The Jakarta Post
Korean chicken frenzy/
Passion for anything Korean has gone beyond the K-Pop, television series and beauty products. Now, K-food fever is being dished up in Jakarta.
New restaurants offering original Korean cuisine to its fusion forms have taken the town by storm.
Kimchi, bimbimbab (the delicious Korean barbecue) and bulgogi are no longer the exclusive domain of Korean expatriates in the capital city.
Adding to the list of options for Korean food is BonChon Chicken, a fast-food chain restaurant from South Korea, that has nestled into selected shopping centers in Jakarta and continued to spread the Korean culinary craze.
BonChon is a Korean name that means “original village” in English. After opening its first location in Pusan, South Korea, in 2002, the franchise has expanded to several countries, such as the US, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. If you imagine BonChon’s menu to offer to be similar to the crunchy, deep-fried chicken of long-time popular fast-food restaurant chains KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, you may be in for a bit of a surprise.
BonChon’s chicken, both the original and spicy varieties, comes with a thinner batter coating, blanketed by a shiny, brown soy garlic sauce.
First-timers may be astonished to find the order does not come as a bulky chicken wing or drumstick, but in several bite-sized pieces of lean meat. The restaurant chain maintains certain standards to control the fat intake.
The texture remains crunchy on the surface keeping each bite juicy on the inside, but actually, the sauce is the winning ingredient — striking a balance between sweet and sour so perfect and addictive that six pieces of small wings suddenly disappeared from my paper plate.
Diners can choose white rice or French fries as side dishes to accompany the chicken. BonChon’s French fries are brown, thick and meaty. If you like steak fries, then they will serve you well. Personally, I would probably go for the white rice next time.
Michelle E Surjaputra, the 24-year-old president director of PT Michelindo Food International brought the Korean chicken frenzy to Jakarta this year.
The former competitive swimmer, who moved to the US when she was 9 in the wake of the May 1998 riots, studied business at New York University’s Stern School of Business and interned at a number of companies, including UBS’s investment banking division, after graduation.
Working as an analyst from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, including weekends, was not a problem for her, but a simple question from her father, whom she regularly called during her 20-minute taxi ride back home, made her think twice.
“He asked me, ‘Is this really what you want to do in the future?’,” she said.
Choosing between options to continue her studies in finance or pursue a career in the US or Indonesia, she finally decided to go back to her home country after leaving it 16 years ago.
Michelle was visiting her sick grandma in Indonesia in August 2011 when she first contacted BonChon.
“I was in the hospital for two weeks. With nothing to do, I wanted to see what business I could start. BonChon seemed to be so perfect because there was a K-pop trend, Indonesians like fried chicken and there was the market for upscale fast food,” she said.
The reason behind her selection of BonChon was simple. She used to go to the restaurant’s locations in New York City and loved the flavor. Her father, who helped provide the capital, trusts the chicken brand too and supported her.
Her initial phone call got a response. Michelle quickly worked out a 50-page business plan, which earned her an invitation to meet the CEO and Master Franchisee in the Philippines. She beat five other candidates and secured the right to be a Master Franchisee in Indonesia.
“For them, it’s more important to get someone who wants to work hard than someone who has experience. As someone who is just starting out, I will spend 100 percent of my time at BonChon,” she said.
Business negotiations proceeded right away and she flew back to New York City in October 2011 to get hands-on experience in running the restaurant. Was the kitchen too hot for the business graduate with no cooking background? Maybe, but she could handle the heat.
Michelle recounted her most memorable time during her training. At that time, she was placed at the brushing station. The kitchen was in the middle of a rush when a customer who did not make a call in advance, ordered 3,200 chicken wings. She remembered hand brushing each wing with rapid movements and going home exhausted.
She works fast. In November, she started hiring professionals and transferring her knowledge. Together, they experimented a bit to account for differences in chicken size, oil and flour. The first restaurant opened in the Grand Indonesia shopping mall in Central Jakarta in January this year, followed by outlets in five other malls.
Looking back, the gym enthusiast said she was grateful to have chosen the food business because she enjoyed activities that involved meeting people.
“I’ve been so lucky here because I really like what I do.”
Grand Indonesia, City Walk Sudirman,
Supermall Karawaci, Living World Alam Sutera, Gandaria City and Central Park.
Price range: From Rp 5,454 to Rp 99,545
Indah Setiawati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Sun, August 26 2012, 9:22 AM