Victorian sisters Tasia and Gracia Seger won the final of My Kitchen Rules last week, beating the South Australian couple of Carmine and Lauren to take home the $250,000 prize. The sisters grew up in Indonesia, spent time living in India, and have been in Melbourne since 2006. Since filming wrapped late last year they have been preparing to launch a line of sauces, which they hope will be online in the next few weeks. Their ultimate goal, however, is to use their prize money to open a modern Indonesian restaurant. Indonesia at Melbourne spoke to Tasia and Gracia about their approach to cooking and their views on the Australia-Indonesia relationship.
How has Australian food culture influenced the way that you cook? Did you adapt your cooking to Australian tastes?
Tasia: We definitely did. In our first instant restaurant challenge, for example, when we made otak-otak (grilled fish cakes) instead of using just mackerel, we mixed it with snapper in case the mackerel was too strong for Australian tastes. But the judges commented that the flavour wasn’t there, and that we should stick to how we usually make the dish at home.
Gracia: I think Australian food culture has influenced the way we cook. At a basic level, there are a lot of ingredients that are difficult to find in Australia, so we sometimes have to adapt to Australian ingredients. But as Tasia mentioned, the judges reminded us over and over again not to adjust our style of cooking too much. For our balado recipe in the grand final, for example, there was no holding back in terms of flavour. We modernised the plating to make it more attractive but we were clear that we wanted the dish to taste exactly how it would at home. Tasia and I created fusion Indonesian food in the sense that we modernised the presentation, added different elements, or chose different cuts of meat, but we wanted the flavours to remain authentic. In Indonesia, for example, when you order bebek goreng sambal hijau (fried duck with green chili sauce) you almost get the whole duck. Instead, we used the duck breast and cooked it differently. I think this approach allowed us to serve Indonesian food in a playful and interesting way, but stick to traditional flavours.
Why do you think that Indonesian food has such a low profile in Australia? It is not nearly as prevalent as Thai food, for example, although there are far more Indonesians in Australia.
Gracia: We have thought about this question a lot and I think it comes down to the fact that most of the Indonesian restaurants in Australia are casual fast food-type restaurants designed for people to come and get their lunch and then return to work. A lot of the Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne only target the Indonesians who live nearby – the food is more like home cooking than restaurant quality. Thai restaurants have evolved to the point where you can have fine dining Thai and the food looks amazing. They have the presentation that a lot of the Indonesian restaurants lack. I think once Indonesian restaurants modernise, not in terms of flavour, but by plating differently, more people will be willing to try Indonesian food. People are more likely to talk about places that present their food well, where they might want to tweet about or Instagram their food.
Australia and Indonesia have had a turbulent relationship over the past few years. But your Indonesian identity was always front and centre throughout the competition, you even held an Independence Day-style krupuk eating contest. How did that come about? Did you ever feel any pressure to be ambassadors for Indonesia, or to present the country in a good light?
Gracia: During the instant restaurant rounds the producers suggested holding a game to let the other contestants have some fun. Back when we were living in Indonesia, I remember our mum would always host a party and our neighbours would come over and play games every 17 August. One of our favourites was the krupuk eating competition. We changed it slightly and made it into a fishing game because our living area was not that big. There were a lot of laughs.
I don’t think we were ever conscious of recent tensions, although we definitely wanted to do justice to Indonesian food. The food that we eat when we are back in Indonesia is so amazing, we were more worried about selling it short. We are so proud of the food that we love. And that was the reason that we started cooking in the first place, because we missed the food that we had in Indonesia and would try to recreate it at home.
Do you hope that your win will lead to more interest in Indonesian food in Australia?
Gracia: Definitely. Because our countries are close neighbours we already have strong links in tourism. So many Australians love travelling to Indonesia and there are a lot of Indonesians who have settled in Australia, like we have. But because of unfortunate events in Indonesia, with terrorism and so on, some Australians do have a degree of fear about going back there. I think culture and tourism is a great way of attracting people to Indonesia and that’s what Indonesia has in abundance. Since we’ve been on the show, Tasia and I have had a lot of western viewers come up to us and say that they are now more willing to try Indonesian food. A lot of cultures and traditions revolve around food, and I think it can be a great starting point for promoting broader understanding.
Are there any Indonesian dishes that you miss that you can’t find in Melbourne?
Gracia: Our mum is a very good cook, she is amazing. So whenever we have a craving for something, we can ask her to make it.
Tasia: I really miss Padang food and the way they lay out dozens of plates on the table in Padang restaurants. It is also the environment and the experience that we miss. Eating street food, you just can’t get the same experience here.
Finally, I wanted to commend you on sharing your recipe for Indomie on rice – a classic Indonesian quick meal
Gracia: We love Indomie! I remember when we were living in India they didn’t have a lot of Asian groceries and my mum would have three or four cartons of Indomie shipped over. As much as we adapted to Indian food we always had to have a supply of Indomie and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).