Cooking Up a Storm with Reynold Poernomo

by Pingkan Palilingan
7th October 2015
Ever since being dubbed as the "Dessert King" in Masterchef Australia, life seems to get sweeter this year for Reynold Poernomo. We talk to the budding pastry chef on why he once avoided on becoming a chef and his funny relationship with desserts.

Upon our first glance, Reynold Poernomo looks just like a normal, ordinary boy in his early 20s. With a pair of denims, a plain white T-shirt that hugs his athletic figure, and a look that could almost make most girls swoon, even you would believe if Reynold introduces himself as an actor.

He is wrapping up an interview with a local TV station when I enter the room. He looks as casual as ever standing in front of a television camera. But if we call to mind the fact that he had survived under an intense surveillance of television camera crews over the past few months, of course a 10-minute TV interview would seem like a breeze for him.

Reynold walks over to us, unbothered by the watchful eyes of some strangers across the room who just found out that they are sharing a room with a celebrity. “Hi, I’m Reynold. Nice meeting you.” He gives me a firm handshake, as if confirming that he’s ready to tackle yet another interview.

In the past few months, life has been different for Reynold. After graduating from the latest season of Masterchef Australia and dubbed “The Dessert King”, things weren’t exactly what this 21-year-old had planned at the start of this year. But life often goes unexpected indeed, and sometimes all you need is a trivial episode that would trigger a chain reaction of events.

“I have never expected to be in Masterchef ever.”

“I have never expected to be in Masterchef ever. My girlfriend is the one who really pushed me [to enter the show], so I had never really seen myself to go to that path, to be here where I am now,” says Reynold.

He followed his girlfriend’s advice and got in as a contestant in Masterchef Australia Season 7, and then chalked up a position in Top 4. Though he didn’t get the winning trophy, he instead acquired the title “Dessert King” and was hailed by Masterchef judge George Calombaris as the best amateur pastry chef the show has ever had.

“You are marked for greatness,” said Calombaris, an established Australian chef and restaurateur, as he bade farewell to Reynold in an episode where the latter was eliminated.

“My mom doesn’t want me to become a chef. I guess I took her advice.”

Although born and raised in a family whose bread and butter is the F&B business, Reynold had been very cautious not to plant himself too deep within the culinary world. “My mom doesn’t want me to become a chef. And I’ve seen how hard it is, so I guess I took her advice,” says Reynold of his mother who owns Sydney-based Art Plate, a patisserie that caters for wholesale customers and private functions.

Being the youngest of three, Reynold also took up some life advice from his brothers, Ronald and Arnold. Ronald, the eldest, takes care the management side of Art Plate and sometimes helps mother in the kitchen as well. Meanwhile, Arnold owns a restaurant in Jakarta and is the current judge of Masterchef Indonesia.

“They both taught me it’s better off if I become a nutritionist. Not only [becoming a nutritionist] is better for me – as my quality of life would be better so I don’t have to work as hard [if I were to become a chef] and I can look after my parents. My mom sees family as the number one thing. And I want to have time for them as well, because she never had that much opportunity with us,” says Reynold in his thick Australian accent, an evidence of his childhood years spent growing up in down under. He followed what his family convinced him to do; he went to Western Sydney University to study nutrition.

“I’ve been reading cookbooks. And that motivated me.”

As much as he loves his family, Reynold still couldn’t stop himself from falling in love with food. “I had been wanting to be a chef for quite a while. Not because of my mom, not because of my brothers, but because of the books I’ve read. I’ve been reading cookbooks. And that motivated me,” he says.

Most chefs’ first kitchen experience would involve burnt food, if not an inedible product that looks a lot more like a hundred-year-old artefact. Reynold’s first creation was vanilla and lemon panna cotta, something he learned from watching Adriano Zumbo on telly. And, according to his 14-year-old self, the taste was “okay”. “Looking back at it now, I guess for a 14-year-old it was okay. But it was only me who tried it. I never let anyone try my food back then,” he laughs.

“I wanted to leave school when I was 16 [to jump into culinary world], but my parents and my family made me stay. My parents obviously have been in the industry longer than me. They advise me to stay and focus on my studies. So I kinda have to wait,” he says this matter-of-factly, like waiting was the only option.

While most people would conclude that Reynold, as a child, was naïve and gullible, to a certain extent, obeying his parents proves how sensible he was for a boy his age. It branches out to the way he speaks – Reynold is reserved and rather quiet. But still, he’s easy to talk to with some occasional jokes thrown here and there, and a tone of enthusiasm ever present whenever he speaks about the competition that has changed his life.

“[Getting in Masterchef] is just a luck in a way. A blessing.”

“I remember sitting down with Arnold. We were watching Masterchef Australia and, as a joke, a real joke, I said ‘Oh, we have to be on that one day!’ So, coincidentally he got into the Indonesian Masterchef as the judge, and I got on as a contestant in Australia. It’s just a luck in a way. A blessing,” he says, gesturing with his hands. “So Masterchef is in a way a ticket for me to get around.”

When he first entered the TV show, Reynold noticed how his parents “were quite in denial about it.” But now, having reached Top 4 and all, “my mother has changed now. She is more proud and more accepting [about it].”

The day I talk to Reynold marks the first day of colla’bro’asian, a dining collaboration project between Reynold and Arnold, along with two other young talents in culinary, Kim Pangestu (dessert chef at Nomz) and Kha Nguyen (Ex contestant of Masterchef Australia). Not only it is Reynold’s debut in Jakarta, it is also the first time the brothers team up in a commercial cooking event.

“Working with Arnold is very interesting. Well he’s my brother, we’re obviously close. Since we grew separately – he’s been in Indonesia and I’m based in Sydney – his food’s changed, my food’s changed. This time is a nice chance to collaborate. But he hasn’t changed. He’s been fun, he’s a good guy and always looking after me as well,” says Reynold.

“If [the food’s] not right, then it’s not worthy to go outside [of the kitchen].”

But what is it like working with Arnold in the kitchen? Is it any different? Reynold cocks his head backwards trying to recall back the experience of working with his brother. “My brother is strict and fast, but he also wants a lot of love in his food. And that’s what it’s all about – affection and execution. To make sure everything is right. If it’s not right, then it’s not worthy to go outside [of the kitchen].”

Besides colla’bro’asian, the two brothers have also been busy preparing their soon-to-open dessert bar in Sydney, a business he manages with their elder brother as well. Reynold would be in charge of the dessert, Arnold on the savoury side, and Ronald develops cocktails to be matched with the desserts. “It’s gonna be a sweet fine dining. It’s gonna be unique and different. It’s due to open by mid-November,” says Reynold with a tinge of excitement in his voice.

To Reynold, having two Masterchef “graduates” in the family doesn’t mean they would immediately secure prospective customers. “It’s a new business and we don’t know how it’s gonna be like. Sure there’s big news about [us coming from Masterchef] here and there, but it really does depend on how the food is. That’s gonna be the most important one because there’s going to be a lot of restaurants with Michelin star chefs coming up on the same street as our dessert bar,” he says.

But surely, with a lot of flattering remarks he has received, wouldn’t it be easier for him to get by? “I know what George said ‘you’re marked for greatness’. Yeah, that’s where I wanna be. To be honest I haven’t really seen myself on that level just yet,” Reynold says humbly. “So I’m just waiting until I do see myself on that level. I’m slowly getting there. Hopefully I will. Again, it’s a great compliment, it motivates and allows me to have that drive to keep me going.”

“The downside of going to Masterchef is that a lot of chefs are going to look down on you.”

On all the big chefs planning to open up restaurants on the same street as his new business, Reynold thinks “it’s going to be a tough challenge. It’s a long shot, but I’m really aiming to get a hat or two (Chef Hats are awarded for distinguished restaurants in Australia, conferred by The Good Food Guide).”

“Obviously, the downside of going to Masterchef is that a lot of chefs are going to look down on you, [with them] thinking it’s just a ticket way to the top,” he continues. He admits he doesn’t want to simply jump his way to the top.

“You need to gain respect. I can always grow by myself [as a chef], and I always have my brothers. But respect is the one thing that’s gonna be hard for me to get. These [Michelin star] chefs are in the top of their game. I’m a just a new kid from Masterchef.”

With a lot of hopeful expectation being placed on him, he doesn’t want to push himself to satisfy people’s expectation but instead “putting the best I could possibly can. And if that’s not enough, I just have to keep pushing and keep trying. Fail and fail again,” says Reynold.

“I’m not into cakes.”

It’s almost time for him to leave. But before he leaves, it wouldn’t feel right to end the interview without asking the crucial question: his favourite restaurant – because a chef’s favourite restaurant is always a reflection of the standard he set upon himself and his cooking, and furthermore, what he’s aiming to be in the future. Apparently, Reynold has a very high standard.

“Gastro Park in Sydney is my favourite. Not only because it is very innovative, but the way the chef thinks about food is very interesting and the menu changes almost daily. One of the most unique one I’ve had was truffle ice cream with Jerusalem artichoke and parsnip,” he says.

What about the most delicious dessert he has ever created? He says with a tone of hesitancy clear in his voice, “I rarely eat my own dessert. There was one time where I was making dessert for my girlfriend. I actually haven’t tasted the dessert before, and she made me try it.”

“I’m not into cakes,” this is perhaps his biggest revelation throughout the course of our conversation. The Dessert King further adds, “I’m not a huge sweet tooth as well. I like savoury food. Soupy I prefer. I like instant noodles, they’re the greatest.”

“Yeah, I don’t eat my dessert, because … I just don’t know. I just feel like… Well, it’s questionable!” He lets out a big laugh.