Farah Quinn Talks About What It Takes to Make It in the Culinary World

HOT IN THE KITCHEN. Farah Quinn has become one of Indonesia’s most well-known celebrity chefs, but all that fame didn’t come in the blink of an eye. She says that hard work and determination were key ingredients to her success

Dress by Etro, necklace by Lulu Frost at Masari

Farah Quinn was only a little girl when she fell in love with cooking. Growing up in Sumatra, she had a huge interest in food and baking. In high school, she took part in a student foreign exchange program in the United States and continued her schooling there by studying finance at the University of Pennsylvania. But in addition to her studies, she also spent a lot of time doing what she likes the most: cooking.

“One day, one of my roommates said, ‘Wow Farah, you’re such a good cook. I have a friend who’s a pastry chef!’ That was the first time I ever really hear those words and I fell in love almost instantly.” Becoming a pastry chef suddenly went to the top of Farah’s to do list. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in finance, Farah was told by her family that she had to pay for her own tuition if she wanted to continue her education. What might have been a problem for others turned into the biggest turning point of her life, “It wasn’t easy. I decided that if I had to pay for my own schooling, I was going to do what I really wanted. So I went to study pastry arts at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.”

Jumpsuit by La Perla, earrings by Clara Kasavina at Masari

After graduating from school, Farah then moved to Phoenix, Arizona where she took a position as pastry chef at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. In 2005, she was invited to the G8 Summit at Sea Island Georgia, where she cooked for then First Lady Laura Bush and other world delegates, Farah said that was one of the best moments in her cooking career. That same year, she opened her own restaurant, Camus, along with her husband, mixologist Carson Quinn. During that time, the local media fell in love her and she even became a guest star on Good Morning Arizona.

Farah told DA MAN that working in the kitchen is not as fabulous as reality TV makes it out to be. “Being in a professional kitchen is not a glamorous job at all. It’s actually really hard work. Because when you cook at home, you only cook for your family, but when you work in a professional kitchen, you cook for hundreds or even thousands of people. The mixer that you use is for fifty kilos of flour. It’s not a pretty job. You’ve got to work in the heat, you can’t sit down, and you get paid by the hour and, to be totally honest, it’s not the highest paid profession.” So, how did she manage to maintain her passion for being a pastry chef? “I had a passion for cooking since I was little, but I didn’t know that it was something that I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I did was follow my heart. I asked myself, where do I feel the happiest the most? And I knew exactly where that is – in the kitchen.”

After returning to Indonesia a few years ago, Farah quickly became a media starlet once again and landed her own TV cooking show, Ala Chef where she teaches viewers how to cook various cuisines from all over Indonesia, often directly from the cities where such cuisines sprung forth. Although she has visited so many cities spread across Indonesia, Farah said there is one place that holds a special significance in her heart. “When I was in Banten, I visited a fisherman’s village and for some reason, that had a huge impact on me. Seeing the way those people live, it’s just so sad. What they call a backyard is just like a dump, and it’s also their playground, it’s all that they have. Seeing something like that, it changes you inside. Your mission changes. Suddenly, it’s not just about building up your career, but also about what you can do to change another person’s life for the better? That town will always have a special place in my heart.”

 Bustier by La Perla

As part of her new mission, Farah became a judge for The Big Break, a cooking competition reality TV series put together by Resort World Sentosa Singapore and aired on the Asian Food Channel (AFC). The series featured 12 underprivileged youths from Singapore,
Mongolia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines in a cooking competition focused on giving them new opportunities. Aside from doing cooking shows, Farah was also chosen to be a travel ambassador for New Zealand in Indonesia. She said many of the best ingredients in the world comes from the small country. “I adore New Zealand. From culinary standpoint, their produce, meat, and dairy is superb. I always try to get products from New Zealand if I can and I feel very happy to have been chosen as their travel ambassador,” she said.

While there is no doubt that Farah is talented and telegenic, there are certainly plenty of other accomplished chefs in Indonesia. So why does she stand out? Farah told DA MAN that she is different simply because she likes to have fun in the kitchen with her creations and to keep everything simple. “Some chefs, even though they are really talented, don’t have the ability to talk about it to the public. When I’m cooking, I can also chat and talk about what I’m doing. I keep everything simple and playful. I love using Indonesian flavors, but technique-wise, I love using western style,” said the sexy chef. She said two of the chefs who inspire her the most are Edwald Notter, one of the world’s most renowned pastry chefs, and Colette Peters, a world-class cake maker and decorator.

Top, shorts and cuff  by Sally Koeswanto, shoes by Valentino

Despite having tried lots of different types of cuisines and dishes from all over the world, Farah said that, these days she tends to crave raw food over cooked food, “I love eating raw stuff, but tasty raw stuff. But then my weakness is still pastries. I think what I really love is the way I feel after eating uncooked food. It just gives me so much energy.” When asked what her favorite ingredient is, Farah replied, “I want to say vanilla beans, because vanilla beans are so versatile. They go great with everything, you can put them into almost any kind of pastry. And vanilla also has the ability to fit in with everything, and I think that is kind of like me as a person.”

There are plenty of chefs in Indonesia who crave the celebrity spotlight and would like to follow in Farah’s footsteps. For those bright-eyed hopefuls, the chef had this to say: “When you have a dream, try to figure out what is it that you are really passionate about. So, have a goal, work hard and focus. And always understand that being a part of the culinary industry is not a glamorous job at all. Whatever your goal, if you really have a passion for it, you will achieve it.”

So, what is next Farah Quinn? “Well for me, I always put these things on a list and just try to go for it. But it’s still a secret,” she said with a laugh. “The next five years, I will be busier than ever. I hope that my products will be everywhere. And in the meantime, I’ll be cooking at home, traveling a lot, doing a lot more charity work and generally enjoying life.”

Photographs Iok Manggabarani
Styling Gabriela Batti
Videographer: Dimas Anggakara