In Living Room with Chef Vivian: Food is Memories

9 July 2017 - He wants you to feel special. He wants you to feel at home at Seasalt. Meet Chef Vivian Vitalis, the guy behind every creation at Seasalt with diverse interests. From music to culinary, he believes that a Chef shall never stop learning and experimenting. Here he shares us the story of his first love with cooking, off-duty routines, and a cruise trip with his guest. Such an easygoing and humble personality, Chef Vivian took us to his land of memories and invited us for a good laugh.

First of all, how would you describe yourself and your creation?

I always go for simple, light and easy. But, when I’m creating something, I want the guest to feel like “Ah… what a meal”. It’s a memory to them.

Share us some stories of how you got here and love cooking

Oh, it’s a very long story. I studied architecture and I didn’t like cooking at first because my family cooks. But, I do like to eat *giggle*. Anyway, it was passion that hooked me to cook. That time I didn’t finish my architecture study and there was no culinary school. So, I went for hotel management instead. I chose to be at the front office because I didn’t like cooking. I didn’t like kitchen. I mean, what is kitchen? *laugh*

We didn’t expect that!

Yes. On my last training, I finally went to the kitchen. There were people shouting everywhere and I didn’t like it. I hate the kitchen. Then, I met a Chef from Australia. He created one beautiful dish and I was amazed. I enjoyed watching him cooking. From greens to potatoes, fish to flowers, crispy things. These are the elements that stick with me when I was doing my architecture study. In architecture, you need foundation, you need soil, grass… and then the bricks. You need to paint the building, interior, and exterior. See, it links with the food and what I learned. That’s why I started cooking. From there, I was like “Okay. If I cannot go for architecture then I finish my Chef’s study.” But overall, food is about flavor.

Would you mind to share a little bit of your on and off-duty routines?

When on-duty, I typically spend twelve hours per day. Thorough the day, I keep learning and experimenting new things; because as a Chef, you will never stop learning.I always present my food to Chef Stefan Zjita because he knows his palette. He worked in Michelin restaurant before. So, I let him try my food. If his response is “No, no. This doesn’t work,” then I try again until he says “Wow, it’s nice!”. Then I know that the food is nice.You need people to judge your food. If you put your ego into your food, that’s not going to be nice. At the end of the day, it’s the customer that is powerful.

We also need to be open-minded. For me, I’m always open-minded. You might sometimes put ego into your food, but you need to understand that the world is changing. Now you need to accept critics. You need to accept comments. When you do, you will grow. Also, you need to look at the overall operation. At Seasalt that means meeting my guests. That is ALWAYS, that is a MUST. It’s a chance to grow, in terms of your professionality and confident. If you want to grow your confident, you have to meet your guests and let them giving feedback for your food. For example, I always ask my guests questions like “How was the food? How was the cooking?” or just say “Hi” to them because it builds my confidence. If you are confident, you will be successful no matter where you go.

Interesting. How about if you are off-duty?

Nothing much I can share. When I finish my day, I sleep, I read books, I go to movies or I go on culinary tour. I look for food, try this food because in Bali, there are always new foods and restaurants. These are the things that I do in my leisure time. I cannot let my brain keep thinking about “cooking, cooking, cooking” because I need entertainment.

Now, what is the most interesting part about your job?

I would say “Food shows who you are”. Food represents you and your individuality. It represents your job and identity. If you’re not in a good mood, it affects the taste of your food. People will know that the food isn’t nice. It means that you don’t put your passion. It’s a problem. Well, that’s understandable since everyone has issues and problems. Perhaps about family, friends, or whatever. But if it’s me, I will try to minimize it. I need to enjoy myself, I need to enjoy cooking. In the end of the day, I really enjoy meeting my guests. They’re my priority because they give feedback.Food is very subjective. I like this food, you don’t like it. I eat spicy, you don’t eat spicy. These difference makes me grow and I came to realise that each person has their own categories. So that makes me never stop. Makes me want to say like “Ah, I want to do it, do it, do it.” To be much more better in my job. Even though it’s difficult, but why not? There’s nothing impossible in this world.

How do you see your guests at Seasalt?

Oh, I treat them like friends. You don’t treat your guest as a customer. If you treat them like one, you will follow rules like asking these questions, “How are you, Sir? How was the food?”. With a dead-face. It’s always like that. For me, I always go like “Hey, how are you Sir? How was everything? How was Bali?” A lot of questions like when you meet your friends. I treat them as if they are at home. I also try to break the rules for my guests. I don’t do like “Oh, the spoon has to be like this. You must eat like this.” No, I would say no. Trust me. If you you break the rules for your guests, they would come back for sure. Because like I said, “food is memories”.

Is there any memorable experience with the guests?

Oh, there are a lot. But the most memorable one was when a guest invited me to a cruise trip. It was a big cruise with 3-4 rooms inside. We traveled to Langkawi and Thailand. I was treated like a VIP inside. There was also time when guest assigned a person to pick me up from the office. There was a car, I didn’t know how it worked but they said, “Chef Vivian, are you coming? Mr. X has arranged you a transport.” I was surprised. I stayed in a hotel for 2 nights and went shopping without spending any single cents. Those were the greatest gifts from my guests. I often receive gifts from guests as well. There was one time when someone from Australia gave me CD. They know I like music. I haven’t heard about the band before but for me, it’s nice. They often give me chocolates as well because I like chocolates.

That’s nice.

Yes, this is what I mean. When you treat your guest like a friend, then you will be treated like a friend as well. But when you treat them like a customer, they will forget you. They won’t remember you. Because if you treat someone like a friend, there is no boundary between you and this guest. I make jokes with my guests. I make them feel happy. If you are in the hospitality industry and you do this, it makes your place more valuable.

Who or what inspires you the most?

In my career, of course my leaders. Whenever I work in different parts of the world, like France, Japan… every Chef inspired me. Every Chef has their own way in terms of management skill, cooking skill, as well as lifestyle. I got my own cooking philosophy, my lifestyle. If I would to mention a name, well… right now I’m in Seasalt so of course, Chef Stefan Zjita. He inspires me to learn the richness of flavors and ingredients that he is using. He is more experienced. I am blessed to know him. Local restaurants also inspire me. Even the drink that you have also inspires me. Coconut water with cucumber. I mean, who does that? Always listen to Chef’s advice.

How do you see the culinary industry nowadays?

Oh, wow. This is a very wide topic. During my years, culinary was not really happening, but nowadays, young chefs can be somebody. Culinary school is like mushroom now. But in general, culinary is a matter of trend and design of food. A lot of things can happen. Like food trucks, it’s everywhere because you don’t need to pay your rent. You just pay your monthly truck rent, maintenance, foods, then you can take the truck anywhere.

And how do you think it challenges you as a Chef or in culinary industry in general?

It’s not a challenge to myself, but it’s a challenge for the company. That’s why, you need to create uniqueness to get people to know you. If you’re doing the same thing, you need to be the best. For example, you know this Rendang, Soto, and Nasi Goreng. Yes, everyone can make it but you need to be the best among all. If you cannot do it, then better not to do it because there are millions of people who are doing it in Indonesia. That’s why you need to create uniqueness. Uniqueness makes people think “Wow!”. It’s the additional touch to your friendliness and generosity of talking. Culinary nowadays… oh, they’re going like they don’t need customers. The Chefs meet customers because of their complaints. That’s not how you treat customers. You have to create connection with them and your food. For me, every person coming to Seasalt is all VIPs and I will treat them like my friends. 

Hey, we saw you playing the piano at Seaside Rendezvous (Seasalt opening party)! I bet art heavily influences your creation. Is it true?

Well, people always say “Oh you’re left-handed”. Generally, left-handed people are more creative especially with their lifestyle. I like to try a lot of things. I play drones and cameras. I play piano, guitars, violin. Music is part of my life. I don’t care about the genre but I always listen and study. I always have this question in my life like “Why he can, why I can’t?”.

Music motivates you, then?

This is how I motivate myself. Like when you see a fisherman. Why he can take the fish, why I cannot? It’s only matter of time, your passion, who you are, and whether you want to do it or not. If you don’t want to do it, just forget about it. But for me, why can’t I play piano? So, I study and practice. I’ve been playing piano since I was 9 (years old). It’s an on and off relationship. In the end, music and food is a beautiful mix. Very beautiful things. All kind of music is always beautiful as long as it’s good to your ears. In the end of the day, it will go to your brain and becomes part of your entertainment. I cannot keep thinking of “cooking, cooking, cooking”. You need music to entertain you, to refresh your brain. It’s not every day that I listen to music when I cook. But, I do listen to music when I wake up. That’s my routine, that’s how I start my day.

Okay, let’s talk about Seasalt dishes. Beside the signature White Snapper, what is your most favorite dish and why?

Butterfish, Red Snapper… and if it’s for vegan then I like Kyoto Hummus. Every dish has its own unique elements. 

What is your hope towards Seasalt?

I wish nothing but success for years to come. We just started few months ago and this is only the beginning. When you have a very nice beginning, it will have a very nice ending. Like I said before, every person coming to Seasalt is special. They will always be treated as special persons. Like they will be presented the Seasalt Ritual and et cetera. Lastly, be the best seafood destination not only in Seminyak but also in Bali.