August in the Asian culinary world isn't just a month. August was the restaurant named as "one to watch" at the recent Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2023, it is also one of the top restaurants in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Founded by chef Hans Christian and F&B professional Budi Cahyadi, August was built on the strong foundations of a friendship and the desire to turn visions into reality. The name was chosen to reflect their goals of being respected and impressive, as Google defines the word.
"Budi and I met when I was working at the Fairmont. We soon realised we had a similar vision -- that of building a restaurant. In 2019, we resigned from our jobs to create August. Though, Covid hit and we started doing private dining to keep the team going, while the construction of August was postponed," says chef Christian.
"It was the interest in creating something that began when I started dining at Hans' place, purely as a guest. The one thing we did discuss was that Hans wanted someone he could trust in the dining room, whereas I wanted someone who was trustworthy and creative in the kitchen. We wanted to create a restaurant that did not only just offer great food, but also good hospitality," adds Cahyadi.
This philosophy translates into the kitchen, where the "pursuit of deliciousness and graciousness is achieved through service".
Mini sandwich featuring rice, cassava leaves, chicken, caramelised shallot and chilli. August Restaurant
"We want to convey a sense of feeling at home. We don't have a wall that separates the kitchen and the dining room, it is all one, in terms of the space. In terms of the food, we always try to convey modern and contemporary flavours. We are not limiting ourselves to any authentic food, the dishes are all based on my experience travelling and eating, while still paying respect to Indonesian culture. We highlight Indonesian ingredients and flavours and also in the story of each dish," says chef Christian.
"Covid was a blessing in disguise for us and we got the opportunity to build August, slowly. By the time we opened, we already had a fan following who anticipated our launch. In the two years since we had the chance to show people who we are and have developed relationships, especially in the private dining setting."
Cahyadi adds: "Covid gave us the time to sharpen our vision. The one thing we learnt was how to be more resilient to change, to adapt to the situation. It gave us clearer thinking on what August should be."
A meal at August will take you on a journey through Indonesia, as you discover the best of what the archipelago has to offer. The dishes highlight ingredients from Java, Surabaya and Sulawesi, to name a few islands, but are cooked with European techniques.
Charred octopus with XO sauce topped with sautéed banana blossom and potato. August Restaurant
"Jakarta is a melting pot -- of all the cultures and food across the archipelago. Though we serve food that is closely related to Jakarta, you can also find the rendang from Sumatra and garang asem from Java, Bali, all over. My dad is from Surabaya and he likes to eat food from East Java; my mom is from Bandung. My family aren't originally from Jakarta, so we like the variety of what is offered here and that's what we try and give our diners," explains chef Christian.
"It becomes like a journey of Indonesia instead of focusing on one specific region. Also in terms of the produce, we have a lot of friends in Bali and Lombok, and some of the seafood that we try to highlight is supplied by them. We like to maximise what is offered throughout the whole region."
Needless to say, for chef Christian the transition from a hotel restaurant to his own kitchen was relatively smooth, despite the differences.
"Even though I had 100% freedom in the hotel restaurant and could pour out my creativity onto the plate, a lot of the things were limited by the system. I did not have the liberty to conceptualise the entire restaurant, like August. I am of the firm belief that the whole experience of the restaurant, not just the food, is very important," explains Christian.
"When we opened August, it was a totally different challenge and nothing compared to working full time in a hotel. There, my days off were my days off. Here, you wake up, you go to sleep… the thinking is constant, it's a never-ending job. Even on your day off, you find yourself checking your email, reading books, thinking of what should be done for the next week. It's a continuous cycle."
Sweet kelpong. August Restaurant
Though the menu at August changes every five or six months, there is change within change. Every season, a special dish is highlighted and that changes monthly. So even within one season, there may be more than one change.
"Some ingredients are hyper-seasonal and my supplier may only have it for two or three weeks, which forces us to change dishes. That's the thing about having a tasting menu; we have the liberty to change whenever produce is at its best and we don't have to stick to a la carte," emphasises chef Christian. "For now, we are going to focus on the experience and control the quality a bit more. We would like to explore more techniques and more flavours for more ingredients. Just so the kitchen team can always keep evolving and develop."
Cahyadi adds: "From a business perspective, August is our first baby and is still at a young age. We want to take it slowly but surely, just making sure the baby grows and matures well. A lot of people ask, 'What's next?'. We, however, don't want to rush it. We make sure we are present in August, day in and day out, and make sure the team is equipped with what they need. Not only in terms of training but also as individuals, that they are well looked after. We both believe if you want to grow or you want to move forward, the team needs to be well looked after. We are not rushing to do the next project, though we have something in mind."
"We can be great without being large," says chef Christian.
Rolled prawn in perilla leaves and asinan dipping sauce. August Restaurant