Jess Liemantara grew up in Melbourne, Australia, helping her grandmother and aunt prepare cakes and desserts. What started off as an after-school activity helped catapult her to fame on the popular cooking competition show, "MasterChef Australia", where she impressed judges with her chocolate mousse and gained a large fan following. Currently in Jakarta as Guest Chef at the Raffles Hotel, diners in the city have the opportunity to taste some of her best dishes. She spoke to NOW! Jakarta about her passion for sweets and the interesting turns in her culinary journey.
At what point did you realise you wanted to puruse cooking professionally?
It's hard to say because there have been so many influences along the way. I used to be at my aunt's place after school and we'd get these cake boxes, carrot cake or cookie mixes and I’d watch as she mixed things. She gave me a cookbook about baking and I started from there. When I was 13 I started experimenting and my grandma would come over [from Surabaya] and we'd bake bread and cookies together. I'd help her and she'd be doing all the main things. It’s interesting because I used to be her helper and now she helps me in the kitchen! When I was around 14, I think, my mum gave me my first Biscuiteer for Christmas, and I started building my collection of cookie cutters. My kitchen is packed with all kinds of things like cookie cutters of different shapes and other baking equipment. Because cookie decorating was so complicated I wanted to move on to something else, so I started watching You Tube videos about cooking and I learned about layered mouse cakes and cupcakes.
You were the youngest contestant on "MasterChef Australia" this year. What was the experience like?
I think "MasterChef" has always been such a great show to watch. I was inspired by Chef Peter Gilmore on the show. The intensity was quite nerve wracking and I always wondered how they did it. I had originally auditioned for the "Great Australian Bake Off" but I had only made it to the first audition. I was devasted and really did not want to try out for anything else because I felt I wasn’t good enough, but people kept encouraging me to try out for "MasterChef", and so I did. I was told, when I signed up, that there were 13,000 people auditioning, but I made it to the top 100, then the top 50 and up to the top 4. It was surreal. And now I’m working as a guest Chef at the Raffles Jakarta!
I’d say being on the show was a huge learning curve. I made kue nanas. I specialise in desserts but I learned so much about savoury dishes. It pushed me to my limits and I was always so emotional,but overall it was a good learning curve.
I once heard a phrase that went something like “all bakers can cook but not all cooks can bake”. As a baker, how do you reconcile the savoury side of life?
That’s interesting! I focus on sweets and it’s about measurements but cooking is about taste. Because I don't have wide knowledge, it’s someimes harder for me to put a dish out. If you hand me a lobster, I might take some time thinking about the combinations of flavour. But if you give me chocolate, I know complementary flavours like orange, or other ingredients. I can connect the dots. The good thing about savoury food is you can be creative. You can do something as simple as just basic seasoning like salt and pepper and make a dish taste good,or it can be more complex. But with cooking, you need to know temperatures too. But I think anyone can cook, just like I think anyone can bake, but if you don't have passion it's hard to carry it through.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Cedric Grolet. who has won Pastry Chef of the year multiple times. He makes trompe l’oeil which is amazing!
What are you excited about presenting during your time at Raffles Jakarta?
I’m excited for the brunch menu. There’s going to be a dessert station with petite fours, my special mousse cakes, macarons, all the sweet things. I’ve also got a walnut cream dish which I discovered by accident. One time I left walnuts in the oven and they got burnt. Walnuts are expensive and I didn’t really want to throw away such good produce, so I turned it into a walnut cream and it had smokey elements to it and it went really well with carrot sorbet, so I’ll be preparing that here.
There are many events with Jess to enjoy through New Year’s Eve:
Money Can’t Buy Experience
Raffles Jakarta offers a “Money Can’t Buy Experience” event through the end of the month, presented by AccorHotels. Challenge MasterChef Jess Liemantara with your own “Mystery Box Challenge”! Exclusively for two people per night, diners will determine the mystery ingredients Jess must prepare dishes with and watch her live as she prepares your meal within a time limit. The meal will be paired with a selection of wine. Dessert will be served in a secret location within the hotel.
Available every night for two persons only until 4 January. (Except 24, 25 and 31 December)
For more information visit https://lacollectionbyleclubaccorhotels.com/
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Gather friends and family to revel in the festivities of Christmas at Arts Café by Raffles. Delight in the special desserts created by MasterChef Jess Liemantara during the Christmas dinner on 24 December and Christmas Brunch on 25 December 2018. Enjoy a delightful spread of delicious appetisers, beautifully crafted desserts and live stations that include a variety of festive carvings, all from IDR 888,000++ per person.
New Year’s Eve Festivities
Dress in your festive best and welcome 2019 in style! Enjoy a New Year’s Eve Buffet at Arts Café by Raffles where you can expect a virtual tableau of art and cuisine, a veritable multi sensory experience. Complementing the buffet experience is a variety of New Year’s Eve Show Kitchen items by Chef Maria Wang. Enjoy these in addition to the buffet dishes and the many carving stations and food stalls on display.
IDR 888,000++ per person. Additional IDR 200,000++ with free flow beer and wines.
Includes complimentary first drink at the Countdown Party.
The Countdown Party
Head to the Hotel’s 14th Floor to welcome 2019 in a spectacular open-air Countdown Party. Guests who dine at the Hotel on New Year’s Eve at the event featuring Guest Chef Jess Liemantara will have the first drink included in the package. Guests who will only be joining the Countdown Party will be charged an admission fee of IDR 250,000++ for the first drink.
For more information, contact +62 21 2988 0888 or visit www.raffles.com/jakart