Chef asal Solo, Jawa Tengah ini memiliki jam terbang tinggi di dunia kuliner Negeri Paman Sam. Beberapa kali ia menjuarai ajang kompetisi kuliner, bahkan beberapa kali didaulat untuk memimpin tim kuliner Amerika di kejuaraan memasak nasional dan internasional. Namun, yang paling membanggakan, ketekunannya mengenalkan dapur Indonesia ke penikmat kuliner Amerika. Simak terobosannya!

Widjiono Purnomo, akrab disapa Chef Yono ini, memiliki catatan panjang di dunia kuliner yang digelutinya sejak lulus Akademi Perhotelan di Bandung, Jawa Barat. Tepatnya tahun 1976 ia mulai dengan bekerja di ruang makan Kapal SS Rotterdam di Holland America Line Cruise.

“Enam tahun saya bekerja di sana, lalu menetap di Albany, New York pada 1978 setelah menikah,” ujar Yono yang mempersunting Donna, jodoh yang dijumpainya di Kapal SS Rotterdam. “Tinggal di negeri orang harus punya sesuatu yang dapat menghasilkan uang. Saya pun bekerja di 21 Restaurant di New York.”

Setelah bekerja beberapa tahun, tepat pada 1982, terjadi perubahan yang sangat menggembirakan. Empunya restoran tempatnya bekerja mempercayakannya untuk mengelola restoran berikut dapurnya. Tentu semua itu didasarkan pada perilaku Chef Yono yang baik serta kecekatannya dalam bekerja.

“Menerima kepercayaan ini berarti saya harus tahu dunia restoran secara menyeluruh. Baik dari segi kulinernya maupun cara mengelolanya. Saya banyak belajar dari teman-teman di Amerika. Tiap sebulan sekali mengikuti seminar-seminar untuk menambah ilmu,” tutur Chef Yono kepada Kabari akhir Agustus lalu.

BENCANA KEBAKARAN YANG MEMBAWA BERKAH

Ketika mulai sepenuhnya mengelola restoran sendiri, masakan Indonesia sudah cukup dikenal dan digemari di Amerika. Mereka sudah bisa menikmati sajian Nusantara, seperti opor, gulai, rawon, soto madura, tahu semarang, dan bakmi goreng. Hanya saja, masakan asli Indonesia itu belum masuk di menu restoran. Sifatnya hanya menjadi sajian pelengkap di restoran yang menjual masakan Amerika.

Waktu berjalan, pada suatu hari di tahun 1985, terjadi peristiwa yang tak mungkin dilupakannya. Entah apa penyebabnya, restorannya dilahap api hingga ludes. Sebagai kepala keluarga, ia sangat bingung. Restoran yang menjadi sumber rezeki keluarganya telah rata dengan tanah.

Namun, ia segera sadar untuk tidak larut dalam kepedihan. Restorannya telah menjadi abu, tetapi lahannya tentu masih punya nilai jual. Benar, ternyata uang penjualan tanah tersebut cukup lumayan sehingga bisa membuka restoran baru di Albany. Memang, ukuran bangunannya lebih kecil, tetapi cukup nyaman untuk bersantap. Dalam tempo singkat, restorannya, Yono’s Fine Dining, segera didatangi pelanggan.

“Saya menyuguhkan sesuatu yang berbeda dari restoran kebanyakan. Di daftar menu, saya masukkan masakan-masakan Indonesia. Jadi, di samping masakan Indonesia, juga ada hidangan kontinental. East meets west, dapur Timur bertemu dengan kuliner Barat,” imbuh Chef Yono yang tanpa disadari ia telah menjadi duta kuliner dari Indonesia.

MASAKAN INDONESIA, LIDAH AMERIKA

Chef Yono pun belajar banyak dari pengalaman sehari-hari mengelola restoran. Ia juga tidak malu belajar dari banyak chef yang ditemuinya. Semua pengetahuan itu menambah wawasan, sekaligus menambah rasa percaya diri untuk terus maju.

“Saya berbeda dari kebanyakan orang mungkin ya. Saya percaya dengan nilai kebersamaan. Saling belajar, dengan memberi kita akan menerima. Learn more, sharing more, take and give. Ini benar-benar saya jiwai dalam hidup sehari-hari. Merangkul sesama, sambil belajar,” tuturnya.

Tiada hari tanpa belajar untuk menjadi lebih baik bagi Chef Yono. Ia terus belajar hingga makin hari makin cekatan dalam meracik masakan Indonesia. Tetapi langganan restorannya bukan orang Indonesia saja, tetapi juga banyak orang Amerika. Tantangan baginya, menyajikan masakan Indonesia yang bisa diterima lidah orang Amerika.

Ia pun melatih diri menciptakan cita rasa yang pas di lidah Amerika pada masakan Indonesia. Ia tak sekadar membuatnya, tetapi juga menanyakan komentar dari para pembelinya.

“Sebagai pengusaha restoran, saya harus menyajikan cita rasa yang mampu memenuhi selera penggemar atau pembeli. Untuk itulah, saya berkreasi menciptakan cita rasa yang berbeda. Komposisi bumbunya harus asli dan berkualitas. Misalnya rasa pedasnya, kami tanyakan pada pembeli, dan ini menentukan seberapa banyak cabai yang mesti diberikan untuk lidah orang Amerika,” ulasnya lagi.

Pendekatan ini membuat masakan Indonesia di restoran Chef Yono mendapat tempat di hati pelanggan. Selain itu, ia juga punya jurus untuk lebih meningkatkan pelayanan. Jadi, tidak sekadar berdangan makanan, melainkan melibatkan juga unsur hiburan, mengutamakan keramahtamahan, menciptakan suasana restoran yang nyaman dan pas di hati para konsumen. Tak dilupakan, harus menjaga kualitas yang terbaik.

“Di Amerika itu berbeda. Prestisius sebuah restoran terkadang berada di tangan seroang chef. Para konsumen akan mencari koki, sang chef. Bukan selalu memburu restorannya. Peran chef sangat penting, karena dari tangannya, makanan itu tersaji. Katakan, di restoran ini ada 10 tamu, dan saya mesti memastikan mereka pulang dengan rasa gembira. Puas,” imbuh Yono.

TERUS BERPRESTASI DI KULINER

Dengan menjunjung sikap dan nilai-nilai positif tersebut, tak heran jika Chef Yono mampu mengukir segudang prestasi. Sebut saja, ia pernah mewakili New York di America Seafood Challenge, sebuah kompetisi nasional bergengsi yang diselenggarakan di New Orleans. Ia juga terpilih sebagai anggota Chefs National Program Touring untuk Festival Indonesia selama dua tahun.

Chef yang pernah tampil di Today Show dan TVFood ini juga terus meluaskan kiprahnya dengan aktif di kegiatan kuliner. Beberapa kali ia didaulat untuk memimpin tim kuliner New York ke kompetisi bergengsi di tingkat nasional dan internasional. Salah satunya, menjadi manajer dari 7 chef Albany, New York ke ajang Hotelympia, La Parade des Chefs ke London, Inggris.

Sajian olahannya juga pernah dinikmati oleh petinggi negara dunia, seperti mantan Presiden Amerika Bill Clinton dan George Bush, serta Presiden Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saat mengadakan kunjungan negara di Negeri Paman Sam beberapa waktu lalu. (1009)

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