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TOP COOK: JERMAIN DE ROZARIO

He has been able to call himself a star chef since he was 34, and he has just opened a new restaurant: Jermain de Rozario (1984) is in the prime of his career. A young dog bursting with ideas: “I want to grow in experience: more art, more smells, more music.”

Online editing: Natasha Hendriks | Text: Bart-Jan Brouwer
Image: Esther Quelle

Party animal

Last July, Jermain de Rozario's restaurant moved to the monumental Villa Prinzen on the Markt in Helmond. The furnishings reveal its Indonesian origins: lamps in the shape of playful monkeys and lots of wood, bamboo and plants. As the (only) 36-year-old star chef describes it: “A bit subtropical, chic with a slightly Asian atmosphere.” We sit at a table with a large round bowl containing sand and a rake, a miniscule zen garden, with a small tray in the middle on which appetizers can be placed. It strikes me that the image on that plateau is a copy of one of the tattoos that Jermain wears on his right arm: a lotus flower. “A reference to my past: a lotus flower growing out of the mud to blossom.” And while he plays with the rake in the sand, he takes me back to his teenage years. “When I was fifteen I wondered: is this it? Should I go to study, should I go to work? I left school, left home. Stuff packed and gone. I was then able to stay with a friend of mine. He took me to places where you normally wouldn't go at the age of fifteen. He worked in a well-known chip shop here, where everyone went after going out. I went to help out in that chip shop, chopping some onions. I also went to a lot of illegal parties in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. It was party, party, party. At one point my girlfriend at the time, who was taking the catering course at De Rooi Pannen, asked: 'Isn't it time you chose something? Why don't you serve?' That's how I started at the age of seventeen in park restaurant Warande, a chic restaurant in Helmond. It's really strange that I started there, because I was a wild party animal. That boss really tackled me. There I learned the tricks of the trade.”

Quite a man

Due to “holes in my head”, Jermain does not have all the facts accurately listed. He worked another Blue Monday at De Raymaert restaurant and went to Parliament in Helmond when he was twenty-one. “Not that I wanted to work there, but I had no option. Although I had started culinary school, I was a relatively old student and had no experience in the kitchen. When I put on my tube for the first time and closed the buttons, I knew: this is it. I became a sous chef and came up with the idea of ​​an impression menu instead of the surprise menu, which every restaurant already had. That went really well, so I came into sight at the Lindehof in Nuenen. I never applied for a job there, I was asked by chef Soenil Bahadoer. I was there with my current sous chef, Martijn Bax, and I said to him: 'We're going to slow down.' Takis' creation looked so sleek and slick, a cross between Jonnie Boer and Sergio Herman. I served this with pointed cabbage rendang with ginger beer ice cream and kimchi, a dish that I had devised especially for the competition. I threw it purely on the taste. Jonnie was on the jury and said he couldn't choose. My dish was brilliant in taste but could be better in appearance, the other dish was brilliant in appearance and could be better in taste. He let us both win.”

Shots

In 2015, the Lindehof received its second star. Jermain remembers it like it was yesterday. “In the year that the second star falls, Michelin comes more often than usual. It's a fact. I remember very well that Chief Inspector Werner Loens was there. That tension, that adrenaline in your body. You just know: at that moment you are cooking for that second star. Point. Then you see Soenil with his taps and things, then you know 'it's on'. The fear! You realize: if it's shit, that old guy will kill you. We were in so deep... And it went really well. When paying we were sure it was Werner Loens: he handed over his credit card and it had his name on it. Soenil spoke to him and took him aside in the kitchen. “How did you like the food?” he asked. "I can't reveal too much," Loens replied, "but I had a delicious meal." Still, we were unsure. Soenil went to the announcement of the Michelin stars. We stayed in the restaurant, following it on the laptop and our cell phones. All restaurants that had won a star were reviewed. But not the Lindehof. Big disappointment. We closed the laptop and put away the cell phones. Ten minutes later we all suddenly received texts: 'Congratulations.' We open the laptop again… 'De Lindehof: two stars.' We became completely delirious. We shouted and cheered, ran outside like crazy, took shots... As it turned out, when the announcement was over, the head of Michelin came onto the stage. 'We have another surprise…' The globe appeared on the big screen, zooming in on Europe, the Netherlands, Brabant, Nuenen… the Lindehof! Reservations immediately poured in. Dick Middelweerd (chef of De Treeswijkhoeve; ed.) came to eat and all other well-known chefs. We were completely hyper, but we just had to keep working. That was such an exhausting evening. Once everyone had left we were able to really celebrate. I will never forget that for the rest of my life. If the day ever comes that I can go, this moment will definitely pass.”

Adventure

In May 2016 he opened his own restaurant: De Rozario, on the Steenweg in Helmond. Why did he want to stand on his own two feet? “At one point there were too many things I would do differently. Soenil has the enthusiasm of a young dog, but he is a chef of the old school. A lot is demanded of you, I worked from early in the morning to late at night for five days. I stayed at the Lindehof for three years and am one of the people who worked there the longest in the kitchen. It was time for something different. Not that I had the luxury of starting my own business. I looked around to see who I would like to work for. Once when I was having lunch with Quincy, I met my current partner, Patrick Keulens. He wanted to take a sabbatical and was looking for someone who could take over his tent. "Isn't it time to start your own business?" Patrick asked me. The next day Patrick called me: 'Jermain, I mean it. Wouldn't you like to have your own restaurant?' I said that I would like that, but that it was not realistic. He suggested we meet up sometime. During that meeting he had me tell him about myself: 'Give me a brief biography. What would your vision be if you had your own business? What would you like to work towards?' Based on my story he made a business plan. Very smart. Slowly the idea of ​​having his own restaurant started to mature. It felt good, I just had to do it. Although I knew I wasn't ready for it yet – I had only worked in four kitchens –, but with Patrick by my side, who handles the financial aspect, there might be a future for it after all. Soenil was pissed when I quit my job, but I take that as a compliment. Then the adventure began.

Masters #44

MASTERS #44