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Kitchen Talk: Jos Grootscholten


It took Jos Grootscholten and his partner Sharon Tettero just 16 months of running their own restaurant – the Restaurant Perceel in Capelle aan den Ijssel – to get a first Michelin star; four years ago the Gault Millau named Jos the most promising Chef of the Year. Their success is hard-earned, and rests on solid foundations, with both Jos and Sharon having done internships at London’s Noma (which was named best restaurant in the world for three years in a row) and at places like Martin Berasategui’s three-star restaurant in San Sebastian. Sharon manages the venue, and Jos is in charge of the kitchen, where he loves to use produce from their own garden.

Q: What’s your signature way of cooking?

I guess I have a somewhat different starting point when I create new dishes: I start by thinking about the herbs and vegetables; then I see what else fits. This gives me a much broader outlook. So yes, the main ingredient is still usually the meat or fish, but the vegetables become much more important. They give me more flavours to play with. The herbs, the greens, the flowers I use in my cooking … I see all the fresh things, and they make the dish.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about “local food” and “slow food”. What do you make of it?

Both are important, but in the end, it’s about serving the best possible dishes. I use a lot of produce from local farmers, or things that I have grown myself… but if that’s not working, I’m not making any concessions. The quality of the food has to come first.

Q: And what do you think about the high-tech cooking used by some of the world’s top restaurants?

Some of it is done more for effect than taste and will disappear. What will remain is innovative cooking that makes dishes different and better. Let me give you an example: in the summer, when we cook lamb, we now cook it for two days at a low temperature. That makes the meat very tender and soft. It’s this kind of innovation that will stay.

Q: Being a chef is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

In a professional kitchen, it’s all about the preparation. You prepare the food and all the complicated things during the day. When the guests arrive, you focus on cooking the fish and meat right. You have to make the service [getting the food in front of the guests] as relaxed as possible. That’s also why we don’t have an a la carte menu anymore, but a four, six or eight course menu to choose from. Then when the guests arrive, everything starts rolling.

Q: And how do you de-stress?

Here’s the most important thing in this business: You have to like what you do. Yes, it’s hard work, but it also has to be fun. There’s always laughter and a good vibe in our kitchen. That’s why I have a good feeling when we close at night, and it also makes it much easier to relax on my days off.

Yes, on my days off I usually travel around and look for inspiration, but a few months ago Sharon and I had our first son and that has changed things quite a bit… now I really make sure that I take some time off.

Q: What made you decide to become a professional cook?

That’s a rather strange story. When I was young, I always wanted to become a sports teacher. But one day, I was 13 years old, my uncle came to visit and as a joke he asked me: ‘have you become a chef already?’. I don’t know why he said that, but the idea stuck in my head, and I’ve always wanted to be a chef ever since.

Later, as part of school, I had to do an internship, and they put me in a hotel. I started in housekeeping, but when I told them that I wanted to become a chef, they moved me to the restaurant. I remember the exact date: 14 February 1999; my first day working in a real restaurant. From that day, I worked there every weekend.

Q: And how did you work your way up to running your own Michelin-starred restaurant?

The son of the hotel owner really took me under his wings. He was always looking for new ideas for the business and took me along. By the time I was 18, I had already been to quite a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants. After every trip, he asked me to recreate what I had tasted, or turn the idea into something new. It was great: I could experiment, evolve, even make mistakes. It was great training.

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Q: And cooking became your life…

Yes, indeed. I started cooking two, three days a week, working in several restaurants. If you want to be a chef, that’s a craftsmanship where you have to put a lot of hours in. To be honest, this is not something you can learn from a book.

Q: What has changed in the world of cooking since you started out?

Restaurants have become much more accessible. The food is not simpler, but tastier, and less uptight. And there are more great restaurants. When I started out, there were around 20 Michelin-starred restaurants in the Netherlands. Now there are around 110.

People also spend more time in the kitchen, not least thanks to cooking programmes on TV, which means they know a lot more about how dishes are being created. That also has changed their attitude to restaurants. It makes them appreciate more what we are creating.

Q: What’s your favourite kind of stove?

The first six years or so, our restaurant had a really old stove, with gas and a fire. Nowadays, we cook using induction, plus a hot plancha, which is really like an open fire, to barbecue things.

Q: And do you use a microwave?

Not very often, but we use it to dry herbs and there’s a certain recipe for a sponge cake, that absolutely requires a microwave.

Q: And how do you end your day in the kitchen?

We always get the whole crew together, to drink a beer … or something that’s a bit stronger. Sometimes we experiment and work on a new dish; then we all go downstairs, where we have a really big table, and taste new wines and the new food.

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