The Chef's Table

This Is Wiltshire: The Chef's Table The Chef's Table

When did you first take an interest in cooking, and when did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

I am from humble origins and had to work from an early age to enjoy life’s luxuries. In fact, I got my first pay packet when I was 11! It amounted to 12.5 Dutch Guilders for a morning’s washing up in a small restaurant.

I still remember the owner, Paul Veerman handing it to me.

After six months, at the age of 12, I ended up calling the shots in the kitchen some days when the owner was busy elsewhere. I was in my element and loved every minute of it!

Sadly, at the cocky age of 13, I reckoned I could do better than Paul Veerman and we fell out.

I worked my way around all the local restaurants in Soest, and that was it. I was hooked on catering.

Where did you do your training?

I went to Hotel School in Amsterdam after finishing secondary education. And that was the best thing I ever did. Walking into the catering industry with a solid education and an Hotel School diploma enabled me to travel, party, work for a living and learn at the same time.

While at Hotel School I travelled Europe and North Africa with friends and ended up working in kitchens in Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, Germany, Austria and a few other places. Few of them were of great culinary standards but they taught me how to cook with local flavours and flair.

One particular thing I learned whilst travelling; simple, cheap and humble ingredients make as good a dish as foie gras or caviar.

I regularly hear chefs shouting about needing the best ingredients possible. They are prima donnas! My mantra is that a good chef can cook fantastic food with simple ingredients.

How would you describe the style of food served in your restaurant?

Simple ingredients with flair and a little “pomp and circumstance” added for occasions.

My menu changes daily and depends on the food I can buy at a good price. Because of that my food is fresh, seasonal and, where possible, cooked with locally sourced ingredients.

Do you have a signature dish? If so, what?

My favourite is ‘Selle de gibier a la Alsacienne’. It’s what I eat at Christmas because I cannot stand turkey! In plain English it is roasted venison saddle with sauer kraut, sausages, chestnuts and grand verneur sauce. Sadly, I can only cook it occasionally as it is a dish best suited for special (expensive) occasions. It looks spectacular and tastes even better.

Another favourite is pig’s liver with colcannon, caramelised onion, bacon and red wine gravy; cheap, cheerful and mouth watering. Just make sure not to overcook the liver. It must be pink on the inside.

And pancakes, pancakes, pancakes! I just love the smiles on my young customers’ faces when they come for pancakes. One day I will sell my hotel and open a pancake restaurant just for kids!

What would you order from your own menu?

After pancakes, anything! I will only cook and put on the menu what I like and what I think my customers might like.

Your favourite vegetable, and why?

Chicory; great as a salad. But do not wash it with water, it will become bitter to taste. Just peel away the outer leaves. Get yourself some (cheap) Bavarian cured ham from Lidl, wrap it around half a chicory, grate on heaps of cheap Cheddar, drown it in double cream, microwave for four minutes and grill for three minutes under a very hot grill. Served with proper thin crispy frites (chips to you British!).

And favourite dessert?

I can only give one answer – Karen’s bread and butter pudding. Any other answer would be death, divorce or both! However, I do like pancakes better. Just don’t tell my wife!

Do you cook a lot at home? What sort of food?

Of course! An Englishman’s home is his castle and a Dutch chef’s home is his hotel! My last day off was three years ago.

Where else locally do you like to eat?

Either Chinese from The Chinese Meal Express in Wootton Bassett or the Pear Tree at Purton.

Alan’s food is second to none and Francis produces the most wonderful wine in his own vineyard.

Why should people come to School House Hotel and restaurant?

Different food, daily changing menu, down-to-earth service, fair prices and pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!

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