Conversation with Syrco Baker- 27-year’s old-head chef of Pure C in Cadzand (Holland).
How often do you think about food?
I work five days per week. I start at 9 a.m until 1 or 2 p.m. That time I am totally focused on food.
Do you remember the moment, when you thought: yes i want to dedicate my life for cooking.
I was 18 years old, and I had been always interested in food. That was a quick decision: I decided to become a chef. I still remember when I told that my parents. My father advised that I should always have to stick with the best- I mean with the best chefs, cooks, restaurateurs. Since that moment I completed several internships, also in Michelin-star restaurants.
What happened afterwards?
Studies, I was studying and training to become a chef.
How did it happen that you started your cooperation with Sergio Herman?
I had been working in Oud Sluis for 3 years as a sous-chef. I got to the point, the moment when I could not break the wall, no promotion perspective. But I had a feeling that I wanted to work, I wanted to develop myself. Meanwhile my boss Sergio Herman was about to open his second concept. He offered me a job as head chef in Pure C. It was a big challenge for me, I felt proud that Sergio trusted me. We have a similar cooking style. The fact that we are thinking the same way allows me to be creative at work. I would not cook something which is not in line with my style.
How could you describe your cooking style?
I’m trying to involve some surprising elements in my menu. Pure C cuisine is dominated by a lot of vegetables, tangy flavors derived from lemons, limes, fresh cucumbers. My cooking style has also Asian figure cause my mother was Indonesian. In my creations I use products that relate to my roots.
What is extraordinary in Zeeland products you can’t find anywhere else?
Oysters, clams, various types of shellfish. And of course, Zealand lobster, it is said that it is the best in the world. The distance between the shores of the North Sea and our restaurant is just a few hundred meters. From the sea and the beach come our best ingredients.
What kind of difficulties as a young chef do you have at your work?
We change our menu every 6 weeks. It’s much more difficult, especially since we want to be original and innovative. This is a burden for the team. We must change our habits, ways of working, we are working on completely different ingredients. This system allows us for creative work. If the menu is always the same-turn on automatic pilot, it’s easy to make a mistake, as well as a mental stagnation.
Then it is easy for copying and short- cuts?
Copying is unfortunately very common. You have to follow your vision and work in harmony with your style. The authenticity can be quickly captured and verified. It’s a bit like a massage .You can feel it if someone does it with dedication and attention, or just freaking out your work and thoughts are elsewhere. The same goes for cooking and eating, we feel if someone was cooking with the heart, was present in the process of creating dishes.
Did you ever have any moment you wanted to give up? And just do anything else?
I think everyone has these moments, but I agree that chefs may have more moments like that. But as I began to work again in the restaurant, there is no turning back. Sometimes I have these moments that I would rather work somewhere else like a tapas bar, do something easier, finish working earlier, but the current satisfaction of the work is so great that I would not change it.
What kind of rules do you use as a cook at your restaurant?
The Oud Sluis, where I used to work, my co-workers were also my friends. In Pure C, I am managing the team, I am not part of it. I try to separate the personal and professional life. As a head chef I try to keep a certain distance. This allows for a better working environment and efficiency.
What kind of personality should a chef have?
Creativity, good organization and passion. Passion is probably the most important.
Many eyes are looking just right at you. What could you advice for young chefs?
Work very hard and do not pay attention to the fact that you have to work long hours often for small money. I had been working like that for five years, but I gritted my teeth. Nothing comes immediately. I started harvesting strawberries, and later worked at the fish in the harbor, I was assistant butcher. Held various internships after a week or two-just to see how others work. That kind experiences bring us closer to success.
Working as a chef is spending many ours in the kitchen. Tiredness kills creativity. What do you do to re-boot yourself?
In fact, I have all the time eyes and ears wide open. Inspiration can come at any time, especially when you least expect it. Travelling is inspiring for me: the food on the streets of Vietnam is almost insanely delicious, and at the same time very simple. Sometimes I’m so intoxicated taste, I spend many hours in the kitchen to try to recreate the experience.
What is your biggest success so far?
The biggest success is the daily set of guests in Pure C. There are many, even the star- restaurants that are empty- there is no life, guests of energy. It’s very sad especially for the cooks who want to cook and to develop, and they can’t because they do not have to whom. Happy and satisfied guests, daily positive feedback from them is my biggest achievement.
We talked in the Pure C restaurant in the beginning of September 2012. The interview was published in the Food Service Magazine: www.foodservice24.pl).