When chef Jacob Jan Boerma ate ’bheja fry’, raw onions in Mumbai

In an interview, the chef talks about the food he created for a pop-up by Taj hotels, and what inspires his cooking

Pooja Singh
First Published8 Jul 2024, 03:00 PM IST
Chef Jacob Jan Boerma
Chef Jacob Jan Boerma

Jacob Jan Boerma used to lick pans while working as a dishwasher at a one-starred Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands. "I was 16 and just fascinated with the idea of how different flavours come together," laughs Boerma. "That was, in a way, my introduction to how wholesome food can be."

Today, at the age of 52, the Dutch chef leads The White Room in Amsterdam and Fine Fleur in Antwerp, both of which earned Michelin stars within months of opening. His first restaurant, De Leest, in Vaassen, earned three Michelin stars.

Boerma was in India last week as part of the latest edition of "Rendezvous by The Chambers: The Culinary Chronicles", a food pop-up initiative by the Taj hotel. At Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and Taj Mahal, New Delhi, he offered a set vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu to patrons that combined European and Indian flavours, including Crispy Shrimp (Indian spiced couscous, marinated watermelon, sakura and dill jus), Stuffed Zucchini Flower (stuffed with sweet potato, lentils, spices, saffron jus and a fresh salad of red & yellow peppers), Lamb Loin Miso (cumin, yam, Indian lamb jus and smoked oyster mushroom), and Lemon and Yuzu Curd (raspberries, papaya, Greek yoghurt sorbet, mint, and crispy meringue).

In an interview with Lounge, chef Boerma talks about the inspiration behind the food he created in Mumbai and Delhi, eating ‘bheja fry’, and what inspires his cooking. Edited excerpts:

What was the idea behind the menu you created?

It was a mix between Indian and European elements, because it's nice to create some things that people recognize, but when they eat, they're completely surprised.

We get a lot of Indian spices in Europe but the hotness, the taste is so different because of the temperature. This is my first time in India so it's all very new to me in many ways. Like our European utensils are so different; the same company makes a different oven in my country and a different one here. In our restaurants, some 70% food is non-vegetarian; we have menus of 24 courses. Here, it's nothing like that, so I had to work very differently and learn from the chefs in the kitchen. For example, in Europe we use carrots a lot, but here I instead used yams. I have never used yams in the kitchen before.

Also read: How Millennials and Gen Z are reinventing Indian tea

Have you eaten anything Indian till now that you really liked?

I had bheja fry, masala lassi and roti (in Mumbai). It was incredible; and raw onions! I couldn't believe that such flavours could come together so beautifully. It's really inspired me to try something new in my European kitchen.

What inspired you to become a chef?

When I was young, my parents asked me start working to learn what hard work is. So, at 16, I was a dishwasher in a kitchen. When the pans came, I used to lick them. That's when I realised that I should be a chef. Plus, growing up, my parents used to eat at several famous restaurants, so that was another early exposure. One day, I came home and told them that I want to be a chef. They laughed and called me stupid. 'You won't earn anything,' they said. But they forgot one thing: this incredible business brings people each other. No matter which part of the world you are in, your first date, wedding--all the big events of life include food.

Also read: Add a pop of colour and texture to recipes with frozen peas

At 25, I opened my first restaurant and in the first year, I got a Michelin star. So, that's how the journey started.

Your food is inspired by your travels...

Yes. The Japanese ingredients, the Thai ingredients, the Peruvian ingredients, and now Indian ingredients—I always take a part of a country I go to and add it to my kitchen.

What do you love about cooking?

Some people drink, some smoke, I cook. That's what gives me energy.

People u go to office and do almost the same thing for years. It's almost the same in cooking, but the work is always different, because of nature. In winters, for example, we don't have strawberries in Europe, so we change our menu completely. In summers, we don't get winter vegetables, so we again change. It's the same work, but it's never the same.

That's the most beautiful part of cooking. The other beauty is, food brings the world together.

Also read: Placing the spotlight on the sous chef

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First Published:8 Jul 2024, 03:00 PM IST
HomeLoungefoodWhen chef Jacob Jan Boerma ate ’bheja fry’, raw onions in Mumbai

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