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Oud Sluis (4) – Work hard, play harder …

Sergio always called it: ‘We play the finals in the FIFA world cup, twice a day!’
So after 5 days of hard work, we could enjoy our weekends.
And every 10 weeks, we would get 2 weeks vacation.
We were treated very well by our boss!

Working together creates strong teams.
So somedays we would even hang out together during the weekends.
Our weekend started on Monday 2am and just like everybody else, we would have after-work drinks.

I remember the nights at table 10.
It was the round table in front of the fire place.
Nick, the sous chef was really good at creating bonds and making time for the team after a rough service. We could have an argument about the food during the service, in the evening, we would still have an ice cold beer at table 10.

I cannot even remember the amount of times we stayed on Sundays until Monday morning the cleaning lady would come in. Laughing, joking, making plans or just chatting. ‘Good morning Lilian!’
That’s where we decided to drive to Paris the next week.
Just because Paris was only a 4 hour drive away.
Or when we organized a field trip to go hunting ducks during fall season.
One of our regular guests had a hunting club and invited us to join the team one day in December. Nick made an amazing platter with rillettes and stew of the game we caught for snack night that Friday after!

Or when we all gathered to go out dancing in La Rocca on Sunday.
Joris Voorn, Pan Pot, Laurent Garnier, Sfin, …
I got to know a lot of great DJ’s and night clubs because of them!

Most of our vacations, we made trips in Europe.
To Madeira, to learn about Madeira, a fortified wine made on the Portuguese Island off the coast of Africa. Or Santorini to visit wine makers and enjoy the beautiful sunset!
Weekends in Amsterdam, Paris or London.
And working in fine dining restaurants has it’s perks too.
All the good places for breakfast, lunch and dinner are being shared amongst each other!

So when me and my sister went to New York for a city trip, we had a whole list of must-visit places in our pocket. That’s when I fell in love with the city and made myself the promise to live for 1 year in New York. To discover all it’s hidden gems and to experience what living in a metropolitan city does to you as a person…

Xo – Ann

Oud Sluis (3) – What’s in a name …

Creative minds are always looking for the next best thing.
And let that be one of Sergio’s strengths.

Every 6 to 8 weeks we would have a complete new menu.
Sergio wanted to keep things exciting.
Not only for himself or the team, but also for the guests.
In the beginning, the plates were combinations of seasonal vegetables and the best ingredients the region had to offer.
Think langoustines, crab or lobster with celery, carrots, beets and apple.
Not all in 1 plate though!

After a while, I started to notice a shift in the way Sergio created new plates.
They became a live version of a memory.
Either from his childhood or a trip he had recently made.
Then I remembered something I had overheard in a kitchen one day.

‘Good chefs will get their inspiration from other chefs.
Great chef get their idea’s from anything but other chefs.
They have mastered the skill to bring a memory alive.’ 

Kill me because I don’t know who to quote but I can tell you that Sergio was part of that last group.
Every time a new menu would be presented, we’d all be saying:
‘This is even better then the last menu. It can’t get any better.’
Until 8 weeks later, a complete new menu would go live!

Sergio knew exactly how to re-invent his kitchen, style and flavors every single time.
Some of the plates would even have names!
Just to list some of his creations:
The IFoie: foie gras with apple and red vinegar jelly, in the shape of the Apple logo.
The Rocks: a chocolate dessert with galangal in the shape of Es Vedra, a rock off the coast in Ibiza.
Kissing Lips: Cherry mouse with chocolate in the shape of kissing lips.

In his last year, he started to collaborate with other artists to create new menu’s.
He worked together with, inter alia, tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher, DJ Sander Kleinberg, art and design duo Studio Job and Belgian artist Sophie Lachaert.

I can only imagine what it must have looked like from a guests perspective.
Food photographer Tony Le Duc did an amazing job securing his legacy in several books.

But from a team members perspective: it opens your mind and makes you curious about other crafts in the creative industry.
It also makes you humble because of the many opportunities we had to learn about them.
We had high quality produce available, every single day.
That’s a scarcity in many industries but it became our privilege.

Working in fine dining hospitality industry is so much more then just serving a plate.
It’s creating a memory, an experience.
One that people hope to recreate to find happiness.

If there would ever be a plate with the name HAPPINESS,
I’m sure it would be coming from Sergio’s hands!

Xo – Ann

Photo credit – Tony Le Duc

Oud Sluis (2) – Service in full force!

The best days were definitely the ones where the whole team was all on the same page.
From the beginning till the end.
Only 1 way to make that possible: BE PREPARED!

Besides being prepared, communication was another important part of the equation.
That’s why we had somebody ‘running the passe’.
This person was in charge of conducting the service, communicating specialties to every department in the kitchen, checking in with Lotte, the sommelier if guests had their wines and instructing the servers to deliver the right plates to the right guests.

It was a very stressful position but having somebody capable in charge of the flow made it so much easier for everybody.
I learned running the passe from LJ, he was incredibly good at it, knew what was going every single minute of the day and could intervene when he saw a glitch in the system.
Some days were more fun then others, some days I wished I didn’t have to do it, somedays I felt defeated when I had made a wrong decision and guests had to wait 25 more minutes for their food.

But those times made me stronger and I grew to love this position.
Running the passe became my drug, my addiction. Everyday I tried to improve something. I pushed the team to their limits, in return they allowed me to make calculated risks in asking out the next course without all plates being cleared.
We were on a constant race, had death lines to beat.
One of the reasons my nick name became The Iron Lady.
I was ruthless but knew the team was on my side. I’m telling you, the pressure is high when there is an amazing DJ playing at La Rocca on Sunday night! All main courses had to out by 10:15pm!

We created series of tables that came in together, would get their starter together, main course, desserts and eventually coffee and sweets.
I communicated the series in numbers with their exceptions, if there were special requests or VIP’s to the kitchen.
I translated those numbers to tables for the servers and seat number per guest.

That was our little system, how the ants would run in the kitchen, how we brought Sergio’s vision to live in the restaurant.

Thinking about those days makes me realize how much I love the hospitality industry.
It makes me happy to make other people happy.
To make their day a little brighter, a little bit easier or relaxed.
Both guests and teams alike.

Xo – Ann

The People :: Sergio Herman

This creative mastermind doesn’t need any introduction.
But for those who don’t know him:
– Like what? Have you been sleeping under a stone last 8 years?!

Owner of Sergio Herman Hospitality Group
– Restaurant Oud Sluis ***, Restaurant Pure C *, Restaurant The Jane **, AirRepublic and AirCafe, Blueness and Frites Atelier.

Anyhow, working for this hospitality guru, taught me a lot!

5 take away’s from working for Sergio Herman: 

Be PASSIONATE

Working 16h a day is a LONG day. If you’re not motivated or passionate, you won’t survive. Would I do it all again – YES! without a doubt!
Working with a team that is fully committed and 200% passionate about the food and hospitality industry is mind blowing! It’s like a drug, including the addiction.
Everyday we pushed each other to be better, faster, harder, stronger.
I will never forget the passion of Nick and Sergio either.
The way they danced in the kitchen when everything was going smooth, how they could push everybody to their own limits – and beyond, the energy we could create as a team.
Until today, I still thrive on that. When I recreate the memory in my head, I can push my team to be on their A-game.

Learn from your MISTAKES

We were allowed to make mistakes.
As long as you only made them once and learned from it.
Every 6 to 8 weeks, Sergio would come up with a complete new menu.
Learning the new plates and all it’s ingredients was part of the job.
One of my first weeks, I was in the dining area, providing guests with water, bread, utensils. One of the servers was carrying the tray with plates for table 15. He asked me if I could serve them and explain it to the guests. It was the main course of the daily lunch menu. It was something with a fish and green sauce. I went back into the kitchen and asked what kind of fish it was so I could explain it to the guests.
The ‘This girl should never ever come into the kitchen again!’ made it pretty clear I had to study the menu and all it’s ingredients.
Believe me, from that point on, I always knew exactly what was on the plate, till every single detail, flower and herb.

Take care of your REGULARS

Your regular guests are most important for your business.
Consider them your husband or wife. You marry them and you promise to love them in good days and bad days. When everything is going well, they are happy but when it’s not, they’ll forgive you – most of the time. We had a large group of regular visitors. Some of them were annually, some quarterly, some even monthly. We kept their records, knew their favorite plates, their favorite table to sit on, their allergies and dietary wishes.
I made it my personal mission to get to know them all and to remember their last visit, what they looked like, what happened last time they were at the restaurant.
I can honestly say, my facial recognition skill is on point because of that!

Be CURIOUS

We were stimulated to grow – but only if you could train.
It creates leadership.
Whenever they changed stations in the kitchen or front of house, you had to train your successor. If he or she wasn’t able to cover the section by him/herself within 1 week, you would be going back to your old station.

Take care of your TEAM

We were respected and appreciated
Sergio wouldn’t always tell us, but we all knew.
If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your guests.
Your guests will take care of the business.
We had lunch and dinner every day in the restaurant, sometimes even breakfast if somebody showed up late. And on Friday’s, we had snack night.
We would make a cocktail – yay for Moscow Mules and Whiskey sours in buckets!- and one of the guys in the kitchen would make a snack.
If you came from abroad, it had to be something typical from your country.
That’s how I got the chance to eat Russian, Colombian, Fish and Chips in a wallpaper, Sushi, Kaiserschmarrn, apfelstrudl, ‘Kapsalon’ and duck rilletes from the ducks we went hunting for the week before.

Learn from the best, they reached the top for a reason.
I feel extremely blessed to have worked for Sergio Herman and would do it again if the opportunity came up. I am the person I am today partly because of him, his leadership and his creativity.

Xo – Ann

In memoriam: Oud Sluis *** (1)

In memoriam, because by the end of 2013, chef Sergio Herman decided to close the doors of this iconic restaurant in the South of The Netherlands.

3 Michelin Stars
20/20 in Gault Millau
Best restaurant in The Netherlands by Lekker Magazine
Top 20 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants

‘Always learn from the best.’
Another great lesson from my parents.
They are the best for a reason.

I still remember the first day I started working there.
It was somewhere in February 2010. It was a cold and rainy day.
But inside, there was an energy that could fuel hundreds of people.
I was asked to work a day with the team, to see how I would like it.

I felt like coming home. This was my dream, this was my energy.
High end hospitality, a team that ran like a well functioning machine, guests that were impressed every time you brought a new plate.
At the end of the day – around 1:30am- I sat down with Benjamin, the Maitre D to talk about my experience that day. Needless to say I would love to become part of this team!

There are too many great stories that I will share with you in the next couple blogs!
Stay tuned if you want to hear about the ‘Kissing Lips’, I-Foie or Chess board.
Hint: They were names of the plates!

Xo – Ann

Photo credit: www.foksuk.nl

Start close by …

After being away for 5 years of my home town, I wanted to go back to my roots.
The restaurant I was working at during the weekends was looking for an experienced full time front of house person. I knew the chef and his wife already, the menu was seasonal and most of the guests were regulars.
It was an easy transition into the work life.

My boyfriend at the time was in the same situation like me.
We met at school – how cute! High school sweethearts!
We were both trying to figure things out.

By the end of the year, he was ready for something else.
He lived in The Netherlands, close by the Belgian boarder so we still had the chance to see each other during the weekends. One of the best Dutch restaurants wasn’t too far away from his city so I encouraged him to apply there.
He started in the beginning of January!

After 2 months, a new concept of the chef would open and couple front of house people would move there to help setting up the new restaurant.
My boyfriend asked if I wasn’t interested in joining the team?
That was Oud Sluis, a 3 Michelin star restaurant by chef Sergio Herman.

Working again in high end fine dining?
I decided to give it a shot and started working there in May 2010.

Working and living together with my boyfriend would be a whole new personal experience but we both agreed that it would be a great opportunity!
I introduced myself as Ann, not as Leon’s girlfriend to keep our personal and professional lives separated…

Xo – Ann

Experiencing the field …

Gaining experience in the field is the first step in learning the ropes.
During my time in school, I started to work during the weekends in the bakery down the street and I helped in the banquet hall in town when they had large wedding parties.
I wanted to submerge myself as much as possible in the industry.

Internships were also included during the culinary art program.
So my first year, I interned in a gastronomic restaurant in Spain in the kitchen. I was in charge of the preparations of vegetables and fish and during the service, all of the desserts came from my station.

Being away from home for 6 weeks in a country where I didn’t speak the language was my first big test. But nomads will always find a way.

Luckily enough, the restaurant was owned by a very European family. The patron came from Belgium, his wife from The Netherlands. Their son ran the kitchen and was married to an Italian lady. Imagine the amount of different languages we could use in 1 sentence!

My second internship was in a Michelin star restaurant closely by my home town.
My knowledge of the front of house had to level up to keep up. Michelin star restaurants are being held to very high standards and consistency is key.

I discovered that I thrive better in high quality environments.
No wonder I requested my sommelier internship in De Karmeliet, a 3 Michelin star restaurant with one of the most impressive wine lists I had ever seen!
I was beyond excited to see they had ‘my wine’ Meursault Perrieres by Coche Dury!
If only we could sell one bottle … I would be able to taste it!

I had shared my obsession about this bottle and it turned out that my prayers were being heard!
So one night, it was a Saturday, I was in charge of the small dining area, Benoit, the head sommelier, came to me:
‘Ann, I have a surprise for you downstairs in the wine cellar. I’ll take care of your section for a second. Go and let me know what you think about it.”

And there is was, a glass of wine with a little bit of Meursault Perrieres from Coche Dury.
I was surrounded by around 500 bottles of wine, all of the best in the world, sipping the wine that represented the point it all started for me.
My hospitality fire inside lit up and created a memory nobody ever could erase!

Xo – Ann

The graduate …

When I graduated from school, our principal gave a speech.
I was too excited to celebrate but 1 line I will always remember:

‘Now that you’ve studied 4 years of hospitality and culinary art, keep in mind you don’t know anything. We taught you how to read a recipe. Now go out and learn how to make the recipe, use it daily to refine it so that one day, you can create your own recipe.’

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that speech. You can learn something new every day. Be humble, be curious, start as the student to become the master. But even then, there is always something that I didn’t know before.
Ask to listen, listen to learn, not to respond.

I have learned so much during my school time.
Not only the basics of the industry but also the art of learning.
The goal to become the master is a never ending journey.
The knowledge I gathered, I share with my team every day to make them better, to help them see the beauty of the industry.

In reverse, I learned about their culture, their language, their dreams, struggles and personal goals.
I can honestly say that my team shaped me into the person I am today and the way how I managed my restaurant.

And for that, I am eternally grateful!

Xo – Ann

World of Wine …

So here I am, ready to learn all this cool stuff about wine.
Digging into it deeper, more detailed.

1 year also equals 1 wine cycle.
Where you start with the harvest, fermenting the juice, aging it in bottles or barrels until you put the finished product on the shelves in the wine store or in the restaurant.

But if you go to the Southern hemisphere, you can do the same things, within the same year! So you can practice what you’ve learned so far!

That year was really hands on. We went picking grapes in Belgian vineyards.
We took a wine trip to Bordeaux where we visited several wine houses and learned about the quality systems in ‘the old wine world’.
We tasted all grape varieties and discovered their specific palettes during practical classes and made food and wine pairings in the didactical restaurant.

But the highlight of the year was definitely our trip to Stellenbosch, South Africa!
We visited 2 wine estates per day, tasted the differences between the old and new wine world, saw the little penguins on the beach and stood on the most Southern Point of Africa, Cape of Good Hope.

My hunger for more knowledge about wine made me participate in 2 wine contests that year. On the International Wine Fair in Anger, France, I finished 2nd place in the international participants group.
During the national junior sommelier contest in Belgium, my friend and school companion Jan excelled, while I took another silver medal home.

The wine world is a never ending learning curve, every year is specific, regions are dependent on climate change, wine producers are developing their own style and signature.

Whenever I’m in the mood for a glass of wine, I reach back to my knowledge.
Rainy days ask for a Nero d’Avola from Sicily, summer nights a Verdejo from Rueda, Spain. Every memory has it’s own palette, grape and region.
It’s part of the experience!

Xo – Ann

Specialize your talent … WINE

Did you know that apparently women have a better sense of smell?
I didn’t know that one either.

Anyhow, cooking wasn’t really my strong suit, I liked being in the front of the house better. So I was BEYOND excited when we finally started on wine lessons in our 3rd year. In Belgium, it’s allowed to taste wine when you’re 17!

It wasn’t until our second year of wine classes that my interest in wine really took off.
I believe it was April, and after aperitifs, liquors and juices, we’d finally start to learn about wine.
My teacher at the time, Mr Mullebrouck gave us the assignment to pick one of the empty bottles in the room and review the wine.

All the way in the back of the classroom, there was a little cabinet with bottles from Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafitte, Mouton Rothschild, Chateaux Petrus.
All the big names in Bordeaux. However, I didn’t want to walk all the way to the back, so I just reached over to the side and pulled the first bottle I landed on.

Later that evening, when I was researching my bottle, I discovered the true value of wine. Apparently I had chosen one of the most precious wines in the room.
Meursault – Perrieres 1e Cru – Coche Dury.

Meursault: a small village in Burgundy, France
Perrieres: the vineyard with the status of 1e Cru (a class system to assign quality)
Coche Dury: a major wine maker with a very specific palette
Average price: around 300,00 EUR

That’s how my interest and passion for wine started to grow.
I discovered a whole new world out there and decided to do a major in wine.

Up until today, that bottle of Meursault Perrieres is on my wishlist.
I had the opportunity to taste it several times, but if you really want to make me happy, that’s your answer.

Xo – Ann

Photo credit – Pinterest