Talk and Table, Jean Beddington.

marie_cecile_thijs_-_jean_med-2 foto: Jean door Marie Cécile Thijs (internet)

I still remember her restaurant in the Roelof Hartstraat in Amsterdam. The white square boxes in the window. The plain design. And the marvelous food. All done by Jean Beddington chef and culinary creative. You could call her the grand lady of TASTE, that’s what it is about. With so many caleidoscopical features. Gereons Keuken Thuis wanted to know more. Because I had another question by a friend of mine, I called her. All of a sudden I got the idea to invite Jean for my series Talk and Table. Based on the answers she gives I will conceive a recipe, that will please her and my readers. Something savoury with a touch of Spring.

Who is Jean Beddington and what would you like to share with us?

An English lady settled in Amsterdam for the last forty years! And cooking professionally for the last 36 of them! So there should be quite a lot to share…

You have quite a history from restaurants to books, publications and more. What was your most impressive project? 

A few years ago I was asked to cook a dinner in the RijksMuseum just before it was opened after renovations. It was organised by an international company and it was a business dinner for guests from Dubai – so the food and drink were halal. It was very interesting to create non-alcoholic drinks to match the food – the red wine option was a mixture of beetroot and cavolo nero and tasted amazing with the beef main course. And my sous-chef and I were sightseeing in the dimly lit museum whilst the guests were eating in the Staalmeesters Room!

Nowadays you are a culinary creative Is there a difference with being a chef? 

Having sold the restaurant three years ago I now have time to choose the time I go on holiday – at the beginning of the year we visited Cadiz for a week and in June we will be off to Italy. What I don’t miss is the daily pressure of running a business – the bookkeeping, the staff, the repair jobs but I do miss the buzz and adrenaline rush of the restaurant. However now I get to think up creative solutions for dinners, workshops, demonstrations etc. – deciding on a theme and exploring both culinary and visual aspects of each occasion to create a unique experience. One thing that is really new for me is the monetary aspect of catering individual events – in a restaurant the price is worked out in advance and everything is a continual job but with my work now it’s sometimes very difficult to put a price on the work – and it’s surprising how people have no idea how much work (and hours) is involved from start to finish.

You invest a lot of energy in defining taste and dishes? In another life, would you do it again? Or would it be something else?

I’ve always loved to cook but when I was young I never thought of it as a career choice. But once I’d experienced working in a professional kitchen I knew it was a fantastic way to express myself.

Your dishes and recipes speak to the imagination, certainly with me. They are gorgeous. How do you do that?

Thankfully I’m blessed with a very good memory both in terms of taste and visual presentation – when thinking of a new dish I can bring these into play – it’s like a puzzle – when the taste, textures, and colours fit together I know I have a good dish. The more you know the more you can leave out!

My parents were/are very French oriented. De last two decades there has been a shift from French to other cuisines, certainly in my generation. You were in front position. Do you feel that too?

Although my upbringing in England obviously has a great influence on my cooking, I travelled with my family from a young age to France, Italy, Spain etc. and it was always so exciting tasting new cuisines. The first time I ate an artichoke none of my family had ever eaten or seen one before but thank God a friendly Frenchman at the next table came over and explained to me how to eat it! It also helped that my father loved good food and encouraged us to order anything we fancied! And of course my love of travel took me overland to Japan where I lived for several years. Eating through all those countries with their wonderful cuisines has given me a marvelous taste history. Returning to Europe and settling in Amsterdam it was amazing to cook using all those influences and finding them so appreciated – so much so that I was christened “The Godmother of Fusion”! When I started I was using products like seaweed, wasabi, miso, fresh coriander etc. – nowadays chefs couldn’t cook without them and now the guests know what they are.

More and more culinary start ups appaer. What do you think of the general quality. Has it become better the Dutch culinary landscape?

Certainly the restaurants in Holland have improved tremendously over the last 30 years – with everyone travelling so much and the influx of foreigners living here there has been more exposure to different cuisines which can only be a good thing! But the new trends like pop-ups serving one item like burgers or bao’s or pulled pork etc. seem not to deliver the real thing – imitation may be the highest form of flattery but you have to get it right! And so many of the new restaurants kind of blend into one another – their dishes and presentation all look alike – I miss a personal signature.

What do you miss in nowadays cuisine?

I like to be able to choose in a restaurant and again one of the new trends is to just serve one menu – I admit that it’s a damn sight easier for the kitchen but who wants easy….

Culinary speaking, which one is your favorite dish? And ofcourse which wine?

Oh goodness – what a difficult question! I love so many dishes – anything with seafood – oysters, crab, a gleaming eyed mackerel…tiny fresh shrimps in a crispy pancake. Actually, I am a great lover of Japanese cuisine – the freshness, the attention to detail and presentation and I get so much inspiration from the food. I love combining the Japanese flavours in a European cuisine. And as for wine, a full creamy white Burgundy, a crisp Albariño, and I love a good toasty Champagne – Pol Roger, Taittinger…

And what do you dislike?

I’ve never been a big fan of ‘stamppot’ especially the one with ‘ postelein’ – too slimy for me and one fish I’ve never really enjoyed is ‘zeewolf’ but that’s about it on food dislikes.

If you would give a cooking class, what would you want to teach us?

I would like to teach people how to make good basic sauces, and dressings for salads – with the new trends in restaurant dishes you always wish there was more sauce instead of the minimum amount to make the dish look pretty – banish the dots and dashes – just give me the sauce!

Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome

Support your local butcher, grocer, fishmonger and food market. Do not do all your shopping in the supermarket.

The recipe for Jean

I am very glad with the answers of this chef. Thank you so much Jean! They are down to earth, yet contain a lot of information. Jean is right when she tells that the difference between having a restaurant and occasional catering is big. Her eye for remembering the visual presentation, the taste in combination to the texture is quite a known phenomenon to me. In Gereons Keuken Thuis we call that “droogkoken”, cooking based on the memories in your head. Jean Beddington sees a lot of development in Dutch cuisine. However she is not that fond of  one issue pop up restaurants, nor the kind of restauarants that only serve one menu. She likes to choose. She likes seafood, white Burgundy wines and is a sauce addict. Not  a simple dash, but lots of it. Based on this information I thought of the following recipe. A Flemish  spring stew, waterzooi, with extra cream and white asparagus.They are almost in season. (since in the South of the Netherlands they arrive every year end of March)  And a whole baguette for the sauce. The wine to pair wil be a white Burgundy from Uchizy. Butter and almond to pair the waterzooi.

Ingredients:

2,5  l vegetable broth 1 chicken in pieces, carcass.

a bunch of thick white asparagus

3 stalks of celery

1 leek cut inrings

3 carrots in pieces

8 potatoes

250 g celeriac into cubes

1 bunch of parsley finely chopped

2 egg yolks

4 dl cream

butter

pepper and salt

Preparation:

Cut the chicken into pieces and make nice fillets of the breast and other meat. Add the carcass of the chicken to the vegetable broth. Leave to simmer for a while.. Add the chicken pieces to the broth and cook about 20 minutes. Peal the white asparagus and cut off the woody ends. Cook the aspargaus in  salted water for about 15 minutes. Cut all the vegetables into chunks. Put the vegetables and potatoes in a deep casserole with some butter an stir fri them.. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth and add to the vegetables.  Add  the strained broth. Leave to simmer fo another 15 minutes until the potatoes and vegetables are tender. Add the cream and turn of the heat.. Season the the waterzooï to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolks and add the rest of the cream. Serve the chicken parts and vegetables in plate, together with the white asparagus. Spoon some sauce over and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with a rustic bread in pieces,. It will soak all the sauce and flavour just until the last drip.

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