Special Reports / September 2018

A New Wave of Edible Art: Chef Chitra

As an expression of human creativity and imagination, art is typically presented in a visual form, such as a painting or a sculpture. Nevertheless, Chrysansia Chitra Dewi interprets it in a whole different way: the edible art.

The renowned chef started her journey as a model in 2006 before a radical change of direction and embarking on food entrepreneurship. The woman, who majored in psychology at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta, decided to take her love of food to the next level, and founded the Chef's Kitchen in 2007. This bakery and pastry chain currently has 48 outlets that supply bread to several supermarkets, hotels and restaurants in the capital.

The reason for the Chef's Kitchen's success is its healthy products. The breads are made without sugar, milk, butter and eggs, to assist those wishing to follow a healthier lifestyle.

When GlobeAsia recently sat down with Chitra to talk about her culinary journey, she mentioned that despite being a visionary, she did not expect her journey to be quite as successful as it currently is.

"I have always started earlier than most people, especially in terms of business. [The Chef's Kitchen] was actually aligned with my vision that when the Indonesian economy improved, there would be more people wanting to live a healthy life," Chitra said.

After starting her pastry business, Chitra moved to New York, where she studied culinary basics and later also took classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Part of her experience included working in a restaurant for quite some time.

After that, she returned to Indonesia and started hosting cooking shows on television in 2010, before launching her own program and making regular appearances at various events. She also continues her desire to promote healthy living through her involvement with Life Juice, a brand cold-pressed juice.

"I am the brand ambassador of Life Juice and also involved in its core business. We have several outlets throughout the capital and our own factory," she said.

"With Life Juice, the message is to get a simple and easy-to-purchase nutritious drink every day. We offer the first cold-pressed juice product sold in glass bottles, with the idea of promoting the message of recycling, re-using and reducing all plastic products."

Journey to Edible Art

When her businesses were already running smoothly, she decided to venture into the creative world, as she has always had a deep love for the arts.

"It took me a while to realize what I actually wanted in life, and although combining food and art is actually nothing new, it is just not out there yet," Chitra said. "I think this is the stage where I want to say, 'It is something I actually want in life.'"

Edible art, as she calls it, is something completely new to Indonesia in terms of food presentation. In short, it combines all the basic human senses, such as taste, smell, touch, sound and sight.

"It is all about memory. You will forever remember when you taste bad food, while with good food, the taste will also last forever. So, it is actually about creating experiences and memories," she said.

Chitra said all the dishes she presents are in a more abstract form, combined with molecular gastronomy. Although she is still at a very early stage of combining food and art, she is overwhelmed by the positive response she receives. But despite this, the renowned chef said she still has a lot to learn in terms of mastering more skills in this field.

During Art Jakarta, Chitra presented her eclectic performance dubbed "Monochromatic Poem," which saw her combine cooking, painting and a piano repertoire against a background of electronic dance music.

"It was amazing and very nerve-wrecking for me because it was the first time for Art Jakarta to host a chef as a performer. They wanted to see what art is from the perspective of a chef," Chitra said.

However, the result was astounding. Dressed all in black, Chitra presented different types of deconstructed, monochromatic desserts – some involving molecular gastronomy – in black, white and gray. The 40-minute show, carefully crafted through endless cups of coffee and many sleepless nights, was topped off with the audience spoiling their taste buds with the ready-to-serve delicacies.

"All of these elements in the theme work together to bring the key message to the audience, that the red line between all of them is the dualism of humanity: black and white, light and dark, bitter and sweet, meetings and goodbyes, as well as other emotions," she said.

She embraces the development of culinary industry where people are not only interested in what chefs create, but also how they present it.

"Food may be the best medium to explain so many vibrant things and can be combined with beats, suspense or other elements of life. In this sense, I also hope to inspire more people to do greater things," she said.

"People have become very critical of what they eat, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Jakarta. They know what they want."

The chef, who cannot resist empek-empek – a savory fishcake delicacy from Palembang in South Sumatra – is still aiming to create more combinations of food and themes, while also opening more culinary outlets and even starting her own coffee shop.