Asri first started cooking at the age of 5. “Every day I watched my Mum cooking and when I tried to help by putting a little spice into the grinder she said ‘If you dare to cook, don’t be frightened to use the spice – put some more in!’”
From then on she just loved cooking. Every morning, before she went to school (school starts at 7am in Indonesia) she would help Mum in the kitchen when they would cook all the meals for the day. The family are farmers, so they all work in the fields or go to school all day and come home to eat the food cooked in the morning.
She is the oldest of 6 siblings, so she was very involved with helping her parents around the house. Most of the food they ate had been grown on their farm, “we only bought sugar and salt” so she learned how the food was grown and when it was at its best (and worst, when necessary). They had no electricity, so all the food was either fresh, preserved or carefully stored. Cooking was grilling, frying, steaming or boiling. There was no oven. The stove was a clay block with a hole at the side to push firewood into and another hole on the top for the pan. The block became hot and stored heat, it had another space at the side for simmering. In later times this was replaced by a fancy new concrete block!!
Over the years she learned to cook local versions of Indonesian country food.
She left school at the age of 13 and went to work as a caregiver for an elderly Chinese woman and also helped in her electronics shop. When the employer found out that she could cook she was chased into the kitchen and taught how to cook simple Chinese food. After a couple of years she went to work as a general assistant and handy-woman in a motorbike shop, but then the same thing happened and she transferred from engine oil to cooking oil.
In 1997, with revolution and turmoil in the air, she returned to the safety of the farm in the mountains. When city life became safer, she returned to Solo where she found employment in a boutique that designed and made wedding and party dresses. She learned how to cut dress patterns, sew and bead working but ultimately and inevitably, she found her way into the kitchen for 3 years.
Realising that she could earn much more money by working abroad, in Singapore, she went to a training centre to learn some English and the methods and tools used in modern Singapore.
Her first position was that of domestic helper with a Chinese family, but one day she set about cooking an evening meal for the family while looking after the children. When the adults came home and found all of the food on the table they asked the children where it had come from. They just pointed at Asri. You can guess what happened next. The family taught her to speak Singlish and more sophisticated Chinese food.
Following this, Asri held various positions with western employers (Scottish, Australian, French and Italian) where she was taught to cook various western menus and to use the latest and best equipment.
Since then she has been travelling to Dubai, Maldives, England, France, Spain, Portugal Holland, Vietnam and spends most of her time in Thailand.
Her preferred influences are Jamie Oliver and Greta Ana, and of course, her Mum!