This year has definitely been good for hospitality and entertainment company, Syah Establishments. From cafes, restaurants to hotels, Syah Establishments is steadily making their mark in Indonesia’s capital city. The group had also recently launched Cafélulu and boutique hotel, Hotel Monopoli in the neighbourhood of Kemang. And the person who is in-charge of creating the menu to complement each characteristic of the establishment is co-partner and head chef Justina Harjono.
Her curiosity with food started far away from home in the land of tea and crumpets, London, while she was an art student at the age of 14 after getting tired of take-outs and instant food. “It just started with my mum calling me and (telling me to) ‘… get this, this and this. Put this together.’ That was really the base of it all and obviously being in London exposed (me) to so much- starting to appreciate local ingredients, sustainable farming and all that,” recalled Justina.
From there, Justina began to expand her knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry. Starting from the bottom of the ladder, where it involved gruelling long hours. “It’s long hours, you stand around all the time and then you carry pots ‘that’ big. But in that case, everything worked out. Whatever I contributed was appreciated.”
After being abroad for so many years, Justina faced a different challenge in the F&B industry when she moved back to Indonesia. “I wasn’t really happy; there weren’t many things to play around with here. I think it was 2006; a lot of the ingredients were imported goods, mostly from Australia. I mean as fresh as they go, it’s been flown you know?” A couple years later, the company grew, the city evolves, and at the moment Justina is working on Hotel Monopoli – putting together a similar yet fresh take on the food menu and played around with the healthy options.
When asked the one dish that best represents her, she stated the Six-hour Bolognese that you can easily find anywhere, including in a couple of Syah Establishments’s outlets. With her trained background in French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu, the fun part for her when building the said recipe is the twist and turn to make it your own.
“Okay, you grew up with it. You eat it everywhere from Pizza Hut to a gourmet one. I guess it’s a personal favourite because just building the recipe itself was fun for me; some research went into it. And really, it’s cheap; cheap cuts of meat, but how do you make it so delectable? Yes, time and obviously, the right components, the ratio of meat to tomato to wine and all that. I’m just fascinated with things like that. Why six hours? You take the time to break down everything. Break down the meat, the molecules and all that. Well, just giving it time and then the flavours they build up — it’s something else,” she added.
Although managing a handful of establishments, which ranges from cafés, restaurants to clubs, must be incredibly stressful, Justina is enjoying every step of the process. “Even though it’s challenging but at the end of the day you’re happy, you’re having fun. Right? I spend most of my time at work now, come to think of it. I guess trying to balance it out with spending time with family, friends, your loved ones. I try to fit in boxing a lot in the mornings; it helps me be calm and collected.”
Here, she shared with us on how to whip up an easy version of Garlic Wine Clams, where the usual mussels are substituted with local Batik clams.
Garlic Wine Clams
This recipe serves 4 and is divided into two parts: cleaning and cooking the clams.
1kg batik clams, cleaned thoroughly
20gr garlic, finely chopped
20gr shallot, finely chopped
100ml white wine
100gr green curry paste (can be store-bought)
240ml coconut milk
15ml fish sauce
100gr lime, juiced
palm sugar, to taste
thai basil, for garnish
green chilli slices, for garnish
flatbread or sourdough bread
15ml olive oil
Note: Once your clams are clean this is a 7-minute meal.
If you think your clams may not be clean, wash them first.
- Fill a large bowl with cool tap water and place the clams in it.
- Let them soak for 20 minutes during which they’ll expel any sand and grit.
- Drain and lightly scrub your clams.
- Discard any with chipped shells.
Cooking the Clams
- In a large sauté pan with a lid, melt butter and add garlic, shallots and green curry paste. Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium-high heat.
- Add wine – and as soon as it simmers, add all the clams and cover with a lid. In three minutes, almost all should be wide open; discard any that do not open.
- Add coconut milk and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
- Season with fish sauce, lime and palm sugar to taste.
- Transfer to a bowl and ladle the sauce over.
- Scatter with green chilli slices and basil, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Served with grilled flatbread or sourdough and lime wedges.