When Bone Kettle restaurant opened on North Raymond Avenue in late February, Arroyoland got its first taste of two standouts in the foodie firmament:
One is Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, who’s been hailed for his extraordinary Asian fusion flavors. The other is bone broth, the chef’s latest iteration of his Indonesian heritage and a current food trend that’s gone mainstream because of its touted health benefits and psyche-soothing rewards.
But Chef Erwin’s passion for bone broth has nothing to do with trends, he told Arroyo Monthly. “I grew up with it, have always watched my mother making it,” he says. “It’s an Asian thing with a lot of health benefits. I think it’s better than coffee to start the day. Or any time. It has a lot of collagen, vitamins, nutrients.” Erwin left his Indonesian homeland at age 8 and hadn’t been back in more than 20 years until a recent trip through Southeast Asia. When he returned, he says, he “couldn’t shake the smells and tastes of the bone broths I encountered there.” Far from a fad, he said, bone broth is ancient and enduring, and he opened Bone Kettle as a means to “bridge the ocean’s divide between my heritage and the Southern California community,” which has nourished his own life in so many ways. More about his accomplishments later.
First, the broth, which you may know as soup stock, pure and simple. It’s made by boiling bones for umpteen hours to release the nutrients: protein, vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin. Call it brodo (Italian), bouillion (French), broth or stock. They’re all the same, according to experts. But (and this is essential), not all bone broths are created equal. The quality of the bones and other ingredients, the boiling method, the added spices and herbs and the cooking time all make a difference between the packaged bone broths on supermarket shelves and those produced lovingly at home or by a meticulous chef.
Chef Erwin says he follows an ancient Korean method, starting with “the highest quality femur bones from cows”; he boils them with onions, garlic, ginger and a secret blend of spices and herbs in 120-gallon vats for 42 hours. “We start boiling during the day, continue all night and we add more filtered water when we come in in the morning,” he says.
But Bone Kettle isn’t just about broth, he adds. Take a look at the menu on bonekettle.com for a tempting selection of “traditional East Java style shareable small plates executed with French techniques and premium locally sourced ingredients.” Try the Indonesian corn hush puppies with a sweet chili reduction for $9, or stick with a simple beef bone broth and noodle dish, an $11 staple. Tjahyadi’s cuisine prompted Zagat to name him one of 30 top chefs under 30 in 2014, when he was 28.
The chef has strong ties to the San Gabriel Valley, he says. He grew up in Montebello, graduated “with honors” from Pasadena’s now-closed Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and launched his career apprenticing with Wolfgang Puck. He then worked under Chef Trey Foshee at La Jolla’s prestigious George’s at the Cove restaurant and went on to become lead cook at the Hotel Bel-Air.
In 2009, during the great recession, he and a friend decided to go out on their own, launching a Westside gourmet food-truck business they called Komodo, after Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard species, native to Indonesia. That was before the food-truck explosion, but even after the burgeoning scene arrived, a Thrillist food critic said Komodo “stands apart” from other trucks for its unusual quality and flavor creativity. Tjahyadi’s reputation went national in 2012, when Smithsonian magazine named Komodo one of the 20 best food trucks in America, citing its “mastermind” chef ‘s exquisite Indonesian specialties. Tjahyadi opened a brick-and-mortar Komodo restaurant in Pico-Robertson a year after he started food-trucking and later expanded to a second location, in Venice.
With two successful restaurants on the Westside, why open this one in Pasadena? “It’s near where I live, in Monterey Park,” he says, “and I have so many good ties to Pasadena.” Another incentive, he adds, was the San Gabriel Valley’s large Asian population, a natural audience for his menu.
While Tjahyadi knew about the charms of bone broth as a child, the stock only recently soared in popularity nationwide, with no particular ethnicity accounting for it. The trend began in 2014, when New York Chef Marco Canora started selling his version of brodo by the cup from a small window in Hearth, his East Village restaurant. It was a sellout, especially since the James Beard Award–winning chef claimed to have revitalized his own health by including the broth in his diet. Broth mania went viral, and health claims for its powers soared; it was said to reduce inflammation, regenerate internal organs, rejuvenate skin, nails and hair, and enhance immunity to colds and other illnesses.
By the time that trend peaked, bone broth had gone mainstream, and commercially packaged versions can now be found everywhere from Whole Foods to WalMart. Food experts say the mass-produced packaged broth bears little relation to the product created lovingly at home with only fine, fresh ingredients or in the relatively few restaurants that spend the time and money to make the purest broth from the best ingredients in the time-honored (and time-consuming) way. Many canned or boxed bone broths contain added sodium, sugar, artificial colorings or colorings, and the quality of basic ingredients can be less than top-notch.
Of course, Chef Erwin is right about bone broth’s ancient lineage. It’s been around as long as humans have cooked with fire. Chinese medics prescribed it more than 2,500 years ago to support digestive health, as a blood builder and to strengthen kidneys. In 12th-century Egypt, physician/philosopher Moses Maimonides was said to prescribe chicken soup as a remedy for colds and asthma — and to this day, chicken soup is sometimes known as “Jewish penicillin” for its powers to calm colds and flus. A 2000 study published in Chest, the official journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, bolstered that contention. Researchers found that patients who consumed chicken soup “seem to experience a mild reduction in inflammation that helped reduce symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection.” Even experts who say the benefits have been overblown acknowledge that it might have some healthful advantages.
A small but growing number of advocates have even started sipping bone broth instead of coffee as their morning and work-break drink of choice — but Starbuck’s needn’t worry yet. “You feel better when you drink it rather than coffee,” Chef Erwin says. And, always thinking ahead, he plans to bottle and distribute his Bone Kettle version in mason jars within a year or so. “It’s perishable and it will be fresh, and have instructions along with it,” he says. “Nothing boxed, canned or frozen would be as good.”