The route from being an engineer to becoming a chef.
You are from Netherland. How did you start working in this industry?
The town where I was born was a port town, and agriculture industry was also thriving then. My grandparents ran a seafood restaurant by the seashore, so I was helping out by deshelling the prawns or doing simple kitchen chores together with my sisters and cousins.
But the reason for me to enter this industry was not that I wanted to be a chef, I became one by chance. I like logical things, so I was thinking of following my father’s path to becoming an engineer. I entered the university to study engineering and I did part-time work at a restaurant’s kitchen on weekends to earn some pocket money.
I had to peel the vegetables and cut the fishes at work. I had a bit of experience at my grandparents’ restaurant, so I understood instructions and executed them very fast and well. Sometimes, I was even asked “have you done such work before?” and that made me overconfident. Young people tend to become overconfident, I was the same.
When someone fell sick, I did stand-in, and I eventually began working every day and stopped going to the university.
So, you were fascinated by the culinary world?
Yes, the restaurant itself was an amazing place. It was a famous 1 Michelin-starred restaurant named Château Neercanne Maastricht lead by Chef Hans Snijders who had worked in France before. The restaurant still kept the Michelin star today, so I think it should be the oldest restaurant that kept a Michelin star in Netherland.
Cooking French cuisine in Netherland as a starting point and awarded “Young Chef of the Year” at the age of 18.
The kitchen was so exciting. Discipline, preciseness, putting together the things people want and leading them to the same goal. Everything took my breath away. I thought I wanted to be a part of this. Hans taught me the basic skills, so he is one of my mentors.
Then you stepped into a tougher world for career enhancement.
Yes, after I worked here for 1 year, I moved to a 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Corona, when I was 16 years old. The life there was so tough that it actually shaped a part of my character. The chef was Robert Kranenborg who later appeared often on TV later on. At that time, in Netherland, it was the golden days of traditional French cuisine. Robert had his training at a 3 Michelin starred restaurant in France. He paid attention to details and had lots of ideas. His standard was very high and thus it was tough, both physically and mentally. However, I preferred this system much more than the one before. The previous kitchen was more casual and friendly, but over here, there was a hierarchy like in the army.
When we had our staff meal on the same table, the head chef sits in the center and senior chefs sit beside him on both sides. If you’re a newcomer, you need to sit at the end of the table.
I worked there for 3 years and the final year was a big challenge for me. With Robert’s Support, I joined the competition called “Golden Chef Hat”. The participants are usually the head chef (Chef de Cuisine) or second rank chefs, but at that time, I was only in the third rank. With that, I won the competition “Chef of the Year”.
This success brought you further.
Yes, just after that, Robert got a job offer from Amstel Hotel and he accepted it. Then, Robert said to me, “I want you to work with me, but if I were you, I would go to France for career enhancement”. That made me determined to go France.