study could not have delivered.
After starting several restaurants in partnership, in 2008 the family opened its own business. This is the 100 seat Tasik Restaurant in Northbridge, the trendy ethnic dining and nightclub district of Perth.
The eatery, in a converted house probably a century old, has been furnished with batik tablecloths, a few wayang and some artefacts. Traditional Sundanese music sets the tone. The color scheme is rural Javanese, reds and dark greens.
Tasik opens for three hours for lunch and between 6 pm and 10 pm for dinner six days a week, offering four entrees, three soups and 39 main courses. All are Indonesian. Weekends are usually booked out. The restaurant doesn’t advertise and relies on word-of-mouth to boost trade.
When he’s not in the kitchen Toni is listening to his guests experiences of Indonesia and advising on their choices, warning against mixing foods like oseng2 daging sapi (a beef and vegetable dish) with ayam goreng kecap (chicken with a sweet soy sauce).
“Our diners are respectful and almost all have been to Bali,” he said. “Unfortunately few have crossed into Java, so I’m like an ambassador trying to get people to explore further.”
There are now four Indonesian restaurants in Perth serving Batak, Manado and Javanese food. They get on well with each other, according to Toni.
Tasik is the most expensive. Its dishes cost up to AUD $ 19 (Rp 185,000) for seafood, but otherwise average AUD $14 (Rp 135,000). The lunch special is AUD $9.50 (Rp 91,000). All food is halal, (allowed for Muslims), there’s a musholla (prayer room) and alcohol isn’t served – though patrons can bring their own.
“Most of our dishes are mild, rather than spicy. In Indonesia you don’t get a choice, here you must, and be conscious of customers’ allergies,” Toni said. “Indonesian students sometimes complain about our prices.
“All I can say is ‘welcome to Perth, you’re no longer in Asia’. You can’t covert what you might pay in rupiah back home into Australian dollars. Costs here are extremely high.”
Apart from ingredients that are all sourced locally, labor is expensive with the minimum wage of AUD $15.51 (Rp 150,000) an hour. Food hygiene regulations are enforced. Inspectors make unscheduled visits to check premises and have the power to close restaurants that don’t comply.
Toni said that adjusting to Australia’s rigid rules and regulations can be difficult for Indonesians used to more free-wheeling ways of trading with lax record keeping and unrecorded cash transactions.
“I’d like to open another restaurant in Melbourne which is a far bigger city,” he said. “Maybe a franchise.
“But at the same time I want my parents to relax. They’ve worked hard and I’m so grateful. Otherwise I might now be in Java selling newspapers at bus stations.”
First published in The Jakarta Post 29 February 2012