Sun, 15 Jun 2003

Rekindling memories a key to one man's health

Jock Paul, Contributor, Jakarta

The ripe old age of 75 might seem like a strange time to launch a restaurant but for Klaas Kemp, it was simply a matter of survival.

The retirement that Kemp was forced into four years ago brought him nothing but boredom, stress and health problems.

For 12 years, from 1985 to 1998, Kemp managed Memories, a restaurant in the Indosemen building on Jl. Thamrin that served authentic Dutch food amidst a unique collection of Indonesian and Dutch history.

The restaurant built up a loyal clientele of businesspeople, bankers, ministers and those merely intent on a culinary trip down memory lane.

But the crippling economic crisis brought the restaurant's thriving business to a halt and Kemp was forced to close down Memories in February 1998.

Kemp had been working in Indonesia's hospitality industry since arriving from the Netherlands in 1971, first training workers for a cruise line and then as a manager at Oasis restaurant in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

From the time he joined Memories up until he retired, he went to work each day at 8 a.m. and stayed until after midnight.

The four years off have been hard on Kemp.

"I didn't like it," he said. "I like to work. I cannot sit still."

Not only was he bored but retirement took a toll on Kemp's health.

When he was not working he fell ill, and even after his health improved he says he still felt stressed.

Needing to keep busy, Kemp secured the backing of a new owner and found a suitable building to relaunch Memories.

He then led a thorough makeover of the former cafe and nightclub on Jl. Ampera Raya in Kemang, and launched the Golden Memories in March 2002.

"Once this started I felt much better," said Kemp of the restaurant, which was designed to accommodate his private collection of antiques and curios and take guests on a culinary trip to yesteryear.

Walking around the restaurant, eying Kemp's collection of Dutch and Indonesian artifacts, and listening to his stories, the large two-story, wooden and warmly lit building feels as much like a museum as a restaurant.

Old postcards, maps, art, photographs, tools and souvenirs from across the archipelago and Europe decorate historically themed semiprivate rooms.

The souvenirs have been found all over the country, but Kemp admits that the local antique market on Jakarta's Jl. Surubaya has been one of his greatest resources.

Although he no longer visits the market every day, last September Kemp found his oldest, and one of his most unique souvenirs, a V.O.C (Dutch East Indies Company) bell from 1602.

"It was in the back of one of the shops," Kemp said. The bell has a gauge in it from a bullet that hit it during fighting between locals and the English in Surabaya in November 1945, he said.

It took Kemp three months of dropping by the shop every second day to secure the bell.

Recently, Kemp was lucky that his timing proved as keen as his eye for artifacts.

Three months ago he was feeling ill and asked his wife to take him to the hospital. When he was being fitted for a temporary pacemaker, his heart stopped.

Ironically, the timing could not have been better.

"There were two cardiologists there and 4 nurses so I was in good hands," says Kemp. He woke up confused but in good shape.

He now wears a pacemaker, and is taking a less active role in the running of the restaurant.

"It's great having his knowledge, spirit and experience, and we makes sure he is not burdened with details," said the restaurant's financial manager, Tetraswari Diahingati.

Kemp's popularity with the staff has enabled him to bring back most of the old Memories employees, even after a four-year break.

"Eighty percent of the kitchen staff is from Memories, and the restaurant manager, the chef de cuisine, and half the servers" Kemp said.

"The band has been with me for 16 years, every Saturday afternoon I used to teach them Dutch, English, and German songs."

While upholding its loyalty to providing delicious Dutch food and a historic ambience, The Golden Memories has also made a few changes since reopening.

The clientele in Memories was about half expatriate and half Indonesian, but here its more than 70 percent Indonesian, so as of June 1 pork was longer served, manager Yohannes Sutarno W. Hardjono said

But Kemp is emphatic that nothing significant will change and the dishes are still, "prepared the way my mother cooked."

"We fly in Dutch sole, salmon roe, herring, lettuce and other food from Holland and use whatever is needed for proper Dutch cooking."