Femke van den Heuvel worked in the hotel industry for quite a time before she opened her own vegetarian catering company in 2001. In 2006, VlamIndePan (Burning Straw), ad Haarlem restaurant started using only organic and biodynamic products. Last year, the chef opened a vegetarian cooking school and its first “graduates” will finish this summer.
Femke van den Heuvel is one of the finalists of The Vegetarian Chance, a festival organized by journalist Gabriel Eschenazi and Pietro Leemann, chef at Joia, in Milan. The first international vegetarian festival will be the occasion to discuss this rising life choice.
The Vegetarian Chance will be divided in two days: the first on June 7th at the Monte Verità, in Ascona, Switzerland, the second on June 22th at Joia where eight chefs will be competing with their vegetarian dish. The jury will be composed by Leemann, American chef Kristen Thibeault, the experts Marco Bianchi and Lorenzo Sonogini, journalist Davide Paolini and chef Luca Sacchi.
While we wait for the contest, Fine Dining Lovers met with Femke for a chat.
Describe yourself in three words.
Persistent, inventive/creative, open minded.
How do you define your cooking style?
Explorative. I like to discover new ingredients, flavors and techniques, and wonder along new roads. I combine different (and old) food philosophies like ayurvedic, raw, macrobiotic, to create my own style and food that fits for me in this era and place. Food has to fill and feed and is the motor of your physical and psychological well-being: the taste has to combine with health. Food has to suit the person.
Do you usually cook vegan in your restaurant? If so, since when? Why did you choose vegan?
I cook vegetarian in my restaurant and cooking school for health and sustainable reasons as well as for animal welfare. About 80 % consists of vegan dishes. I cook vegetarian since always and vegan since ten years.
What are the products from the surrounding area that you use the most in your restaurant?
I like to use a lot of the different Dutch grains as well as the dutch pulses, furthermore we have beautiful vegetables, most of them almost forgotten. As a surplus we have all kind of sea vegetables and weeds, which can help to feed us as protein source in the future and will help to maintain our food supply by growing vegetables on brackish land. I also like to enjoy the wild flowers and herbs and fruits like the cornel, the Dutch wild raisin, sorrel, wild garlic etc. especially for there unique tastes and their vibrant energy.
What do you think about the rise of the vegetarian and vegan diets?
For me it is a specialization. There are so many more fruits, grains, pulses vegetables nuts and seeds then there is variety in meat or fish. For many reasons it is great that vegetarian and vegan cooking gets so many attention and is being taken seriously. We have to convince people with great flavors and beautiful food and make them curious and show them how to change their diet habits in a more peaceful and healthy way.
What is in your opinion the most iconic dish of vegan cuisine?
I don’t know: probably the boeuf bourguignon made from seitan. Or maybe it’s just the most well known. I think that copying your dishes and making them comparable to meat is never a great success. You should start your cooking with the quality of the ingredient itself.
What do you see in your future as a chef?
The connection between food, health and environment is getting restored. People restarted growing their own vegetables and are getting aware about their food. We have to be more transparent about what we do with our food and the story behind our ingredients. Chefs will be more like teachers, inspirators, role models rather than performers like we are now. We may translate the beauty and richness of the earth into dishes, to share with people around us for love peace and health!