Cooking Food Without Limits, “Represents Me The Most”, says Apéritif Chef, Nic Vanderbeeken
Since the age of 14, Executive Chef Nic Vanderbeeken has “never done anything else than work in a kitchen”. But the story of his career has no boundaries.
“As a chef your job is endless, we can travel all over the world and cook food. We learn so many new things every day or everywhere we travel”.
It’s no surprise that Nic’s food philosophy is his love of “cooking without limits”.
Today, Nic Vanderbeeken ( aged 41) Executive Chef of Apéritif Restaurant and Bar, an elegant, new concept he calls ‘eclectic’ because of his love of cooking “outside of the box”. Apéritif is set amid a lush, Indonesian jungle valley setting, just a stone’s throw from the centre of Ubud, Bali.
We give our food an eclectic interpretation
Since day one at Apéritif one of the favourite main course dishes is a Venison Wellington that represents the idea of eclectic cooking. When I think about which sauce will fit, I choose Rendang (an Indonesian, coconut beef stew). The flavours are there but it isn’t a Rendang. I just refer to it for its flavour profile.
In Belgium I used deer with speculoos (spiced shortbread cookie) sauce. Here in Bali, I found out there’s similar spices in the Rendang. With access to the spices we have here, I decided to make an original Rendang Bumbu (spice paste) that I borrowed from my wife’s family living in Padang, and tweaked it a bit to my flavour profile. Since day one, the Venison Wellington is THE signature dish most loved on the menu”.
Working with the best products at all times
It was at ‘t Convent that Nic says he adopted the practice of only working with the best products at all times.
“Every Thursday, the chef drove to Brussels to hand-pick the ingredients from the market, sharing his ideas for the food to be prepared, and keeping the quality at the highest for the signature dishes. We also followed the seasons, changing the menu four times. The produce we worked with was just the best we could get in Belgium. From then on I always kept this philosophy. Once you tasted the difference, you can’t go back”.
It’s a culinary credo that Nic passionately upholds to this day, of course. “I love to cook without limits. I believe we should always try to cook with the best and most fresh ingredients available in a responsible way as much is possible”. It goes hand in hand with cooking food in different parts of the world. “We learn so many new things every day, and everywhere we travel”.
I love to cook from the knowledge and experience I learnt from travelling
It had been quite a journey. And this time, Nic had no illusions. “To control such a big restaurant and on this level, I saw it as a big challenge, but this is what I need, challenge. We turned the market from 80% international tourists to now, an 85% domestic market.”
There can be no doubt that Nic’s quest to seek new cooking creativity has left a clear understanding and insight into his continuing chef’s practice.
“I travelled a lot during my culinary journey, always met new chefs abroad, listened to their stories, talked about food, shared recipes, going to the local markets. For me, I look more into a recipe that shows similar techniques but different ingredients. I love to cook from the knowledge and experience I learnt from travelling and the many years I’m in the kitchen.
I listen to every staff member if they have an issue
Throughout his journey, he has not let negative experiences hinder his career progress. Nic recalls the days of working ‘90 hours’, and the build up of stress and tension in the kitchen. Today, Nic has evolved effective strategies to deal with the demands of life on the pass in Apéritif.
“We try to have enough staff on each of the four sections, Fish and Meat, Cold Area, Pastry, and Nic with the head chef taking control. Everything has to be ready before serving and prepped according to reservation. We need to be informed of all items such as vegan, vegetarian, no diary, allergies, at least 24 hours beforehand.
I listen to every staff member if they have an issue, and don’t accept any kind of competition in the kitchen. Blaming others for your own mistake is a big no-no. If you don’t feel good in our kitchen, you leave. No bad feelings but I like a motivated team with the same goals for the restaurant. Not only for yourself. Egos don’t belong in my kitchen. Experience, open minded, down to earth, respect that’s the number 1 in my team. Different kitchens have different rules, which are there to make it easy and the same for everyone”.
Nic has a surprisingly straightforward approach to time away from the kitchen. “I go diving on days off, if possible. Up in the north of Bali, no people, no buzz, no fuzz – just chill going under me and the ocean. Sitting at the beach or a friend’s place and just chilling and drinking some beers, eat some good food. After dinner you will find me many times at the bar, in a club or a party”.