Everyone’s talking about it. Gordon Ramsay’s culinary escapade to West Sumatra was praised as a crucial moment in which Indonesian cuisine — inexplicably obscure in many parts of the world — can be put on the map. But does our food need discovering?
National Geographic yesterday aired the latest episode of its series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, in which the celebrated (some might say legendary) chef visited West Sumatra in his “journeys to some of the most incredible and remote locations on Earth in search of culinary inspiration, epic adventures, and cultural experiences.”
Sure, a province with a population of 5.1 million is not one we’d call remote, but Ramsay’s visit undoubtedly did more to raise the region’s cuisine out of global obscurity than anyone ever has, thanks to the chef’s immeasurable star power.
The West Sumatra episode was a compelling piece of culinary journalism in which Ramsay’s humbleness and eagerness to learn from a tradition so alien to him made him so endearing, as he ordinarily is with foreign cuisines. Guests on the episode, most notably rendang master William Wongso, served as great guides for Ramsay to the region’s wonderfully eclectic foods.
The episode, by and large, was well received among Indonesians.
I am very glad you exposed Rendang as the most delicious food in the world. You have introduced to the world that West Sumatra is a paradise for delicious food
— Rank Tanjuang (@HYunaldi) June 30, 2020
Thank you for making this show! This is the side of you everyone needs to see. The unbridled love for what you do and the true respect you give everyone and everything that contributes to your pursuit of it, is pure and amazing. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
— MagaMan (@Nkramerumn) June 29, 2020
Come back again for exploring other parts of Indonesia and their cuisine. 😁😁
— Uly Siregar (@sheknowshoney) June 29, 2020
On the flip side, some Indonesians did not appreciate the underlying theme of shows like this, which contain the premise of Westerners seemingly “discovering” a cuisine already beloved by millions.
a white man venturing into the “uncharted” world trying to “discover” and “conquer” traditional knowledge feels so 1400s but ok
— michelle (@mwnwtn) June 30, 2020
The title of the show, Uncharted, is truly Eurocentric. The wealth of Minang cuisine, which is a cross between south and eastern Asian cuisines, are discovered. National Geographic still has the spirit of its imperialist ancestors.
He’s columbus-ing padang food and people are praising him
— radicalized jamet (@rdclzdjamet) June 30, 2020
There is certainly room for nuanced interpretations of Ramsay’s West Sumatra visit, and no one is entirely right or wrong. That said, can we all agree that slathering rendang sauce on omelette, with crushed ikan asin, no less, is an underwhelming innovation by a chef of Ramsay’s stature? Where the bloody hell was the rice, Ramsay?
What did you think of the West Sumatra episode of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.