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Meet Erwin Tjahyadi, Chef At Komodo's, California

Chef Erwin outside the Komodo food truck. Photo Credit: Urban + Allen
Chef Erwin outside the Komodo food truck. Photo Credit: Urban + Allen
By mixing traditional French techniques with Asian fusion flavors, Chef Erwin Tjahyadi has garnered a huge fan base in L.A. with his food truck, Komodo. After his success on wheels, Tjahyadi opened the first Komodo brick and mortar restaurant on Pico, in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Pico-Robertson. Here, Tjahyadi lets The Culture Trip in on Komodo’s story, his approach to multicultural cuisine, and his favorite foods.
Chef Erwin Tjahyadi of Komodo. Photo Credit: Urban + Allen

How did you get into the restaurant business?

I received training from Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, where I earned my degree with highest honors. Subsequently, I started my professional career with an apprenticeship with the prolific Wolfgang Puck. I then studied under the guidance of Chef Trey Foshee at San Diego’s prestigious Georges at the Cove before completing a stint as lead cook at Hotel Bel-Air.

What led you to open Komodo, and why call it that?

I was working with friends at the Hotel Bel-Air, but we were furloughed due to a union dispute within the organization. Driven by our passion and love for food, we decided to create a mobile food concept that delivered a gourmet menu to consumers on the go. Luckily, we developed this during the height of the recession, when used food trucks were easily accessible, and that became the platform of the business.

In regards to the name, I am Indonesian, and my father grew up near the Komodo Island, where the majority of the Komodo dragons still exist today. The Komodo dragons in Indonesia are the largest lizard species in the world, a rare endangered species that is highly lethal. However, they have a weak sense of hearing and sight, so they explore their surroundings using their powerful sense of taste.

What’s next for you?

I’d like to expand the Komodo brand and locations further, I’m working on a cookbook, new food concepts outside of tacos, and other creative food collaborations.

What is your favorite restaurant?

Salt Lick BBQ in Austin. The smell of the charcoal is permanently affixed to the walls, the menu is simple yet satisfying, and there’s so much earnestness in the service, presentation, and flavors. Salt Lick is 45 minutes away from all the action in Austin but worth the drive and most definitely worth the wait. The briskets are cooked to perfection, and the sauces used are unbelievable; it reminds me of how much I love barbecue and Southern cooking.

Chef Erwin busy in the kitchen. Photo Credit: Urban + Allen

How did you put together the menu?

I wanted to represent a melting pot of California’s multicultural and rich culinary heritage. A mix of street food influences, my penchant for Cali-Mexican cuisine, and my Southeast Asian background, Komodo brings the best of L.A.’s melting pot multicultural food inspirations to the masses. ‘No nonsense, accessible gourmet dishes’ is my mantra. We pride ourselves on having a diverse Asian fusion menu that appeals to the masses and foodies alike.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I’d be a bodybuilder. Being a chef taught me that great food requires great discipline and technique. It’s such a similar philosophy to bodybuilding, which to me is another form of self expression.

What is the most popular dish on your menu?

First has to be the Kimchi Nacho – fried corn tortilla nachos served with hot kimchi, bacon, chicken, green onions, sour cream, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, jalapeños, and Sriracha aioli (gluten-free, spicy). Some others include the Komodo 2.0 tacos, NasiGoreng, and Phorrito.

Chef Eriwn prepping at Komodo. Photo Credit: Urban + Allen

What dish could you eat over and over?

Being a fitness aficionado, I enjoy fresh ingredients paired with bold flavors. My go-to dish is the Komodo salmon plate with brown rice and a house salad. Don’t tell anyone, but I also sneak in truffle fries during cheat days.

Taco or Burrito?

Burrito.

Chicken, meat, or fish?

Meat.

Food truck or restaurant?

Restaurant.

Fine dining or fast casual?

Fast casual.

Salsa or Guac?

Guac.