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Master of Many Cuisines: Exploring Global Flavours with Chef Robert Stanpo

Renowned for his diverse expertise and extensive career spanning multiple continents, Chef Robert Stanpo has become a master of many cuisines. With a background of 14 years of experience in Australia's dynamic food scene, Chef Robert's journey is a testament to his passion, adaptability, and relentless pursuit of excellence in the kitchen. In this interview, we delve into chef Robert Stanpo's experiences, the lessons he has learned, and unique approach to blending global flavours.

Chef Robert Stanpo

Q: Can you share with us where you are currently working and what your role entails?

A: I’m currently the head chef and manager of Backhouse Burger in Bali, an Australian gourmet burger house. 

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in the kitchen, and how did your early experiences in Ternate shape your cooking style?

A: Actually, I never thought about pursuing a career in the kitchen as a chef. When I came to Australia, my primary goal was to study and work. I started by attending an English school before deciding on my future path. My first job in the kitchen was as a dishwasher.

The experiences in my hometown of Ternate significantly shaped my cooking style and speed. Almost every day, I watched my mother cook for catering, make traditional and Chinese cakes, and prepare meals for our family. She could finish everything on time and always had 3 to 7 different dishes and sauces (sambal) ready. Her efficiency and versatility greatly influenced me.

Q: Can you share some of your earliest memories in the kitchen and the first dish you ever mastered?

A: I started working with my uncle, Kenji Liem, where I learned basic Australian-style cooking. I learned to make dressings for salads, plate salads, prep, and clean the section after each prep or serving. Cleanliness and hygiene were always prioritised.

The first dish I ever mastered was steak and basic steak sauces like gravy and demi-glace. I also learned to make veal schnitzel, parmigiana, and various lamb dishes, whether grilled, char-grilled, oven-baked, or deep-fried.

Q: You’ve worked in a variety of restaurants in both Australia and Indonesia. What were some of the most significant lessons you learned during your time in Sydney?

A: The most valuable lesson I learned in Sydney was the importance of time management. Everything had to be finished before the opening hours of restaurants, cafes, and food courts. Speed, punctuality, cleanliness, and hygiene were critical. I also learned to always arrive early to work, ensure food storage was done correctly, and much more.

Q: How did working in different countries influence your approach to cooking and managing a kitchen?

A: Each country has its own way of managing and handling kitchen situations. We have to consider the local culture, the specific region's habits, and the people themselves. Each province, village, and city has different cooking styles. Adapting to the owner's preferences and expectations is also crucial.


Q: Can you describe the differences in working with French, Italian, Asian, and American cuisines?

A:

  • French cuisine: It often emphasises rich flavours with a heavy reliance on butter, cream, and cheeses. Common ingredients include meats like beef, poultry, and game, as well as herbs like thyme, parsley, and tarragon. Techniques are intricate and precise, focusing on sauces, braising, roasting, and baking.

  • Asian cuisine: This includes Chinese, Japanese, and Thai, which vary widely but often feature bold and contrasting flavours. Ingredients like soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and garlic are common. Rice, noodles, a variety of vegetables, seafood, and meat are central. Techniques include stir-frying, steaming, deep-frying, and simmering, with wok cooking for Chinese dishes and sushi and sashimi prep for Japanese cuisine.

  • Italian cuisine: It emphasises simplicity and freshness with techniques like sautéing, grilling, and simmering. Pasta making and pizza dough prep are important skills. Each region has its own pasta shapes, sauces, and flavour profiles, often served family-style.

  • American cuisine: While it may bring to mind burgers and fries, American food culture derives from cuisines all over the world and continues to evolve.

Q: What are your favourite dishes to prepare from each of these cuisines, and what makes them special to you?

A:

  • French: Roasting, because it has a special aroma and taste, with a crispy exterior but soft and juicy interior.

  • Asian: Stir-fried dishes, as they are fast to prepare and rich in flavour with distinct aromas.

  • Italian: Pasta and pizza, because they are fresh and quick, even though some preparations take time.

  • American: Burgers and fries, which are fast food with a variety of flavours for burgers.

Q: How do you incorporate elements from different food traditions into your cooking?

A: Strong feelings are essential for managing food from traditional to modern and adding a cultural touch. Combining different traditions often involves balancing flavours and techniques to create something unique.

Q: As someone who has held multiple leadership roles, what do you believe are the key qualities of a successful chef leader?

A: A successful chef leader must adapt to the work environment, be honest, firm but kind, and promote teamwork. Above all, maintaining the quality of the food is essential.

Q: How do you mentor and inspire young chefs in your kitchen, and what advice would you give to those just starting their careers?

A: Discipline in personal life translates to discipline at work. Young chefs should always be eager to learn and not be embarrassed to ask questions. A chef never stops learning and creating. Do everything well and for the glory of God, and you will achieve the best.

Q: What are your future goals and aspirations in the food world, and how do you envision the future of the restaurant industry, especially in Indonesia?

A: I want to continue learning new things and make a positive contribution both at home and abroad. The restaurant industry in Indonesia will grow rapidly as people become busier and prefer dining out at affordable but high-quality restaurants.

Q: What are your words for aspiring chefs, and what’s your next step in your career?

A: Be enthusiastic, keep learning, be disciplined, stay healthy, maintain quality, and always be honest. Work for God, not for humans. I aim to be a leader who impacts others positively, have my own business, continue studying, and eventually retire in the countryside with a house and garden of fruits and vegetables.

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