Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Amateur or professional chef?!

Why don't I start cooking professionally? As in; quitting my day-job and doing what I like most.
I asked myself this question many times in the past few years.
Well as I know now; it's so much more than just cooking!

I was one of the 18 lucky people who got the chance to experience a whole day in the restaurant 'In de Keuken van Floris' (translated as: In Floris' Kitchen).  On the occasion of the World Food Festival weeks in Rotterdam from Wednesday 18th September until Friday 25th October 2013,  they offered a one-day internship in their professional kitchen.

I had dinner in this restaurant before and I loved the concept, the food and the wines.
The concept: The beautiful and modern kitchen is standing in the middle of the restaurant and all the guests
(a maximum of approximately 40) are sitting around it. There is only one 9-course menu, the same for everyone, which you can choose to be completely vegetarian. It starts at 19.00 pm and everyone is served the same dishes at the same time.
On quiet evenings chef Floris Versluijs, sous chef Mathieu Roza and sommelier Mathijs Struik run the restaurant themselves. When fully booked there is some extra help called in.

An impression of the restaurant; kitchen in the middle and tables around it

The food: The chef is cooking what he likes; and these are not the most simple dishes. Floris did internships in world famous restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen and Alinea in Chicago. He has his own touch and is constantly thinking about new ideas and experimenting with things he finds in nature. And I really love the fact that he is cooking a lot with (less known) vegetables. Absolutely delicious and inspiring.

The wines: Off course on the day I worked there I did not have any of the wines served with the food. But I still remember the Champagne we had during our last visit in 2012. It was something I had never tasted before: Champagne with the taste of a sweet sherry! (Michel Gonet 2004, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Brut) This was during the Champagne flight we ordered before the dinner started. If you choose the wine pairing menu there will be served a matching wine with every dish. And they have also thought about the people who don't drink alcohol.  For those there is the choice of a juice pairing menu, with homemade juices.

So there I was, Wednesday morning 11.00 am,  ready to watch and learn.
And I learnt a lot;
- how they remember which guest has which allergy (counting clockwise)
- about 'French' mushrooms and melons ;-)
- that if a table of four leaves because they don't like their place in the restaurant there is more to taste for the staff (lucky me!)
- but that it also means a big loss of revenue (while costs are already made and the table is empty for the rest of the night)
- about working 14 hours a day with just two short breaks to eat something (and drinking lots and lots of espressos!)
- puzzling with space
- about vacuuming food and preparing it 'sous-vide'
- about negotiating with suppliers about just a few cents
- about the fact that Black Grouse birds have a penetrating odor
- and that you can still taste this terrible smell once it's prepared (as you probably figured this was not my favorite dish)
- that there is really no time to do some nice food photography during the service.

Some of these things are just really nice to know, for any chef.
But a lot of it you just don't have to worry about as an amateur chef.
If it's your hobby you just cook for fun. Because you like to cook, not because you have to earn a living out of it. Even if you master the same techniques and are able to cook on the same level as a professional chef, that is the big difference.

I have a deep respect for all professional chefs working on this level; continue to develop new dishes, new combinations and new techniques every day. In the meanwhile cooking for their guests plus dealing with A LOT of other stuff!

But besides the fact that cooking for a living is so much more than just cooking. Maybe even more important to me for choosing not to follow my passion, is that my current job gives me the opportunity to take a long time of to travel. And guarantees me that I still have a job when I come back.
Because if there is anything in the world I love as much as cooking it's travelling!

It was great to have this experience; I would definitely do it again if I get the chance. Although I've been cooking for many years there is no better and faster way to learn than in a professional kitchen.
To answer the first question; I really wonder if I would still be as passionate and enthusiastic about it.

With Chef Floris & Sous Chef Mathieu after a 14 hour shift (and they were not ready yet)
During my 1-day internship there was really no time to take any food pictures. Luckily friends who had dinner in the restaurant that night took some action-pictures. To give an impression of the dishes that are served In de keuken van Floris I post a few pictures of my dinner in 2012.

Note to reader; when I applied for this one-day-job I applied as 'Ilona' not as 'Crazy Dutch Foodie'. 
I wanted to be chosen as someone with a passion for cooking not as someone who might write a nice blog about the restaurant and maybe would be treated differently. 

Amuse bouche 2012

Main dish 2012

Vegetarian dish with pasta, artichoke, dried olives, dried tomatoes and Parmesan

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Foodie destination: Groningen

My most popular blogpost is still the first one: Top 10 Typical Dutch Food to try.
Apparently more foodies are interested in what the Netherlands have to offer!
In addition to that here is an update with some of the local specialties from the province Groningen.

After travelling South & Central America for 8 months in 2011/2012 I realised that there were so many places in the Netherlands that I had not visited.
Besides a few visits to burgundy city Maastricht (with my all time favourite restaurant Beluga)  and an annually visit to Amsterdam, first on my list after graduation was Groningen. I was told it was a beautiful city with a relaxed and lively atmosphere; and it is indeed.
The city Groningen is the capital of the province with the same name.  It's located in the North East of the Netherlands and borders with the North Sea and Germany.

From Tilburg where I live it's 3 hours by train or 2,5 hours by car.  For Dutch concepts of 'far' this is really far away. But it was definitely worth the travel.

Typical delicacies from Groningen:

Groninger koek

The Groninger koek (translated as 'Cake from Groningen') is a sweet cake made of rye meal, honey or syrup and cakes spices. It's a variety on the Deventer koek (cake from the city Deventer in the province Overijssel).
There are different Groninger Koek flavours; with nuts, sucade or ginger. I tried the Groninger Fladderakkoek. I had to ask what it was because I never heard of it before but it tasted great.
'Fladderak' is a liquor style local drink from Groningen with lemon and cinnamon. The main ingredients in the cake with the same name were: ginger, orange and cinnamon. With crunchy cinnamon-sugar rounds on top.

Groningen Fladderakkoek from bakery Olinga with ginger, orange and crunchy cinnamon sugar

I bought one from bakery Olinga. They are making this local product since 1850 and are located in Bierum, a small village in the north of the province Groningen. It's expensive, € 7,- for one cake, but really good.
Moist, firm and full of flavour.
If you, like myself, are not visiting this little village I can recommend buying it at Het Hanze Huis. A lovely little shop full of imported fine food products from companies in Europe that were found over 100 years ago. And as an extra service the people working there can tell you all about it.
Another well visited place in Groningen city to buy Groninger koek is bakery Knol's Koek.

In the Netherlands we eat Groninger koek spread with butter as a treat with coffee or tea.

Machedoux goat cheese

Machedoux is a raw milk Camembert-style goat cheese. 
It's served on cheese plates in many Dutch top rated restaurants. 
The organic goat farm 'de Oude Streek' where the Machedoux cheese is made is in the province of Groningen. 
If you only visit Groningen city I can recommend you buying it at Cheese shop Van der Leij.  And while you're there make sure you taste some of their many other delicious cheeses.

Groninger mustard

A pretty spicy mustard with whole or coarsely ground mustard seeds. Delicious with Dutch bitterballen, Dutch cheese or to make Groninger Mustard Soup.

Groninger worst

Translated as 'Groninger sausage'. Also called 'Groninger metworst'. If you like cloves you will love this dried local pork sausage. For me the taste of cloves was a bit too much to eat it raw. But once fried a bit in a pan and served with zuurkoolstamppot (a dish of mashed potatoes and sauerkraut) it was much better.

Groninger metworst; a local dried sausage with cloves

More tips on local food from Groningen are always welcome; please leave a comment.

Next Foodie destination blog post will be Mallorca (Spain)!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Perfect Afternoon Tea?

I love to enjoy a nice afternoon tea once in a while. In the Netherlands it's mostly called 'High Tea' and apparently we are not the only country who does that.
Also the Lonely Planet wrote an article about the worlds best high tea's.

On this website I found an extensive explanation about the history of English afternoon tea, which is really interesting to read.
I never really realised that this English tradition is spread around the world and you can have excellent afternoon teas in many places. Definitely an extra activity for future culinary travels.

It's actually pretty popular to enjoy an afternoon tea, especially by women. Between 14.00 and 17.00 you will see a lot of women meet each other in a nice tea- or lunchroom, even on weekdays. Some places are so popular you have to make reservations way ahead! 
But what makes it so appealing? And what makes a perfect afternoon tea?
I decided to do some research.

In the last few years I have tried lots of them in different cafes and restaurants. Through all these experiences I became a bit of an afternoon tea critic. And although there were some really good afternoon tea's with perfect tea, food and service (like The Ritz in London).  There were also a lot less authentic experiences where either the food and tea were good but the service was bad.  Or the food was not suitable for a tea; like little lamb kebab with yoghurt or soup. And countless of afternoon teas where the food was not homemade and cheap tea bags were served…
It's so simple! And not even that expensive.  

This is not what you like to get served as tea during an afternoon tea

A perfect afternoon tea definitely has to include good quality loose leaf tea!
And with that I mean tea leaves served in a tea infuser. Preferably from different tea producing countries to choose from (Argentina is one I did not know).
Unfortunately I seldom get this served during an afternoon tea.
Most of the time it's just regular tea bags L
That's so disappointing, why would anyone want to drink regular (in the Netherlands we drink a lot of the Pickwick brand) teabags when they can have that at home or work all the time?

Besides good quality tea I also think unlimited tea should be included in the price.
It's crazy to pay a lot of money for an afternoon tea and then only be served one pot or cup.

Then on to the food; typically it consists of: sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries.  
For me that's perfect. Sometimes you get served soup and/ or a salad first. But that just doesn't blend with tea and has nothing to do with a traditional afternoon tea but more with a normal lunch. Although savoury snacks are not always included, a little quiche is a good balance for all the sweet stuff. They should be served with the sandwiches; savoury before sweet! 

Popular sandwich fillings are egg-salad, smoked salmon and cucumber. Although some variety is seen here with carpaccio, tasty (Cheddar) cheese or chickenbreast chutney-like fillings.  
The bread is traditionally white, thinly sliced, and buttered. The crust is cut away cleanly from the sandwich after the sandwich has been prepared, but before serving.
I prefer to taste different flavours of  'finger sandwiches' also known as 'tea sandwiches'. Those are just small portions of normal sandwiches.

Finger sandwiches, on different bread,  served at Ritz Hotel, London
Then on to the one item that makes or breaks the perfect afternoon tea; scones with jam and clotted cream! Without freshly baked scones accompanied by jam or lemon curd and clotted cream it's not the real thing. The Cornish clotted cream served in the Ritz Hotel was as thick as butter :- ). Unfortunately that kind of clotted cream is hard to find in the Netherlands. You can substitute with whipped double cream mixed with mascarpone. (Note to Dutch readers: some of the large Jumbo supermarkets do have clotted cream in their assortment!) 

And to finish the tea sweet pastries and cakes are served.  Whatever these are, from cakes to chocolates, 
I always really appreciate it if this part is also home made. Although some things can be perfectly bought at a good quality patissier or chocolatier. Lately I also see some delicious macarons and mini cupcakes in this part. 
Maybe not traditional,  but certainly makes it an extra festive moment, is serving a glass of Champagne or other sparkling wine at the start of an afternoon tea.

Any suggestions for a nice place to try an excellent afternoon tea, anywhere in the world, are always welcome; please leave a comment! 
Recipes to make a perfect afternoon tea at home follow in future blog posts.

Cookbook recommendation: 
* The Ritz London book of Afternoon Tea Including a great collection of their recipes.