with a jovial personality and years of experience in some of Australia’s best food cities, Abhi Gurung will make a great foodie friend. He is just seriously passionate about food, and everything that goes along with it. With the interview, he gladly took me to the hotel’s unique in-house meat processing facility, my first in Jakarta’s hotel, and showed me beautifully dry aged beef prosciutto beef. “It should be ready in a few months time, and when it’s done, you will just need a glass of red wine and you’re good”, he said, grinning. I sat down with Mr. Gurung to get to know him and what he has in store for Sari Pan Pacific other than the prosciutto.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
My name is Abhi Gurung, and I joined Sari Pan Pacific in January 2016 as the F&B Director. This is actually my first assignment outside Australia, where I’ve worked at quite a few different hotel companies in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, and Perth.
But where are you from originally?
I am originally from India, but my parents sent me to Australian when I was 17 years old to study thinking that I’d be back after 3 years but life happened and before you know it i had been living in Australia for over 15 years!
Why did you decide to move to Asia?
For me, being in Australia’s hospitality industry, it’s about moving around and learning new things. And I feel that I’ve gone and worked in all the top spots in the tourism industry. I just think it’s time for me to explore Asia, especially if you’re in the field of F&B, where you constantly interact with different suppliers and producers of your ingredients.
Now that you mentioned it, how’s managing your supplier here different than your time in Australia?
In Jakarta, obviously there aren’t that many direct contacts with the producers, and yes many of the products are still imported but we are changing it to be as local as possible, without sacrificing quality. We want to support local communities and showcase good local products whenever possible. For example, our vegetables which we directly source from our farmers in Bogor. A different method is used for our meat supply; we ship our cows from Australia to Lampung, where they get grain fed for 3 months before it goes to a slaughterhouse in Bogor. In August, we are going to launch a completely new menu, and at the same time, we are going to shift to premium local brands for our coffee and tea too.
What does an F&B director do exactly?
It is a big role. You divide your role in managing and motivating a team that’s always the biggest part of any hotel’s HR. At the same time, you have to educate your team with the trend, especially in the premium market. Building relationship with the suppliers, media, breeders, etc. It’s always about service, staff management, quality. Keeping up to date with the market. It’s a mix of all that.
What do you see as the current trends in F&B industry?
Definitely the use of fresh, high quality, and as I mentioned, locally sourced ingredients, cooked well, and presented nicely, maybe with a little bit of a twist. It’s no longer the round bone china white plate; the restaurant and the chef can now express their personality more with different shapes, sizes, and material used, to go along with the food being presented.
In relations to that, Sari Pan Pacific is a pretty classic hotel. What changes are you bringing into the hotel?
As I mentioned earlier, first and foremost is always about the produce. No matter how good is your chef, but if you don’t give them the best possible products to work with, it won’t be good. And our clienteles will be able to tell. That’s why I spent my first 3 months traveling around in search of good suppliers and producers.
We are actually very lucky to process everything in house; we have a butcher and processed meat facility where we make our own smoked meat, sausages. In our pastry kitchen, we produce our own jams, bread, and pastries.
Do you cook at home?
I do know the techniques, recipes, and the ingredients needed for a recipe. I love food and very passionate about it. But no, I’m not much of a cook. (laughs)
What was your reaction moving to Jakarta?
I took it as a challenge, working first time outside of Australia. Nothing was a shock because I’ve visited Indonesia before I moved, but professionally the culture is definitely very different, both within the hotel and dealing with outside stakeholders. But it is a learning curve for me.
Do you have a favorite Indonesian food?
I have only tried mainly the ones in the mall and obviously served in the hotel because I’m still a little bit cautious trying the street food (laughs) But I do love it. Especially the local Betawi food, which according to the regional regulation, hotels are required to showcase every month.
How about sambal?
Nothing too hot for me yet. I am not used to the Indonesian ‘spicy’ sambal yet! That hit me hard!
What do you think about the Jakarta restaurant scene?
It is exciting to see the growth and variety here. But I’ve seen many places that need to work on getting the right product for the menu you have to get the authenticity. If you want to catch up with food cities, especially if we compare to places in Australia. But other than that, I’ve seen quite the impressive setups, especially those in hotels. I also love what the malls have, with their food court. I eat and drink, and my wife shops (laughs).
What do you do on weekends?
I love to play golf. I love the golf courses in here. I try to at least go once a week. And of course, I go around and try new restaurants and new places.
What can we look forward to in Sari Pan Pacific’s F&B outlets?
In August, we are going to launch a completely new menu for all our outlets: in Fiesta, Keyaki, Lobby Lounge, and our pool bar. At the same time we are going to shift to premium local brands for our coffee and tea too, and many of the ingredients we are going to source directly from the producers too. We are now also offering gluten free items in Sari Deli, as well as homemade gourmet items like jams and spread, and new smoked meats that our guests can buy and bring home.