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Modernizing Traditional Cuisine  
Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 | 18:50 WIB
Modernizing Traditional Cuisine  

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta,

Making Local Papuan Dishes Popular 

Every week, Helga Caroline Osbabur holds a small cooking class for children in schools, churches and children groups in Jayapura, Papua. In her class, the youngsters are taught how to cook a variety of dishes made with local ingredients, mostly organic. The 34-year-old tries her best to make the class fun while at the same time educating children to eat healthy. "They’re eager because they’re only used to pretend-cooking while at play with friends, while in (my) class, they get to chop ingredients and cook a variety of real dishes," Helga said. 

Helga, who teaches on a voluntary basis, owns a small kiosk to support her cooking classes. If her students do not have enough money to buy the ingredients to be used in class, Helga willingly would provide them. Some of the vegetables or fruits needed for the class, she said, are readily available in Papua, and some are grown in someone’s backyard. "Produce from the garden includes cassava, sweet potatoes and vegetables. We use those in class."

Although she has no formal culinary training, Helga learned plenty from her mother, who studied cooking at a vocational school. Helga often participated in cooking competitions held by a local church or by her community and winning in several events. She further honed her culinary skills when she joined the Jungle Chef community five years ago. 

Helga met the club’s founder Charles Toto during a Reggae Music session, and immediately expressed her interest in joining because of her lifelong love for cooking. "I became interested because Charles wanted to help make local Papuan food more popular, including recipes that are almost unknown to international palates."

Helga learned to be more creative as a cook through the Jungle Chef. For example, she can now bake with yam. Inspired by Charles’s effort to popularize the Papuan dishes, Helga decided to do the same by teaching children to cook. She hopes that by doing so, some time in the future, Papua will have a spate of chefs who will carry the region’s culinary identity. "And I want to show that village food from local ingredients is healthier, and is made without the need for preservatives or chemicals, which can be harmful." 

Jungle Chef was founded by Charles Toto in 2008. He had never thought he would end up a chef. As a child, Charles dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But in high school, he was involved in a brawl between two schools and was expelled.

Charles decided to enroll in a vocational school to study culinary arts. At the time, most people studying cooking in Papua were female, and many people were confounded by his decision. "The mindset in Papua was that cooking was strictly a woman’s task," Charles said.

His father was against his decision, but he persevered and graduated in 1996. Upon completing school, Charles got an offer to work at a hotel in Sentani, Jayapura. He started out as a dishwasher, but the young cook was very eager to learn. "I learned from the chef, Sutrisno, who had work experience in Africa. I would also often observe my other colleagues, the saucier and the chef de partie." 

Read more inspiring Outreach stories in Tempo English Weekly Magazine



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