Herlan Manurung became a chef for the stories. During his childhood in Sumatra, Indonesia, food was the center of his family’s social life: Once a month his extended family gathered together, with everyone bringing a dish to share. There were few set recipes and lots of innovation. An uncle might make a dish one month, and an aunt would bring something inspired by it the next. Manurung loved that creative, flexible style of cooking. He also loved the stories behind the food, especially how and why his family members cooked the way they did. Techniques and ingredients might be passed down the generations, many tied to memories of learning to cook from older relatives.

After attending culinary school in Indonesia and working in hotel kitchens, Manurung wanted more stories. He went to work on a cruise ship, where he worked his way up from chopping onions to learning the art of cooking. He met staff and guests from around the world, and then traveled on his own, visiting some 25 countries and learning about their culinary traditions. After meeting his wife, they ended up in Rochester, New York, where Manurung started working at the Rochester Institute of Technology. That was 18 years ago. Today, he’s a corporate executive chef.

Chef Herlan Manurung carves a melon to demonstrate the art of food preparation.
Chef Herlan Manurung carves a melon to demonstrate the art of food preparation.
RIT Marketing team

Manurung says the school’s students—many of whom are international—provide constant inspiration. He loves when students come to him and share stories of their favorite comfort meals, the ones that remind them of home, and give him ideas for new menu items. “Let’s recreate the story. Let’s make it here,” he tells them. They’ve made paneer masala inspired by students from India and bao buns inspired by students from China, and they’ve recreated a Dominican dish, La Bandera, which evokes the country’s flag. Not only do the students get to enjoy their comfort foods, but they can share them with friends and make new memories around them.

Lately, Manurung has been hearing another story: Students are asking for food with fewer animal products. The trend is clear, he says. Students want plant-based options to save animals, help the environment and improve their own health. Thanks to a new partnership with the Humane Society of the United States’ culinary team, RIT will meet that request, and they’ve set an ambitious goal: offering 50% plant-based options by 2025. Trainings with HSUS chefs will help Manurung’s team learn how to prepare animal-free meals and work with vegan ingredients—including tofu and tempeh, both traditionally used in Indonesian cooking and the stars of the curry Manurung shares here.

Manurung is excited for the next chapter of his story. “The future of the menu is plant-based,” he says.

Tempeh and Tofu Curry
Herlan Manurung
Rochester Institute of Technology

Tempeh and tofu curry 

Makes 8 servings


  • 8 oz. tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  • 8 oz. tempeh, cut into 1" cubes
  • 4 oz. (about ½ cup) broccoli florets, chopped
  • 4 oz. (about ½ cup) cauliflower florets, chopped
  • 4 oz. (about ½ cup) bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

For the curry sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz. (about 1/4 cup) chopped shallots
  • 1 oz. (about 2 tablespoons) minced garlic
  • ½ oz. (about 1 tablespoon) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • ½ oz. (about 1 tablespoon) galangal, peeled and chopped*
  • 2 oz. (about 1/2 cup) candlenuts*
  • ½ oz. (about 1 tablespoon) fresh turmeric root, peeled and minced*
  • ½ cup vegetable stock
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • Kosher salt to taste

*Available at Asian grocery stores, these ingredients will make for a more authentic Indonesian curry. You can omit them if needed.


1. Preheat oven to 375˚F and lightly oil a baking sheet. Toss cubed tofu and tempeh with oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 12-15 minutes, then set aside.

2. In the meantime, make the curry sauce base: In a blender, combine oil, shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, candlenuts and turmeric root and blend until smooth.

3. Heat a pan on medium-high for 1 minute. Add blended curry sauce ingredients and sauté for 30 seconds. Add vegetable stock and mix well.

4. Add coconut milk and heat until the sauce begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium.

5. Add cauliflower, broccoli and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.

6. Add roasted tofu and tempeh and cook for another 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Season with salt to taste.

7. Serve with steamed white rice. (Manurung says that if a meal doesn’t contain rice, it’s just a snack!)

Per serving (assumes 8 servings, without rice): Calories: 194; fat: 14 g; protein: 11 g; carbohydrates: 11 g; sugar: 1.4 g; sodium: 226 mg

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