Marlon ‘Lonny’ Gerungan appears very relaxed in his T-shirt and sarong while he contentedly looks around his restaurant, observing guests and staff. On his mother Antoinette Roemalaiselan’s birthday on 10 February 2015, he opened a restaurant named after her, Di Roemah, in Kerobokan in southern Bali.
He has Marlon Brando to thank for his first name. Brando could often be found in the Bali Hotel’s restaurant in Denpasar where Lonny’s father, John Gerungan, was the first Indonesian chef to serve Indonesian specialities.
My father’s restaurant kitchen was my playground
‘This is my dream come true. Just like my father, I’m making delicious dishes for my guests in Bali, but now in our own family restaurant together with my cousin and business partner. My father’s restaurant kitchen was my playground, despite it being dangerous for a child with its slippery floor and pans of hot oil. It was there that I got a taste for Indonesian cuisine and my passion for cooking.’
Gerungan sings ‘Smile’ & ‘Sioh Mama’
Di Roemah (‘At Home’) serves not only delicious and authentic Indonesian food but also offers a diverse music programme including live music and salsa evenings. Sometimes Gerungan even takes to the stage himself to sing well-known hits like ‘Smile’ and more traditional Indonesian songs like ‘Sioh Mama’.
In the Netherlands Lonny Gerungan is a popular singer, both as a solo artist and in duets with other artists. In January he sang with Wieteke van Dort — a Dutch performer born in Indonesia — on a cookery cruise through Germany. In his restaurant in Kerobokan he likes to invite his guests to sing with him or sing their own favourite songs.
Gerungan, a long family tradition in the Indonesian kitchen
‘My father was quiet and we never spoke much. It was only later that I heard that he was very proud of me.’ The name Gerungan stands for a long family tradition in Indonesian cuisine. Since Lonny’s father started at the Bali Hotel in Denpasar, much has been achieved. The Bali Hotel was the first modern and luxury hotel in Bali run by the Dutch ‘Koninklijke Pakketvaart Maatschappij’ (KPM). This company arranged the passages for the first tourists to Bali from the other islands in the archipelago.
Popular travelling TV with local dishes from the Indonesian islands
With restaurant Di Roemah crowning his achievements, Lonny realises that in Bali he has at last come home to the island of the gods. Gerungan has written more than 17 cookery books including one with Thai dishes after his culinary travels in Thailand. He could be regularly seen on Dutch TV in the popular series Reistafel, which means ‘travelling table’. This is a play on words with the popular rijsttafel, which means a table full of Dutch Indonesian dishes.
Since 1997 he has visited various Indonesian islands, discovering all sorts of wonderful local dishes. These were the first culinary travel programmes that were broadcast on TV and later on DVD. In every programme Lonny could be seen surrounded by the beautiful Indonesian landscape and its culture. Lonny’s father came from Menado, Sulawesi, and his mother’s family came from the Moluccan Islands. Often extraordinary historical places of interest formed the backdrop to these programmes, such as Fort Duurstede, a Dutch fort from 1691, on the Moluccan island of Saparua.
With the publication of The Bali Cookbook in 2007, Lonny Gerungan clearly made an impression in other countries as the following comment shows:
The book promises to show readers how to ‘recreate the food of the gods.’
‘It’s fantastic. It’s a few years old now but it not only gives the history of the dish but explains why certain ingredients are used. The background information it contains is great. Not to mention the great photos and the hunger pains I am now suffering. I will never look at a Balinese menu the same way again,’ wrote a woman from Brisbane on Tripadvisor.
‘I got that book last year and I love it,’ gushed another reviewer. ‘Just wish I could get some of the ingredients, especially spices. They’re just not available in rural New Zealand! (Not much luck sourcing turtle meat either!)’ The book promises to show readers how to ‘recreate the food of the gods.’
In his new restaurant Lonny Gerungan is also planning to give cooking workshops.
From dishwasher to singing TV master chef
Lonny’s father, John Gerungan, started as a chef’s mate on the boats that sailed between the islands of the former Dutch Indies. Soon the talent that he had inherited from his parents was discovered and he became the first ‘islander’ (after being an assistant for 3 years) to succeed the Dutch master chef at the Bali Hotel.
Despite the fact that his father had had no formal training in order for him to become a master chef, Lonny wanted to train in America. At 21 he took a practical ‘in between step’ and left for the Netherlands. In his youth Lonny learned how to dance as well as cook and in Holland he performed as a Balinese dancer. A great uncle who had performed in Paris was his role model.
In the 1930s, the Bali Hotel in Denpasar was the first fashionable hotel in Bali. It is now called the Inna Bali Hotel and Lonny Gerungan’s fans are still welcome to visit and see the room where he was born.
How my mother Antoinette inspired me.
Lonny spent most of the first 8 years in Holland working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Amsterdam (the then Restaurant Speciaal in the Nieuwe Leliestraat in the Jordaan area). To learn the language better he got a chance to work waiting on tables. He soon moved up to manager and he and his mother, who joined him from Indonesia along with other employees, formed a very close team. ‘After the death of my father, my mother opened her own restaurant in Bali and learned from local employees Balinese cookery. This is how my mother inspired me and with this restaurant I want to pay a tribute to her memory.’
Lonny and his mother always stayed close to authentic Balinese cuisine and did not adapt it to western tastes. Her knowledge and enthusiasm was very useful in Holland, especially when Lonny opened his first restaurant in 1985. This was such a success that a year later he opened a much larger restaurant, entirely in Balinese style, on the Rozengracht in Amsterdam. People who came to be interviewed for a job there were first asked if they were musical. This was an important skill when welcoming guests.
People should have a feeling of coming home
After a career of more than 25 years in the Netherlands, Lonny wanted to return to Bali. One of the Di Roemah restaurant pavilions has been decorated as a living room where many personal photos and objects relating to Lonny’s family can be found.
‘The most important feeling that people should have here is a feeling of coming home, just like in my mother’s name.’ Roemah = home and Leisehan = eating sitting on the ground, just like the old tradition. Lonny translates this as ‘homecoming’ and ‘feeling welcome’. Just like a while ago when a lady slept for a couple of hours on the sofa in the living room and one afternoon when children played on the bed. Lonny wants a relaxed and casual environment where people can be themselves.
I compiled a culinary encyclopaedia about the Indonesian cuisine
‘I speak Balinese, Javanese, Bahasa Indonesia and Dutch and feel at home with all flavours. That’s how I was brought up. I compiled a culinary encyclopaedia in the form of a cookery book about the Indonesian cuisine and my Dutch Indonesian cookery book will be reprinted in April.’
The difference between Dutch Indonesian and Indonesian dishes
It’s important to explain what defines the mixed (Dutch) Indonesian cuisine and that of the original Indonesian cuisine. The former developed because various additional and alternative ingredients were used to replace the original ingredients that weren’t available in Holland. But there are also adaptations from the European and Dutch kitchen. For example, sponscake comes from the English sponge cake, the only difference is that padananus leaves have been added, giving it its green colour. Ayam mustard is a typical Dutch Indonesian condiment that isn’t found in Indonesia.
Everything should be freshly ground
‘We teach the people we train to use fresh herbs, not dried, ground or packaged ones. This is such an important starting point in the Indonesian cuisine. Neither do we tolerate a blender. Everything should be freshly ground (uleken) on a cobek (a sort of mortar and pestle) and no vetsin (food additive Mono Sodium Glutamaat/MSG) is allowed!’
Export the Indonesian cuisine
Would Lonny like to be an advisor on exporting the Indonesian cuisine? Indonesia’s president Jokowi has said that he would like more countries to eat Indonesian dishes.
‘If you want to export the Indonesian cuisine then you will have to look at each country or region to see what their favourite eating habits are. In Spain you could tap into the tapas tradition and introduce more of the nasi campur dishes. If I were asked to be advisor I would most like to be responsible for VIP receptions, taking into account favourite dishes, decoration and ambiance, colours and the guests’ habits.’
I returned home to Bali with different riches and now I’m living my dream!
Through his father’s work Lonny had a good youth and the family were able to go on holidays to Batavia’s capital, present day Jakarta. Lonny would have preferred to stay in Bali and swim in the kali (river) with his friends who have now become wealthy and successful businessmen in Bali. ‘I didn’t leave to make money and I didn’t return hugely wealthy, instead I returned home to Bali with different riches and now I’m living my dream.’
Marlon Brando: ‘They seemed to lead a marvellous life’
Let’s return to the man who Lonny is named after, Marlon Brando. In his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me he describes his trip to Bali:
‘En route to Tokyo in the Spring of 1956 to film Sayonara…
‘I remember a visit to Bali on that trip with particular affection. It was before large numbers of tourists had invaded that island, so it still had a sweet innocence. I met artisans and artists who worked all day in the rice fields, then came home, took a swim in the river, and taught dancing or worked lovingly on their artwork and they seemed to lead a marvellous life.’
Decades later this quotation by Marlon Brando is still relevant and suits Lonny down to the ground!
Restaurant Di Roemah
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Jalan Merta Agung 48
In 1928 the first modern hotel in Bali was opened by KPM (Koninklijke Pakketvaart Maatschappij) in Denpasar called the Bali Hotel (now Inna Bali Hotel, Jalan Veteran Denpasar). Famous guests such as Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin and the Dutch Queen Juliana and her husband stayed there. Don’t miss reading the quote of Marlon Brando in this article.
Where to buy The Bali Cookbook
The Bali Cookbook is available in online bookstores and via Ganesha Bookshops in Bali. You can find their stores in Ubud and Sanur.
Ganesha Bookshops in Bali
Ubud : Jalan Raya, (near the post office)
Sanur : Jalan Danau Tamblingan 42
Telephone: (62-361) 970320
Email : email@example.com