Jasmin Ayling recently left Wagamama’s as Head of Food innovation to start her own street food business, Rendang + Rice in Camden’s Buck Street Market. Cooking up a storm using her family’s recipes, Jasmin’s forward-thinking menu is inspired by her Indonesian heritage, along with her own modern interpretations on classic dishes. We chatted to Jasmin about starting out, her commitment to sustainability and plant-based options, and her new North London digs:

Tell us about your journey to opening your first brick and mortar site?

I have been interested in food and cooking from as long as I can remember. The Eastern part of my family culture has instilled a bit of a food obsession in my life. I have memories of helping my Indonesian grandma, mum and aunties cooking; spending hours meticulously chopping vegetables and stirring big pots of delicious Indonesian food. I think I knew I wanted to open a restaurant when I moved out of my family home. When I left I realised just how incredible my family’s food is and how special Indonesian food is.

I struggled to find Indonesian food in London and I just couldn’t understand why there was no representation of this amazing food. I have been lucky enough to travel and eat at some really nice places but there is little food that compares to my family’s Indonesian food. I’ve cooked it for friends and my boyfriend and the response is always really positive. I’ve always worked in hospitality and I am passionate about the industry and last year I challenged my culinary skills and went on MasterChef and cooked Indonesian food. The response to my redang was amazing and that’s when I knew I was onto something special. At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost my job and I saw this as an opportunity to take the plunge start my own thing.

Why Rendang + Rice?

I cooked rendang for my boyfriend for the first time a few years ago and he was blown away. I then started cooking it for other people and the response was the same. Rendang is known as the ‘kind of curries’ and yet, despite being a nation of curry lovers, it has little presence here. It’s a dish that takes hours to prepare and I wanted to be able to offer people something that would be really difficult to create at home. And the rice part, well rice is an absolute staple in the Indonesian diet and you’ll find it served as part of every meal.

How important is your Indonesian heritage for inspiration for your meals?

My Indonesian heritage is at the core of Rendang + Rice. The Indonesian food culture has driven my passion and obsession towards food. I use all the ingredients my grandma and mum would use but have adapted the cooking method to scale up the food. I serve the rendang in a traditional way, with rice, homemade ‘sambal’ and cucumber but also in a way that appeals to a bigger audience; in bao buns. I really want people to be transported to a tropical place when eating my food

Where else do you find your inspiration for your dishes?

I have been really lucky to eat at some amazing restaurants and I’ve been able to travel which has undoubtedly inspired me. London is the place to try new food and I guess this has inspired my concept, but I also have some very foodie friends, family who give me feedback and ideas and my boyfriend who has tasted my food over and over again and given me great ideas and constructive feedback! I love so many different cuisines and I think that’s clear from some of the dishes on my menu

How do you balance tradition and innovation in your menu?

Innovation was super important when developing the menu for Rendang + Rice. As much as I wanted to keep things traditional, I knew I needed to cater to a bigger audience and especially in the “Instagram” generation we live in now where taking a photo of some amazing food is almost more important than the flavour of the food. This is why you can find the traditional rendang on my menu served with rice but also the bao buns. We have a version of ‘bao’ in Indonesia – ‘bapao’. I just knew I had to put the rendang in the bao buns because of the popularity of ‘bao’. I have also worked really hard to make 50% of the menu plant-based.

You would never find a ‘pulled king oyster mushroom’ rendang in Indonesia but after experimenting with lots of vegetables and plant-based proteins, this was the best and most flavoursome recipe. I also wanted a touch of playfulness on the menu hence the sweet ‘bao-nut’ or bao doughnuts. I have two versions, the ‘speculoos’ one is delicious and the homemade ice cream has been inspired by an Indonesian spiced cake called ‘spekkoek’. There is inspiration from Indonesia in every recipe on the menu.

Why did you choose Buck Street Market for your first brick and mortar site?

I have lived in Camden for the past four years and the culture here is so vibrant and lively, it’s a bit of a melting pot of cultures and usually busy with tourists and known for street food. When I read about an eco-market opening I really wanted to be part of it.

Why is sustainability important for you?

We only have one planet and we all have a responsibility to work to protect it. Having rendang at the heart of the concept meant I had to have beef on the menu but I know how crappy the beef industry is. It was therefore really important for me to find a supplier who promotes sustainable farming which is why the beef I use is from small family-run farms in the UK. The cattle are free-roaming and grass-fed and live longer than the average and slaughtered in a more humane way. I have also made sure that half of the menu is plant-based and all food is served in eco-packaging. My drinks are canned and I avoid single-use plastics. I want to continue to do more to promote sustainability through Rendang + Rice. Not just limited to environmental efforts but also by helping the community, providing opportunities for people and promoting more diversity in the workplace.

Are there plans for more sites to open – will you always celebrate your Indonesian heritage in your future plans?

I would LOVE to open more restaurants, it is my dream to have a restaurant dedicated to Indonesian food that showcases lots of different traditional dishes. I have a book full of delicious recipes that I know the food scene is ready for – I just need to make Rendang + Rice a success first!

How do you balance work/life?

This is something I have always struggled with and more so now with my own business but it’s really important for me to enjoy life outside of work. I’ve booked a date night, planned a night out with friends and I’ve been talking about travel plans for next year when it’s safe to hop on a plane again. I can’t wait for a holiday! I also have Mondays off so I am trying really hard to protect that as a non-work day too – it takes real discipline!

How do you like to switch off from work? 

Before opening a restaurant I would have said cooking! I still love to cook, being in the kitchen is my happy place. I would love to say it’s exercise but honestly…My boyfriend and I recently got a little rescue dog so I love nothing more than chilling out with them, kicking back and watching a good series on Netflix.