As a university student, Budi Bowoleksono, Indonesia‘s ambassador to the U.S., worked two jobs — one before classes and then another after classes. When he arrived home at 1 a.m. there either was no food or it was cold.
Out of necessity he got creative he told Global Atlanta at the Win Indonesian Grill and Gastrobar, a newly opened upscale restaurant on Peachtree Road. “I started with eggs and I would ask my mother how to prepare different dishes.”
Today Amb. Bowoleksono is a chef, who delights in mastering the hardest to realize Indonesian dishes such as rendang that requires a long list of herbs and an entire day to prepare.
Around Washington and in the Indonesian diaspora throughout the country he is known as the “culinary ambassador,” who never leaves the official residence without chili paste.
“In my own experience food has always been a very effective tool to connect people, bridge differences and promote understanding,” he said in his formal remarks at the restaurant’s opening, which was attended by a mix of local officials and Indonesians.
He also considers cuisine a diplomatic tool for introducing a country’s culture. “Some diplomats in Washington say that restaurants are often the only contact that most Americans have with foreign cultures,” he added. “In my own experience, food has always been a very effective tool to connect people, bridge differences and promote understanding.”
This is a theme he obviously treasures. “An exchange during breakfast, lunch or dinner, provides a very effective tool to connect people, bridge differences and promote understanding,” he said.
And the benefits of sharing a meal apply not only to his diplomatic outreach “but for anyone in any relation, from families to business and government partnerships.”
Executive Chef Yono Purnomo, who owns his own Indonesian inspired restaurant in Albany, N.Y., and became friendly with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, the American celebrity chef, author and travel documentarian, through shared experiences at the James Beard House in New York, shared the ambassador’s views on transmitting culture through cuisine.
While the ambassador described Indonesian cuisine as “a piece of our culture” representing “the diversity, richness and uniqueness of Indonesia,” which has more than 17,000 islands and from region to region offers different herbs and different cooking styles, Chef Yono and his staff were hard at work preparing the evening’s offerings.
These included the famous rendang‘s short ribs as well as other delicacies including ayam goring (fried chicken with shredded coconut), gado, gado (vegetables with peanut dressing), kerupuk and acar (shrimp crackers and pickled vegetables) and steamed jazmine rice…not to mention the starters or dessert.
If culinary arts are good for Indonesian diplomacy, they should be no less so for business, and a team of Indonesian entrepreneurs teamed up with Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism to launch the new restaurant in Buckhead.
From the ministry’s viewpoint, the restaurant may inspire diners to visit Indonesia. No less motivated are Ivan Raintung, Bapak Made Yata and Robert Manan to fill the vacancy in Atlanta’s restaurant scene for an upscale Indonesian eatery.
Veteran entrepreneurs, the team has individual records of accomplishment that augur well for their latest venture. East Java native Mr. Raintung, an established restauranteur, owns Mulan Asian Cuisine on Cascade Road in south Atlanta, Moto Asian Cuisine in Cumming and Chin Chin on Howell Mill Road. Mr. Yata is in the process of opening a ramen restaurant and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Manan have a global furniture business that they built over the years, including a stint in Atlanta.
Fify Manan calls husband Robert a visionary while she serves as the implementor of their businesses. Among them is the Formcase Group, a manufacturer of office furniture, with which they came to the U.S. in 2001.
“We arrived just two months before 9/11,” she recalled to Global Atlanta. “The economy collapsed and we had a hard time at first but we persevered.”
Before returning to Indonesia the group, which she now manages as CEO and president, established contracts with Georgia’s government, enabling it to furnish state government agencies, schools and universities. More recently, it has gained federal contracts, expanding its reach even further.
Additionally, the group is the sole dealer of HermanMiller furniture in Indonesia. Although the Manans returned to Indonesia permanently in 2012, Mrs. Manan maintains her involvement with Indonesia’s diaspora communities around the world.
No wonder Amb. Bowoleksono came for the opening of the WIN. So did Mrs. Manan’s friend Nana Yuliana, Indonesia’s consul general based in Houston, whose responsibilities also include the Indonesian communities in Atlanta and Georgia.
Other invited guests to the opening included Fulton County Chairman Rob Pitts, Georgia Sen. Donzella James, Georgia Rep. Roger Bruce, City of Atlanta Chief of Staff Marva Lewis, South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards, and Takashi Shinozuka, Japan‘s consul general for the Southeast based in Atlanta.
Amb. Bowoleksono apologized to the assembled guests Friday evening that he had to return to Washington the next day so he would be unable to attend the Super Bowl Sunday.
After apologizing for his absence and putting in a good word for the Atlanta Falcons, he said, “I do hope one day the Atlanta Falcons will win the Super Bowl. I know they will. They almost did two times.
“Anyway I am here today to talk about a different kind of bowl. The bowl of Indonesian cushiness of WIN Indonesian Grill and Gastrobar, which will introduce you to Indonesian culinary culture.”
“With the status of Atlanta as an international city,” he added, “I am optimistic that this restaurant will attract people to know more about the Indonesian culinary, our culture and will someday visit our country.”