Foodservice is a hectic business. You chose it because you love the thrill of a busy night, but chefs bear a heavy weight on their shoulders. This is especially true at the busiest time of the year: the Holidays. Chef Wout Vereecken believes that one of the ways to make the best of these times - and any other time, for that matter - is your food, for which he has created various inspiring recipes that provide you with peace of mind.
Setting yourself up for success
Something unexpected is always bound to happen during service, which is why Wout believes preparation is key. In fact, it’s the leading principle for all his recipes: “I equate peace of mind with a solid mise en place. It starts with making sure that you’ve prepped everything you can prepare.” A good start is everything, and a recipe that surprises your guests with fantastic flavours but doesn’t fire up the stress levels in your kitchen is a sure winner.
A time to let go of the rules
Wout feels that the Holidays are a time to indulge. Any other time, your guests may be more concerned with the health benefits of the food they’re eating and look for ingredients with health benefits. During the Holidays, though, priorities shift, says Wout: “All these dishes are easy to digest. No cabbage or red meat, so your guests won’t experience any gastric distress. That’s the only thing to keep in mind, though, as the Holidays are the time to let go of your strict diet and break the rules. New Year’s resolutions are for later. These recipes represent real homestyle cooking. Food to enjoy together and indulge in during the festivities, like the creamy salmon and sole rolls with potato mash. Or the sauerkraut, which allows for the easiest mise en place and is packed with flavour.”
Cooking up a mise en place feast
One of Wout’s favourite recipes in this selection is the one for Sweet Potato Chicken Lollypops. It’s an essential, he says: “For me, poultry is simply a must for Holidays cooking. I choose chicken, because turkey is simply less convenient. Most of this recipe can be prepared in your mise en place, but with fresh ingredients. You could even make your sweet potato fries yourself, but that’s the sort of product that’s best purchased frozen. With frozen fries, you’re guaranteed a quality product, which should always be your main reason for choosing frozen or fresh. The Japanese flavours are guaranteed to surprise, and the bacon will play a supporting role. You can, of course, replace the pork to meet your guests’ dietary preferences.” The best thing, Wout explains, is that you can keep these lollypops warm and store them: “They won’t spoil easily if you keep them warm. They’ll still be just as tasty after three to four hours in an oven above 80° C. If you follow the recipe, I can assure you that the chicken will still be tender because it’s filled with juices. You can keep the lollypops in the fridge for up to three days.”
Putting the fun in food
This recipe isn’t just good because it’s a real time-saver, it’s also a joy to make! As Wout puts it: “This recipe makes me happy and I've seen customers enjoy it as well, even though the dish itself couldn’t be more simple. It's sweet, rich, and playful, which brings out anyone’s inner child. Feeling good about your food is key to peace of mind, I think.” Wout recommends using à la minute prepping time for elements that add to the experience, whether it’s for your customers or for yourself: “when I cook for a group, I make sure that my prep work is interesting to watch in an open-kitchen setting. Cutting a hundred onions would bore my guests, but they love seeing how a fish is gutted or smelling the meat that’s cooking.”
Good food, happy chef
Knowing that every plate that leaves your kitchen is full of quality food you believe in will boost your emotional resilience and help you handle the stress, Wout believes: “serving food is, in my opinion, one of the most intimate things you can do. It’s a big responsibility. If a service staff member walks into your kitchen to tell you how much the guests enjoyed their food… That’s a fantastic feeling! Use that as a motivation to get out into the dining area and talk to your guests. They’re the best feedback you can get to bolster that feeling or for new ideas to improve.” This, Wout admits, is not easy for everyone, but stepping out of your confines as a chef can help you get that peace of mind, and be proud of what you do, so stop slinking out the backdoor at the end of a busy service!
Adding a festive touch to your recipes
Wout also has some ideas for chefs who want to add a festive touch to their dishes, but he stresses that quality comes first: “keep things simple, don’t mess with a good dish. Focus on small things that reinforce the restaurant feeling and the sense of togetherness, even during this pandemic.”
Wout’s basics for festive dishes and service:
- Use simple solutions like small additions, colours, and spices. A few red berries can sometimes do the trick.
- Serve from a single big plate at the table, even if you have to do it from behind a screen. Sharing is part of the Holiday spirit and homestyle experience.
- Let your service team take part in preparing dishes at the table, such as your deserts. The flambé pancake is a lasting favourite for a reason.
- Bring back cheese & drink carts, the high-end classics are making a comeback.
- Let customers stir the pot themselves. That is, after all, what casual dining is all about.