Chef Ben Ungermann Talks to Eat Vacation About His Culinary Development

Chef Ben Ungermann, runner up of MasterChef Australia 2017, sat down with Eat Vacation for a chat. Chef Ben began with telling the story of how his relationship with food developed while living with his grandparents at age 15.

Chef Ben Ungermann Talks to Eat Vacation About His Culinary Development

Chef Ben Ungermann, runner up of MasterChef Australia 2017, sat down with Eat Vacation for a chat. Chef Ben began with telling the story of how his relationship with food developed while living with his grandparents at age 15.

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Chef Ben Ungermann, runner up of MasterChef Australia 2017, sat down with Eat Vacation for a chat. Chef Ben began with telling the story of how his relationship with food developed while living with his grandparents at age 15.

As the Eat Vacation team arrived at C’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant, Chef Ben was warmly taking photos with restaurant staff on one side of the restaurant. He greeted us with a large, friendly smile before sitting down with us. Chef Ben began with telling the story of how his relationship with food developed while living with his grandparents at age 15.

“I’ve always loved eating. My grandparents, my Oma and my Opa on my mother’s side did a lot of cooking for New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, and Easter. They used to cook a lot of sweet treats and some traditional Dutch dishes, and I used to really love it,” he began. “That’s where my love for cooking began, and I sort of pursued it myself after that.”

Being of both Dutch and Indonesian descent, Chef Ben Ungermann is very passionate about fusing Indonesian and European flavours in his dishes.

Based in Bali, Chef Ben Ungermann has been keen to share his culinary creations with those of us in Indonesia. Being a MasterChef Australia alumnus, he’s been on MasterChef Indonesia and MasterChef Nederland to challenge contestants with pressure tests he’s created himself. His initial plan was for the contestants to recreate his dish, ‘nasi goreng for dessert.’

“So this is it here,” he says, pulling his phone to show us a photo of the dish. “Every component in this dish you will find in nasi goreng, except for terasi. So, this is a sambal ice cream that I’ve made. It’s not overly potent, but there’s heat there and it does give the flavour of sambal. The cool thing is the ice cream chills but the sambal is obviously hot, so it’s a crazy sensation on your palette. In the middle is a kecap manis butterscotch.”

This also happens to be the dessert he served at SKYE Bar & Restaurant for the Jakarta Culinary Festival last year. “This sounds crazy, but it’s actually one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever made,” he says with great passion.

Chef Ben is an ambassador for Oxone, an Indonesian home appliance brand. Oxone has partnered with Masterchef Indonesia since 2011.

Although he started out his career dubbed as the ‘ice cream king’ on his season of MasterChef and even opened an ice cream shop in Bali, he has big plans for his career in Indonesian food.

“I suppose what I want to do is bring more to the forefront because I know [Indonesian] flavours, I really enjoy Indonesian food,” he says. Chef Ben mentions his favourite dish to order when he lands in Jakarta is pecel lele, a deep fried catfish dish served with chili paste. Being of Indonesian and Dutch descent, Chef Ben really loves cooking dishes from both cuisines. Not only does he want to fuse the flavours of the two together, but he really wants to focus on making Indonesian food shine.

Although other Southeast Asian cuisines, like Thai and Vietnamese, are critically acclaimed internationally, Indonesian cuisine has yet to reach the same type of recognition. Everyone knows pad thai, but why don’t they know soto? What Chef Ben thinks Indonesian food needs is some refinement to elevate it to the world stage.

“Sometimes, for me, [Indonesian cuisine] just needs some refinement. It’s like a lot of other cuisines in the world, like India. India has some really beautiful flavours going on, but it’s plated so humbly. And it is home cooking; sometimes I feel like it doesn’t get the recognition on the world stage, and Dutch cuisine too. I feel like Indonesian cuisine is exactly like that: full of flavour, just needs a little bit of help.”

Chef Ben is planning to relocate to Jakarta in the future to show Indonesia’s capital his unique culinary creations. He wants Bali to be his stepping stone to his ultimate goal of Jakarta, where his culinary experimentation can stand out and inspire the city. Having been worried about what people thought about his food in the past, Ben stresses the importance of cooking what you like even if others don’t like it.

“One thing I used to worry about was when I was making all this food was whether people like it and understand it, but now I don’t care; this is me, this is what I’m about.”

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