Sergio Herman's three-star restaurant Oud Sluis put Zeeland firmly on the culinary map. And the Zeeland heritage lives on in the many young top chefs who trained there, including Syrco Bakker and Zoë Lensen.
Syrco: 'I started off washing dishes in a restaurant and was curious about everything the chef was doing. I watched and was allowed to help, getting further and further each time.'
Zoë: 'My grandfather and mother loved cooking, so everything revolved around food in our house. It was a logical step to go on and train as a chef.'
Syrco: 'The desire for perfection, to always take things one step further. I learned a huge amount and was given plenty of opportunities. For example, I got to take charge of the kitchen in Sergio's new restaurant, Pure C. I didn't think about it too long, I just went for it. And of course it didn't all run smoothly right away, but that's how you learn! And in turn, I always try to give my students room to develop too.'
Zoë: 'At Oud Sluis I learned the power of perseverance and that if you want something, you should always go for it and never give up. That turned out to be a very valuable lesson.'
Oud Sluis was a true breeding ground for talented young chefs. After training in Zeeland, they ended up all over the world and are now cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants such as The Jane (Antwerp), Pauly Saal (Berlin), Werneckhof by Geisel (Munich), Bacchanalia (Singapore) and Pure C (Cadzand-Bad).
In June 2018, 18 ‘alumni’ returned to Zeeland to cook together at FoodFest Zeeland, an annual culinary festival initiated by Sergio Herman and Syrco Bakker, among others. By means of the event, they aim to draw the attention of the general public to the high level of culinary Zeeland, from the wonderful ingredients to the Michelin-starred restaurants and talented chefs. In brief: the best of Zeeland on your plate.
“I want people to feel at home”Zoë Lensen
Syrco: 'Zeelandic Flanders is a rich and fertile environment which offers some wonderful products. I therefore prefer to cook with regional products from suppliers I know well. The menu changes with the season. But everything from the sea is still my favourite. At Pure C, the environment is reflected on your plate, you really do taste the best of Zeeland.'
Zoë: 'Cooking with the seasons is also very important for me. Vegetables play a starring role on the menu – they are delicious and help to keep our prices affordable. At Sal do Mar we serve small plates, because of my own preference for small portions and also because I want guests to taste as many different dishes as possible.'
“You have to taste the local area”Syrco Bakker
Zoë: 'I gain inspiration from everything I see, smell or taste. That's why I always carry a notebook with me, so I can write down my ideas. Every couple of months, I turn them into new dishes.'
Syrco: 'Walking or driving through nature often leads to some great ideas. For example, I once created a dish which was inspired by the Zwin nature reserve. On the plate, you find all the elements which become visible in the region during low tide: shellfish, algae and seaweed. The vinaigrette is served separately, so you can make your own high tide.'
Syrco: 'Eating out should be an experience, everything must come together and must be right: the food, the interior but also the service. The latter in particular is always underrated. Chefs are viewed as rock stars but good service is an art too!'
Zoë: 'I completely agree. The food must be of the highest level every single time, but the atmosphere has to be right too. I want people to feel at home.'
Zoë: 'There's still so much scope to develop Sal do Mar – this is what I want to focus on in the years ahead, as well as training our own staff. After all, good chefs and friendly waiting staff are rare. I hope that more young people will choose this great profession!'
Syrco: 'I'm originally from Brabant, but now I feel completely at home here. I have the best of both worlds: the beach and the dunes right outside my door and the big cities in Belgium just around the corner. And the very best ingredients to cook with, which we also highlight during the annual culinary festival FoodFest Zeeland. What more could you want?'