We’re sitting in an empty restaurant. Sergio is drinking a few coffees. He’s impeccably dressed as usual in a Lanvin top, Balenciaga bag and another new pair of trainers.
Have I had an influence on Dutch gastronomy? No idea. I’ve never stopped to think about it. No time. I’ve always stuck to my own little cocoon. It’s always been a matter of putting my thoughts to paper and slapping them on to the plate. Trying to improve without ever looking before I leapt. There’s really no point in thinking about who you might or might not be influencing. What is? Well, to keep on grafting. Give it your all, no matter how fucked-up your are. That’s the Zealand spirit that my father drilled into me.
What I do hope is that I’ve inspired people. That’s what I want to keep on doing. I still feel youthful in my mind but step by step I am heading towards fifty. That doesn’t mean that I’m turning into an old codger. At least I hope not. That’s why I always work with young people, they force me to keep up with things. Twitter, Facebook… they make me sick really. But I have to do it – keep up – so I can keep on being inspirational with all the stuff I’ll be doing next.
Anyway, there’s a new generation waiting in the wings with new ideas and other reference points – particularly in Belgium. I don’t know about Holland. When I look back over my shoulder there’s little over here that makes me sit up and take notice. Jonnie Boer, Hans van Wolde and me: we made things happen in Holland… We did things that nobody else even attempted. I see less of that now. Things have changed, of course. The profession has lost its stuffy image, food has become huge. That’s great, of course, but it has a downside: the profession has become romanticised. But you mustn’t romanticise it as a young chef. Cooking at the highest level is extremely hard and you usually only find out when you’re right in the middle of it.
D’you know what it is? Cooking at a three-star level is not just a matter of making a good dish and greeting your customers. You have to be a team player and a coach, motivate your team, be creative, have guts and courage, invest in your own style and be enterprising. You have to be talented but you also need to have drive and perseverance. And you must be able to deal with setbacks: turn negatives into positives. That’s a lot of qualities you need to possess. And on top of that you need a good home front that thinks like you, feels for you and understands you. Only when all these factors areright can you get very far.
The problem with the new generation of chefs is that they often want to start at a high level straightaway. Oud Sluis started out as an easygoing family restaurant, and De Librije wasn’t the top restaurant it is now either. It’s unthinkable. But because the hype around food is so much bigger now everything has changed: now, you’re given plenty of attention by bloggers and glossies when you’ve worked at a top restaurant for a few years and are starting out on your own. Before you have even plated your first dish speculation is rife about your chances of a Michelin star. And because of all the media attention people are queueing up to dine at your place. So there’s no chance for you to grow quietly, you’re afraid to put simple dishes on the menu and expectations run so high that the only outcome for you is to fall flat on your face. That’s logical because most of these lads have too little baggage. When you leave catering college you really know nothing. And after two years in a kitchen somewhere you still know nothing. How should you do it then? By going through every section in the kitchen, laying down a good foundation, falling flat on your face, going down and being in the shit so badly that you lie awake about it. That’s a long process. What’s more: that process is still going on for me. How often am I in the shit? Well, every day.
Read more about Sergio.
The bad news: the book was sold out 24 hours after the release.
The good news: there will be a re-edition of the small book (the one with all the interviews), which will be released mid august in both Dutch and English.