For chefs, the kitchen is where heart is, but nobody is saying that the kitchen has to stay in one place. You can cook anywhere, from the middle of the ocean to the coldest continent on earth. Ricky Santino, a 41-year-old chef from Jakarta, knows it all too well. That’s why during his career, he has set foot in 40 countries, sailed the Seven Seas, and became the first Indonesian chef to cook in Antarctica.
Ricky is a passionate man. When he went in the Bandung Tourism Institute two decades ago, he studied food production and management, but soon realized that he loved the ocean and surfing just as much.
“I chose a job that allows me to travel the world,” he tells me at the coffee shop he owns in South Jakarta. It's one of the reasons why Ricky turned down a job offer as head chef in Dubai five years ago. He was offered a big salary and an attractive restaurant concept to work with—but he wasn’t interested at all. Plus, there's nowhere to surf in the United Arab Emirates.
Ricky started his cooking career in several international restaurant chains where he specialized in Western cuisine. In the early 2000s, he moved to Bali and opened a Western-style restaurant that became a success. From there, Ricky became acquainted with chefs from all over the world and others in the restaurant industry. He moved again, this time to at a restaurant in New Zealand. One day, his German boss resigned from his position to take a job at an expedition ship which routinely visited Antarctica. This, and another friend who owned a ship, changed Ricky's life forever.
“I sailed with him several times," Ricky tells me. "I said yes when he offered me to go on a Carribean-New Zealand trip. I became addicted to sailing from there. I don’t care what kind of boat it is. Sailing ships, fishing boats, canoes, I like them all. I love everything about the sea.”
Between New Zealand and the Caribbean, they stopped in 16 countries in eight months. Then he got reminded of his former boss who worked for expedition ship to Antarctica. So Ricky mustered all the courage he had and applied for the same job. In 2015, he was accepted to work at a expedition ship, though it didn't go to Antartica.
His first expedition was with a logistics company that often anchored in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. After a year, Ricky finally got the opportunity to be a chef in expedition ship that traveled from the Arctic to Antarctica.
“Our office was in the Antarctica peninsula, sometimes we went to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands," he says.
Every day, Ricky cooked various foods for the crew members no matter the weather or current. He became used to cooking while the ship was being tossed around by waves, and in sub-zero temperatures. He became addicted to the adrenaline rush. Once, during his time off, Ricky accepted an invitation to sail to the South Pole. It was difficult to say no.
During the Antartica expedition, Ricky made it a point to cook more than just Western food. He vowed to cook more Indonesian dishes after a judge in a cooking competition in New Zealand told him to. He won silver in the competition, but he received a lot of criticism for his dish. “Ricky, you’re stupid,” he remembers the judge saying. “You’re Indonesian, but you cooked our food. Why? If you had cooked something that was influenced by the Indonesian cuisine, you would have won."
The route of the expedition ship covered the north to the south of the world. In total, he spent 50 days in the ocean, stopping only for a short period of time in small countries that you can't fly to, like St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Cabo Verde, and South Georgia.
His dream job ended in 2017. After two years of traveling from the North Pole to the South Pole, Ricky decided to return to his homeland. He still works as a chef and focuses on getting Indonesian and Asian cuisine recognized worldwide.
On top of that, he's trying to pass on his love for the sea to other Indonesians. Ricky was frustrated with how polluted the beaches in Indonesia were, so after he landed home, he started Oclean, a tourism and environmental awareness campaign. Nowadays, he takes people to remote areas in the country, like Panaitan or Anak Krakatau Island, where they work with locals to clean up beaches.
“It’s funny actually, they pay for the trip, but I tell them to pick up litter,” he says.
Besides Oclean, he has a project where he teaches people to build ships and cook on sailing trips. He gives out little-known hacks, like how you should boil potatoes in seawater. “The salt content in seawater is perfect," he tells me.
He's hoping to create more eco-tourism projects like these in the future, he says, where adventures meet cooking.
“Cooking and food are always important elements in my projects.”
Dea Karina is a freelance journalist who balances her time between Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Follow her on Twitter.