Culinary Pride vs ‘Columbusing’: The reactions to Gordon Ramsay’s Indonesian visit

Gordon Ramsay (Right) with William Wongso. Photo: National Geographic
Gordon Ramsay (Right) with William Wongso. Photo: National Geographic

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.

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.

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.

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.

Related — Indonesians and Malaysians unite to roast Masterchef UK judges over rendang ignorance

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