A wise man once said that we can never deny our passion, nor hide it. Such is true in the case of culinary figure and international chef Vindy Lee. Having developed a passion for cooking early on in her childhood, Vindy didn’t let go of this passion even when she was told to pursue another, more profitable and stable career path.
Although Vindy went to the University of South Carolina and earned a degree in International Relations, she yearned to explore the culinary industry. Following this undying passion, Vindy set out to start at the bottom and make her way up the industry. In Los Angeles, California, she worked in different respectable restaurants as waitress, floor manager, restaurant manager, and eventually, as a chef, gaining priceless experience and knowledge along the way.
Coming home to Indonesia in 2008, Vindy channelled her passion for cooking into the role of personal chef after discovering that her creative mind yearned for complete freedom to create and innovate. As a personal chef for high-class corporate and social events, Vindy’s culinary flair thrived more than ever before, gaining popularity among gastronomic enthusiasts, as well as inventing plate after plate of original recipes, which she then put into writing. The year 2010 marked her authorial debut, as her own cookbook, titled Sexy Food, was published and became wildly successful.
Her unique talent was soon discovered by several major national TV stations, and the camera loves her so much that it didn’t take long until she had her own daily cooking show. Today, Vindy Lee is a renowned celebrity chef, TV icon, and public figure whose philosophy is all about healthy, organic cooking, and uniting her global experiences into one, beautiful, delicious plate.
Q: What was it like working and living in Los Angeles, a melting pot of culture and diversity?
A: I love coastal cities because there’s more of a mixture of cultures – exchanges of ideas and in terms of food as well. They have little Armenia, little Tokyo, Chinatown, and so many segmented cultures, each with their own unique allures, and of course, culinary riches! Exposure to these cultures really broadened my perspective and helped me understand that to shine in the culinary industry, I have to keep an open mind and take inspiration from everything around me. In terms of working, it was actually very enjoyable, because, again, they appreciate diversity and different ideas. I had no problem whatsoever making my way up from the very bottom. In fact, back when I was a waitress, I used to get the most tips!
Q: Would you kindly share one of your recent inspiring culinary journeys?
A: As part of my endeavour with the Jakarta tourism board, I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and promote, New Zealand. I’ve fallen in love with the country since forever because their way of life is very relatable to my cooking beliefs. I believe in eating and cooking organic. Healthy dishes and food safety is a big thing for me. Most reputable New Zealand produce importers hold these factors in very high regard. They grow free range livestock – miles upon miles of natural, non-chemical pastures are home to some of the healthiest animals I’ve ever seen. The air is pure and fresh in these fields, and as I watched sheep grazing with their lambs happily jumping around, I found a newfound respect for nature’s ways. As a chef, I feel it is my duty to take such healthy produce and utilise it entirely as naturally as possible in my cooking. Take for example, my recent favourite dish – grilled New Zealand lamb chop with green goddess sauce, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and lamb au jus. The meat itself – imported from New Zealand – is of superior quality. Soft, juicy and tender to the bone, I would not dare spoil this perfect ingredient with processed vegetables, for example. Instead, I use my own fresh vegetables such as purple sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, and baby beans. The same goes with the marinade and sauce. I always prefer to use homemade ingredients, even if it means significantly more preparation time on my part, because I truly enjoy the whole process.
Q: Fascinating. And what is your cooking philosophy in the kitchen?
A: I cannot stress this enough. I’m all about cooking healthy, clean and organic. I fry my own fries, I make my own butter, I make my own sour cream, and so on. This philosophy was affirmed yet again after the New Zealand farmers I talked about earlier inspired me. They went all natural instead of going with unethical, artificial ways to maximise profit. As for leading a team in the kitchen, I’m mostly very understanding and I enjoy helping my team learn more and improve. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction after I manage to help someone communicate clearly, and as a result, we work better together as a team. I also think cooking should be enjoyed. I don’t look it as just another job to get over quickly and be done with. There is no better seasoning than passion.
Q: What inspires you to create new dishes and keep your creativity alive?
A: The answer is very random. Inspiration can strike me practically any time, and I have to say my mind has a very interesting way of deriving inspiration from things other people might consider mundane, like when other people see colourful flowers, I see a good puree combination, or when other people see shapes and patterns of buildings, I might see an interesting new way to plate my vegetables! Even my dreams inspire me sometimes. One time I woke up at 2AM, headed to the kitchen and started cooking something I dreamt.
Q: What are some interesting projects that you are currently working on?
A: I’m currently working on my second cookbook, which will hopefully be completed next year. It will be very different from Sexy Food, with 60 original recipes, half of them being Indonesian-oriented recipes. Our ancestors were very admirable when it came to enjoying cooking. Using your hands to process traditional ingredients or maybe with a classic mortar and pestle and other traditional equipment – for me this is how you take your time and really pour your whole soul into the process.
Q: Any interesting projects in the future?
A: In addition to the new book, I have a new TV show in the making. The program will be in English and will highlight the farm-to-table cooking experiences. I am very excited about this project, but I’m afraid that is all I’m at liberty to share at the moment. I’m also looking to expand into the catering business. We’re still in groundwork, but it will entirely be as homemade as possible. Straight up good food that’s organic, healthy, and good for everyone!
Q: What do you look for when you dine out and what are some of your favourite places to dine out recently?
A: I really love Indonesian food, so I look for that a lot. I also love some European influence. But I don’t limit myself to fine dining, obviously. Sometimes I would just crave satay, and so I would look for a good streetside satay hawker. When I crave fresh seafood, I will go to Jakarta’s coastal area to get what I want.
Q: Do you have any message for our readers or maybe for cooking enthusiasts out there?
A: Be open to different food philosophies, cultures, people and different food. Soak in everything that’s happening in the now and really enjoy everything about your passion. Open your mind to possibilities and new things. They might just be the thing that will change your life!
Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chop with Green Goddess Sauce
For the Green Goddess Sauce
• A handful of mint
• A sprig of parsley
• A handful of lightly toasted macadamia nuts
• A dash of white balsamic vinegar
• Salt & pepper to taste
• Olive oil
• Zest of one lime
Use a blender to mix everything. Add olive oil until you get the desired texture and consistency.
For the Lamb Au Jus Sauce
Scrape grilling pan used after caramelising the chops and add a splash of red wine to the remaining fat. Add in lamb stock reduced from bones with boiled onions, carrot, celery, bayleaf, thyme, and salt and pepper. Simmer for about three hours and serve over the lamb.
• A rack of New Zealand lamb under 1 year old
• 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary leafs
• 1 tbsp of chopped thyme
• 2 cloves of garlic
• A splash of balsamic vinegar
• A pinch of Cayenne pepper
• Olive oil
Marinate and massage the lamb with crushed garlic, thyme, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and cayenne pepper. Leave for 20 minutes to an hour to let the seasoning seep in. Grill it back on the pan until you get the desired texture and tenderness on both sides. Pre-heat the microwave to 170 degrees. Heat in microwave for another 15 minutes. Wait another 10 minutes before serving. Serves three.