Chef Andry Susanto’s cooking philosophy can be summed up simply: make the most of every ingredient you have. For the chef who helms the Jakarta-based Italian catering and more recently private dining experience Oma Elly Kitchen, passion and love to care is a prerequisite to finessing Italian cuisine. The source of those tender sentiments is his own family — Oma Elly, his grandmother who hailed from a dreamy small town in central Italy to Indonesia because of none other than love for Chef Andry’s grandfather.
“She is the epitome of an Italian nonna,” Chef Andry says. “Food is a big part of our family’s memories, and Oma would cook her Italian dishes for everyone. Especially Christmas, that event was all about great, amazing food cooked by Oma and her grandchildren.” Oma Elly is sadly not among the Susantos anymore, but her legacy goes on through Chef Andry’s eponymous F&B business. What a few may not know, however, is that Oma Elly Kitchen was an accident that turns out to bear many fruits.
Oma Elly Kitchen inadvertently began when Chef Andry, who at the time was working as a consultant, brought a pan of homemade lasagna to a potluck dinner. One by one, his friends pre-ordered the famed lasagna for their own events. “The opportunity unravelled there. Turned our tiny apartment into a small factory and made lasagna every day since.” This was in October 2018. “Anyway, I thought we needed a name so naturally I just went with Oma Elly.” Today, the lasagna is a mainstay of the kitchen where pans after pans are delivered daily to Jakartans.
Chef Andry acquired his cooking skills from none other than his nonna who cooked homey Italian dishes. “Oma’s biggest gift to me isn’t her recipes: it’s the palate I’ve developed by eating so much of the food. I understand flavour and balance because of her food.” For the most part, he is self-taught and relies on the few weapons he has, like his palate. As Oma Elly Kitchen grew in name and popularity, so did Chef Andry who graduated from home cook to full-time chef by mid-2019. It was clear to him that Oma Elly Kitchen has a lot to offer in Jakarta’s thriving F&B business, and sentimentally, this is one of the ways he gets to keep memories of his grandmother alive.
“To me, what’s different from the Italian food that Oma Elly [Kitchen] offers is our treatment of these ingredients. We say it’s authentic not because we import Italian tomatoes or guanciale—which is just simply not sustainable from a business point of view—but because of the way we treat the ingredients available to us. Italian cuisine is very regional and they develop a culinary identity by cooking with what their lands produce best. That’s how I see and understand authentic cuisine,” Chef Andry explains.
And this belief has become Chef Andry’s guiding principle. Over time, his repertoire of recipes has expanded and he realises that more is not always better when it comes to food, especially Italian. “I used to have ten, twelve-ingredient recipes for a single dish. But now, I cook with four or five for the same dish that ends up tasting better. It’s how you treat the few ingredients you have that make great food. Which brings us here for the real and proper Aglio e Olio Pasta dish.”
Aglio e Olio literally translates to oil and garlic and is a quintessential dish found in every Italian restaurant. But its simplicity is a double-edged sword: it’s a crowd favourite that many underestimate, according to Chef Andry. “Cooking with less ingredients means that there’s more risk of messing up. The proper Aglio e Olio is simple yet so fragrant and delicious if you use its five main ingredients to their strengths. I would easily request it as my last dish.”
The right and proper Aglio e Olio Pasta.
This simple recipe serves two persons. Though simple, cooking Aglio e Olio will require patience and a few trials and errors before finding the right balance of flavours. But once you have perfected this quintessential Italian dish, the possibilities are endless to put your own spin on this favourite classic.
- 200 gr of long pasta (spaghetti, linguini or fettuccini)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 4-5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or sliced)
- A few slices of chilli pepper (optional)
- 1-2 cups of pasta water
- 3-4 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 or 1/4 of lemon
- Parsley for garnish (optional)
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions but subtract 2-3 minutes of cooking (i.e: cook for 10 minutes instead of the indicated 12 minutes). Once done, set aside your pasta and save the pasta water for later!
- Simultaneously, turn your stove on low to medium heat. On a non-stick pan, sweat the garlic and chilli pepper in a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and constantly stir to avoid browning on the garlic. Continue until fragrant (5 to 7 minutes).
- Pour a few tablespoons of pasta water into the pan. Occasionally stir until it’s well mixed and wait until some of the water evaporates.
- Adjust your stove to medium heat, then add the pasta into the skillet and season with salt. Gently but quickly stir the pasta to emulsify the oil. Don’t hesitate to add a few tablespoons of pasta water until the sauce evenly coats the pasta and keep stirring to perfect a glazy emulsified sauce.
- Turn off the heat once the pasta takes a vibrant yellow colour and add grated parmesan. Mix thoroughly to achieve an even coating.
- Plate your pasta and drizzle some lemon juice to top and garnish with fresh parsley as desired.