Sun, 13 Aug 2000

Chocolate tradition for independence party

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): It a long trek from the highlands of west Sumatra to the lobby of Jakarta's Shangri-La hotel.

But it seems to have been worth the trouble -- the Rumah Gadang, the traditional house of the people of Minangkabau with its distinctive saddle-back roof has had guests buzzing around it like bees to a hive ever since it was put on display at the hotel on Aug. 4.

After all, this is no ordinary Rumah Gadang. It is not exactly made of honey but has been carved out of 200 kg of dark, milk and white inedible chocolate by a team of six culinary experts from the hotel in celebration of the country's 55th Independence Day.

And the only reason why less ants and more people are attracted to it is because the entire made to scale structure is bathed in a food spray that helps to keep the creepy-crawlies away.

Herry P. Torry, 44, one of the architects told The Jakarta Post that the model of the rare Austronesian house is placed on a bed of over 50 kg of cinnamon sticks. The rectangular structure, elevated on posts, was seen as a sacred representation of man's ancestors and a replica of his imagination of the universe.

Ever since the hotel opened in 1994, it has been commemorating the anniversary of the country's independence from colonial rule with lavish butter or compound chocolate sculptures.

In 1995 a model of the entire archipelago along with all its provinces was created to mark half a century of Indonesia's unity in diversity. All those who remember it still recall it as being an amazing exhibit.

However, Herry's favorite piece so far has been the Pinisi, a traditional boat of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi, chosen from the scores of schooners docked at the old harbor of Sunda Kelapa that has been in continuous use since at least the 12th century.

It was on display in August 1996 and Herry remembered letting his imagination run wild in trying to capture all the hustle bustle inside and around the magnificent, hand built boats that still line the city's northern-most docks.

"The idea is to introduce to our guests here in Jakarta a little glimpse of interesting parts of the city and also sights from other far flung corners of our country in a unique way," smiled Eka Resmiasih, communications officer.

In honor of the Indonesian team participating in the Asian games in Thailand, life-sized figures of all the dozen participants carved in butter and sugar were displayed that year at the hotel.

From the moment of its conception to its eventual display, each project takes about two months to complete. But the actual construction of the model is easily finished by the team of six food and beverages artistes within two weeks.

Every month of Ramadan is welcomed with the model of a well known mosque from around the country. The first one to have provided inspiration was the Grand Mosque itself, at Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Since then mosques from Aceh, Ujung Padang and Jakarta have also held the place of pride.

The model is invariably cut from styrofoam and melted chocolate is used as paint while details are added in other shapes and sizes either from blocks of compound chocolate or butter, along with sugar.

The three dimensional human figures are always carved straight from blocks of brown or white chocolate. Each year the models are recycled but it is not possible to eat any part of the chocolate sculptures.

Last year the model of the Bali Gate so impressed a guest that he was allowed to buy it.

Herry who has been involved in this fascinating job for the past 15 years says it is no big deal for him to make carvings either of ice, butter or chocolate at any time. From a family of batik painters in Solo, Herry wanted to go modern with his art unlike his father who died painting the traditional batiks.

Now that he has put the last chocolate brick to the magnificent Rumah Gadang structure, his mind is already on the oldest Chinese mosque standing in Kota that he is expected to replicate during the coming month of Ramadan in November.