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How a 77-Year-Old Indonesian Chef Opened a Restaurant During the Pandemic

Chef Siu Chen cooks around 300 boxes of Indonesian homestyle takeout per day, all on her own.

When Siu Chen got bored during the pandemic, the 77-year-old chef decided to start Medan Kitchen, a Los Angeles take-out restaurant serving up the Indonesian food she was cooking at home.

“I would just watch TV and sleep, I was afraid of going senile,” says Chen. “Now I’m happy and enthusiastic about cooking.”

At Medan Kitchen, Chen cooks everything herself and without a recipe, including favorites like fried chicken, lontong sayur, rendang, yellow rice, and more. Each day, she prepares around 300 boxes of takeout.

“I haven’t found anyone to help me cook, because it will taste different, and I’m afraid people will stop coming here,” she says.

Chen has found a community through her cooking, with the restaurant becoming popular through word of mouth, especially within the local Indonesian community.

“Indonesians here support me a lot,” says Chen. “They all like to eat what I cook.”

The chef started cooking when she was 17, after observe her mother as she made a combination of Chinese and Indonesian dishes. She remarks that “when I make lontong, emi, coconut rice, and yellow rice, it reminds me of [her]”

In addition to her mother’s cooking, Chen is also sharing the traditions of her home city of Medan. In her restaurant, she wraps yellow rice, rendang, fried chicken, tempeh, and shrimp paste chili in a banana leaf — an Indonesian takeout custom before boxing the meals.

At the front of the house, Chen gets help from her kids, her daughters-in-law, and grandkids, which allows her to focus on cooking meals.

“Now that my kids are here, I rarely go back to Indonesia. Anything I could want to eat is here,” says Chen. “I’m just happy that people like to eat what I cook.”

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