As a young Belgian man, Alain Cornil had to make a decision. He eventually chose to pack up his bags and headed over to a developing country – Indonesia – in 1987.
Since then, Alain hasn’t been back to Belgium and has embraced a new life in Jakarta, even becoming an Indonesian citizen. Indonesia Expat had a lovely chat with Alain in which he shared his major career change and his love of this country.
Please state your nationality and the number of years you’ve stayed in Indonesia.
I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium until I came to Jakarta in 1987 to work in the construction industry. Not long from that, I started a new career in the restaurant business, running KOI restaurant, and also taking care of the kitchen supply for some well-known restaurants in Jakarta, like Loewy and Cork & Screw at Pacific Place and Plaza Indonesia. Answering your question; originally, I was Belgian, but then I changed my nationality four years ago to become Indonesian.
Alain, please tell us about yourself.
I lived in Belgium until 1987 when I finally moved to Indonesia, and I have been in Indonesia since then. I’m a civil engineer by background and had been working in the construction industry for 11 years until the financial crisis hit us in 1997. At that time, my sub-contracting business stopped and that’s when we changed the KOI concept into combining a restaurant and local furniture.
What brought you to Indonesia?
At that time, all young Belgian men had two choices – you have to do one year of compulsory military service or have the possibility to work in a developing country for two years. The plan was to stay in Indonesia for just two years and then go back to Belgium. Obviously, the plan changed.
Has anything surprised you since you first moved to Indonesia? And what have you grown to love?
I fell in love with the people. Their kindness and smiles are just amazing! And to me, positive vibes like that are so contagious. There’s no better way to start the day than being greeted by lots of smiles.
What have you become accustomed to since living in Indonesia?
Coming from a European country to this paradise, I think I’ve had to make various adjustments in life, which is very understandable and necessary. Jakarta is still a mystery for me, and the most difficult part was to get accustomed to its traffic. Most of my schedule is greatly influenced by the traffic situation and I try to avoid being on the road during rush hours.
What are you busy with these days?
Since last year, we were already busy with a grand plan to open our new restaurant in the golden area of Mega Kuningan. The original opening date was 15th April this year, but the unfortunate pandemic situation has changed that. Now, we have been waiting for more than one month to see the end of the lockdown. We’ll open as soon as the government makes an official announcement on this current situation. (KOI opened in the meantime)
As someone who’s been in the food and beverage industry for quite some time, what are your thoughts of it in Indonesia?
The food and beverage industry has evolved so much in the last 20 years both in choices that are available and the quality. I believe the business has become extremely competitive which is great for customers but makes our business very challenging.
Being the owner of KOI, this restaurant is already visited and enjoyed by many people in Kemang and Mahakam, Blok M. Is another one opening in Jakarta soon?
The first KOI opened more than 20 years ago in Jalan Mahakam, followed by KOI Kemang five years later. The third one opened in TB Simatupang in 2018. The newest KOI will be in the prestigious area of Mega Kuningan, which was originally ready to open for the public on 15th April, but the lockdown has delayed the opening. Hopefully, we will be allowed to serve you again in June.
How would you describe KOI?
KOI is a relaxed place where people can hang out from morning to evening. Our menu offers a large variety of European brasserie dishes as well as some of Indonesia’s favourite cuisines with local ingredients. All of these are served in a décor using only local furniture made mainly out of recycled teak wood.
With the coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia, how has KOI maintained operations at the moment? Would you consider following these new adjustments when all economic sectors are allowed to fully operate again?
Basically, we maintained operations by providing take-away and delivery services only. Unfortunately, because of this particular situation, we have to take a few necessary actions regarding our staff. Some have had to take unpaid leave. We’ve also had to apply stricter rules and guidelines for our staff, such as all of our staff must now wear masks and kitchen staff have to work with gloves.
How will KOI ensure customers’ safety and comfort even when Indonesia has been declared free of the coronavirus?
What matters the most for me and us in KOI is the safety of all, including the guests. In addition to the strict staff procedures, we will ensure that the tables are arranged in such a way as to meet the qualifications set by the government regarding safe distancing to prevent contamination between guests. All tables and menus will be sanitised after use, and we will follow any requirements from the government if they require us to take additional measures.
What are the three things that interest you the most in life?
Good food, sports, and travel for pleasure.
Mention three activities you’d love to do in Indonesia or anywhere in the world once this pandemic is over.
Having a long-overdue haircut, go on a long diving trip in Indonesia, and go back to Australia to watch the Australian Tennis Open.