However despite its fame, Java Bleu (@Java_Bleu) is not a fancy five stars hotel restaurant nor it is set up anywhere fancy; instead it's set up in a place so uncommon for a serious eatery: a 2nd floor Ruko in Jl. Fatmawati, South Jakarta. On top of the quirky location, Java Bleu interior is also furnished with chairs and tables which looks like it's snatched from a nearby Sekolah Dasar Negeri (SDN), a government owned public elementary school. Nevertheless, Java Bleu was famous for serving classic French cuisine so good even for other food veterans, hence one lifestyle magazine branded the place as "where chefs eat" destination in Jakarta.
Lucky for me, from Rian (@gastroficionado) I recently learned that Pak Antoine Audran (@antoine_audran), the mastermind behind this legendary Java Bleu is indeed living in Bali at the moment! However what got me into further surprise is when finding that he's not directly in the restaurant business anymore. Turned out, the chef has shifted his interest into developing a "serious" artisan grade Ready to Eat (RTE) food business, and he's inviting me to visit his factory in Denpasar!
That's the story behind how on this one sunny day, we were sitting in the large table outside PT Potato Karunia Rasa (PKR) who produces the Java Bleu RTE for the mass market, aside of their already established Horeca products for hotels and restaurants.
The Food Factory Open House"It's all coming down to three factors: recipe, temperature, and pressure," Chef Antoine Audran opened our discussion. "And we done a lot of trials before finally achieving the quality that matched our standards, which you'll taste today" he continued.
Upon asked whether we're allowed to take pictures inside; fearing we'll be leaking any business secrets, he gladly welcomed "others might copied our tools but without the recipe what would they achieve?" he smiled. Gladly we took out our DSLR, pocket cams, iPads and phones ready for the action.
Wearing the coats already provided, here's us posed for you good readers at home:
The open house itself was begun with Chef Antoine explanation about "the swimming pool" with 10,000 litres of water in a water treatment facility right under the ground we're standing at the moment.
"We processes all of the liquid waste from our factory here, and turned them into a drinking-water quality before flushing them out into the sewer outside. Every once in awhile we sent samples to the laboratory for regular monitoring."
Stepped inside the factory, Chef Antoine explains about individual processes involved in preparing different types of food PT PKR produces, including safety measures and hygiene standards applied in its day to day process.
The first room we entered was quite hot because that's where the cooking process is happening. A large boiler side by side with the huge frying pan dominates the room. An oven was there too but its size is quite a miniature compared with its counterparts.
There's a rubber mat lying here and there, which the chef explained are sprayed by anti bacteria compounds regularly. Each of the room entrances are veiled with the thick plastic blades often sees in big factories.
As of the size itself, while the factory is quite small, but each room provides ample of space (and technology) for the food processing taking place. In each of the room, Chef Antoine explained the process happening there, including the standards applied there.
"When we have orders for different types of meat, we process them from start to finish, not all of them at once; this is very important to avoid cross-contamination," he explained upon entering the meat processing room.
We then get to toured some of the other rooms to get a full exposure of the food processing steps taking place. Here are the RTE products being cooled in fresh water after a session in the quick freezer.
Pictured below are RTE food in its food grade plastic containers; the end result of the production process which we'll sample in the food tasting session happening afterward:
"Last, what's important is temperature control. With the rapid freezing technique we're able to reduce the time the food exposed to the 'dangerous' temperature where bacteria could grow, hence making our products can be stored for months even without additional preservatives!" Chef Antoine further explained.
After inspecting the gigantic freezer capable to reduce temperature from boiling point to 20 degrees in just two hours, the factory visit ended and we gathered up once again in the large rectangular table excitedly awaiting the food tasting session.
The food tastingFor the food tasting itself, PT PKR set up a stove, a hot water pot, and cutting pad; the regular tools available in virtually any home kitchen. It was made possible since the RTE products require only 5 minutes of boiling to reheat, as the product itself is already cooked.
Just like in a multi-coursed dinner, our food tasting started with Java Bleu's soups. After put the water into boiling temperature, Chef Antoine set his digital timer then drop several packaging of Java Bleu Mushroom Cream Soup, still in their plastic container! Immediately the picture of Heston Blumenthal face came into my mind side by side with the words "sous vide."
Java Bleu Mushroom SoupThe Chef picked up a container then holds it with the tip of his fingers in front of the audience. "Two steps you need to do after reheating the soup is first to shake it, and then cut the container tips to serve it," pouring out the Java Bleu Mushroom Soup into small cups.
I picked up my cup of mushroom soup and immediately noticed the earthy scent of fresh mushroom. Sipped instead of spoon it, while the soup was still quite hot, a quick smearing over my tongue helps my taste-buds to quickly recognize the flavors.
Having years of experience swallowing both Knorr and other popular instant brands on the market, what immediately missing from Java Bleu soups are the boring starchy taste and the slightly bitter aroma which screams "mass production" out loud. Instead it tasted so succulent, creamy, and flavorful as if you're tasting a freshly cooked soup!
My mind quickly tried to recall when was the last time I encountered mushroom cream soup this good, and while I don't recall anything specific I confidently sure it was among the top 5% percentile I've ever had. And it created a dilemma since it's hard to understand how something coming out of plastic container could taste that good!
"While usually there's only like 25% of mushroom in this kind of product, as you can find out yourself ours have more than 50%" the chef continued, followed by nods of approval from the participants.
Java Bleu Chunky Vegetables SoupAlready getting into hysteria with the Mushroom Soup, the chef followed up with Java Bleu's Chunky Vegetables soup which are both vegetarian and gluten free. "You'll see that this one has quite different character than the Mushroom Soup, as we are intently created our products with different taste characters" explained Chef Antoine.
Well indeed it was a whole completely different eating experience than the Mushroom Soup; it's light, refreshing, with acidic character that make the soup tastes refreshing.
What's even more amazing is that it preserves the "real" texture of different vegetables used, a feat that even freshly cooked vegetable soups often failed to achieve.
Java Bleu's Five Minute LasagnaCreated with flexibility in mind, for the next food tasting session the chef showed us what kind of dishes people are able to create using different Java Bleu's products.
"The 5 minutes Lasagna" was made using layers of Bechamel and Bolognese sauce laid intermittently, before topped with cheese then sent to the oven. The whole process of preparation, excluding the baking, took only five minutes.
However the taste, again, is nothing instantaneous nor five minute ish; it's like having an Italian grandmother slow cook it with meticulous details and plenty of love; so rustic, classic, well blended sensation of the bechamel's creaminess and the bolognese's robust meat and tomato flavor layered in between the super moist pasta layers. Best Lasagna I have ever tasted.
Java Bleu SaucesIn trying out Java Bleu's sauces, Chef Antoine then brought us a basket of french fries, and the succulent moist grilled chicken that's already the best, eaten on its own.
The sauces tried are ranging from the creamy Carbonara, Mushroom, the smokey BBQ, into the more adventurous Black Pepper and Green Peppercorn sauce. The later is a kid's favorite though; having the flavor dominated by mild savory taste of a brown sauce, but accentuated with burst of tangy green peppercorn every now and then.
Chef Antoine also made some pasta dishes to match with the sauces, including cheese filled meatballs to pair with Java Bleu's BBQ sauce.
While each of the participants have their own different champions based on their own preferences, we agrees on several things: we never thought food that good are possible to be created with something coming out straight from a plastic container, the Chunky Vegetable Soup is noteworthy for its ability to preserve such rich taste and original texture, and now we can set up a chef-less cafe of our own!
Finally here are the candid catches taken before and during the food tasting.
Chef Antoine Audran explaining about the quality, standards, and challenges behind setting up this Ready to Eat (RTE) food business, including why on earth he's choosing to go into this not-so-chef-ish occupation after having a blast of career as a chef and Java Bleu proprietor in Jakarta.
(A move which we thankful for btw!)
Connie (@buburbayi) investigating the snacks comprising of Kayu Api's cakes before the food tasting begun, which turned out to be a wrong strategy facing the plethora of dishes coming up.
Ade (@balimyheart) got into discussion with chef Antoine about Bali food scene, including where to find good bakery in Bali.
Oggie (@goprayogo) tried out the french fries while making mental notes of different Java Bleu sauces' taste.
Ade (@hypnoticade) stepped up to the challenge of carving the roasted chicken, and received tips from Chef Antoine about the proper way of doing it.
And as if his hospitality wasn't enough, Chef Antoine sent each one of us home with a pack of some Java Bleu products to try at home, so we can prove ourselves how easy it is to create the wonderful meals on our own. "Feel free to let me know should you encounter trouble in preparing it" he said before we bid farewell to the lovely and generous food tasting.
For your information, Java Bleu RTE products are currently available in Hero supermarkets in Jakarta, including some leading supermarket and hypermarkets in both Jakarta and Bali. (byms)