Getting to Know Charles Toto, the Jungle Chef who Wants to Preserve Papua’s Local Food

Papua's Local Food
Sumber : Youtube

Charles Toto is not a name that you can find easily, unlike the capital’s celebrity chefs. Since 1997, Charles has had a goal to introduce Papua authentic cuisine to the world. In 2006, he formed Papua Jungle Chef Community (PJCC) in West Papua as a vessel to tweak authentic traditional recipes of Papua. Not only that, to make his dream come true, he also managed a Papua cuisine restaurant in South Jakarta called Papoea by Nature. In 2018, he succeeded in introducing Papua flavour in the culinary competition in Festival Slow Cooking in Torino, Italia.

Who is this man called Jungle Chef?

Papua's Local Food
Sumber : Antara News

Introducing The Jungle Chef

Papuans called him Chato. Charles Toto, from the lineage of Toto, was born in Ormu village, Jayapura, Papua. A cook by profession, but unlike any other cook, Toto has an entire jungle of Papua as his kitchen.

For Chato, the jungle is no different from a market for Papuans, and they need no money to spend in order to get fresh ingredients. This is not merely naysaying, because in real life, the people in West Papua gather their food and daily produce directly from the jungle. This includes vegetables, meats and others, which can be procured from their jungle.

From this very jungle is where Chato gets his inspiration from, and he has a vision to make a traveling expedition of sightseeing the West Papua Jungle since it plays an important role in the life of Papuans, especially for their daily needs. Furthermore, he introduced authentic Papua cuisine cooked on the spot using fresh ingredients from the nearby jungles. The food prepared will vary depending on the area of the jungle and the ingredients in that specific area.

For example, in South Papua, the cuisines use a variety of deer meat. But in Sentani, Chato usually cooks black fish soup using snakehead fish and taro leaves. According to him, cooking directly in the forest gives a different experience because he can use freshest ingredients, in the open area with pristine air.

Many celebrities and famous people ask Chato to cook for them and go on a trip to Papuan jungle, Mick Jagger and Melinda Gates to name a few. “They are really excited to try and experience a daily life of Papua people by giving a shot on traditional cuisine of Papua as I cooked for them.”’ says Chato.

Preserving Papua’s Authentic Culinary

Using culinary is effective to introduce a way of living to the others in Indonesia, since Indonesia is a host of vast and diverse tribes and people, and each of them has their own way of living and of course their own local cuisines. This is what Chato wanted to introduce, because for a long time, Papuans are known for their dark skin and their curly hair. Chato wanted to make West Papua also famous for its culinary aspects.

For years Chato and his friends in the Papua Jungle Chef Community tweak the ingredients from Papua’s jungle and sea alike. Because of his effort, he successfully introduced Papua traditional cuisine to the world and was dubbed as Papua Culinary Conservator. Chato hoped that Papua traditional cuisines would be well known and not forgotten for a long time.

In other efforts in preserving West Papua local cuisine, Chato also teaches traditional recipes to the locals so that it would be inherited for generations to come. These efforts are taken because recently authentic Papua cuisines are slowly being replaced by instant processed foods. Their staple food such as sago has been replaced with bread and rice in recent years.

The reasoning behind this shift in ingredients of traditional cuisines is because of the outside influence and the paradigm of said cuisines being outdated or uncool. In contrast, sago is a sustainable source of food because the people of Papua use selective cutting of sago trees, but this soon changes if sago fields are replaced with other plantations.

Because of this concern, Chato and his colleagues are giving information and educating the people of Papua about using sago as staple food for their traditional food and introducing sago as a popular ingredient in recipes. Until now, Chato has documented more than 30 recipes of authentic Papua cuisine using interesting ingredients with unique cooking methods. This is the way of Chato in developing Papua, by the tastebuds.

If you visit West Papua, don’t forget to try various traditional and authentic Papua cuisines! To know more about Papua culinary world, you can visit this link