Soenil Bahadoer

at The Lindehof

Chef Soenil Bahadoer definitely knows how to surprise and amaze the gastronomic world with his cultural melting pot of the classical French cuisine and spicy, exotic cooking. Although both styles might sound contradictory, the result is balanced and extremely tasty. But there’s one important condition to enjoy Soenil’s culinary art to the fullest: at his restaurant De Lindehof you need to open your mind and senses to experience something new and different. Soenil surely knows how to tickle the taste buds with his unique way of combining elements from Suriname, Asia and Europe in his dishes. Dining at restaurant De Lindehof is a truly fantastic journey around the culinary world, all put together in a harmonious gastronomic experience.

"when I hear my guests say that they’re blown away by flavours they have never tasted before, I just know all the efforts have been worth it. It’s simply picture perfect.”

Soenil Bahadoer. He must be one of the most dynamic and vibrant chefs we’ve ever met. Enthusiast like always, he welcomes us at his restaurant De Lindehof** in Nuenen in The Netherlands. Nonetheless it was an intense week for Soenil, as the night before he had been cooking at Tomorrowland - the festival with the best culinary offer in the world. In the meantime it’s full house at his restaurant most of the time and he regularly attends international cooking events. Indeed, this man isn’t lacking any energy or motivation. However success comes at a price... Of course we’re referring to the sacrifices one has to make in order to perform in the Premier League of the culinary world. Or how working incredibly hard, always striving for the best and reinventing yourself is also part of Soenil Bahadoer’s Chef’s Secret. Today we present his unique story.

A culinary journey to the top

The same energy that characterizes chef Soenil Bahadoer as a person, is also reflected in his plates that look surprising, colourful and refined. Full of life, full of taste and full of adventure, that’s probably the best way to describe his approach. Yet Soenil used to cook traditionally French, after a classic education and a strict training under the wing of the iconic chef Roger Souvereyns at Scholteshof in Belgium. Following the same path as his masters Soenil was awarded his first Michelin star back in 2004. Instead of keeping on doing what had led to his success so far - and what probably almost everyone else in his shoes would have chosen to do - he felt it was time to do something different. Not an easy choice, but definitely one that turned out to be a good one. Aiming to find a cooking style that would allow him to express his inner soul and therefore a style that would make him happy, Soenil went back to his roots to find the inspiration he was longing for. By integrating the spicy and powerful elements of the Indian and Surinamese cuisine into his refined and classic French-looking dishes, he developed a whole new style that would characterize him from that moment on. Such an evolution combined with the continuity in taste and quality, didn’t stay unnoticed.

Nuenen

The town of Nuenen in the province of Brabant in The Netherlands is internationally renowned for its connection with Vincent Van Gogh, who had painted several masterpieces in that location. And of course it’s also famous for its amazing restaurant De Lindehof, that is truly unique in its category

The service as well distinguishes itself by that rare, but so nice balance between politeness, playfulness and spontaneity. The team definitely masters the art of responding appropriately to the personality of each guest.

In the beginning of 2018 Soenil invested in the refurbishment of restaurant De Lindehof. The new look of the dining room is better aligned with the exquisite cuisine that attracts local guests, as well as foodies from abroad. Eye catchers in in the restaurant are the black marble wall and the dark wooden floor. The calm and organic colours of the new interior are in perfect harmony with the atmospheric design lightning and comfortable, elegant chairs. A lot of effort has been put in the optimization of the acoustics, in order to have every little detail right to enjoy the culinary experience to the fullest.

Besides the interior, the presentation of the dishes is top-notch. To create a very special experience Soenil loves dishes that consist of several elements or movements. Also the food is plated on uniquely designed tableware, consisting of different pieces that make up a whole when they are put together.

Or in the words of Soenil himself: “It has cost me so much effort to get where I’m now. If I look at this beautifully refurbished restaurant and when I hear my guests say that they’re blown away by flavours they have never tasted before, I just know all the efforts have been worth it. It’s simply picture perfect.”

The story of chef Soenil Bahadoer is intriguing and inspiring, so we’re very eager to have a personal chat with him. So let’s talk about his Chef’s Secret.

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#INTERVIEW

Chef’s Secret: How did you get started in the culinary word?

Soenil Bahadoer: When I was eight years old my family moved from Suriname - the country where I was born - to the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. After a while we moved to the town of Nuenen, so this is the place where I grew up. After my education as a chef, I had worked in several Michelin starred restaurants, among which Du Chateaux, Parkheuvel and Scholteshof. Then I felt it was time for me to go back to Nuenen. In 1995 I became co-owner of restaurant De Lindehof, and after a while it has become my own business. At first I intended to offer a rather simple cuisine for an affordable price. But thanks to our guests that seemed to want top-notch quality, we felt we got the opportunity to go through an evolution together with our audience. So that’s a chance we have taken gratefully with both hands.

Chef’s Secret: Your evolution as a chef has been quite extraordinary. First you impressed the culinary guides with a classic French cuisine, and then you surprised everybody with that shift to an exotic cooking style. Can you tell us more about that choice?

Soenil Bahadoer: In the beginning my cooking style was classic and typically French indeed. That’s also the cuisine that Michelin rewarded when I received my first star. But that way of working wasn’t making me happy. There are just too many chefs that are doing that very same thing and therefore it’s very difficult if you really want to stand out. And as copying other people’s ideas is all but what I want to do, I went back to my Surinamese roots to find inspiration. I remembered the smells and flavours in the kitchen from the time when I was little, as well as the fantastic atmosphere that was part of the cooking process. Going shopping, preparing the meals and serving it to a group of close family and friends, always seemed to make everyone happy. Suriname is a country of many cultures, you know. And that’s why you’ll find influences from all over the world it that cuisine. By watching how my mother used to cook - for example by using the mortar, by adding spices and herbs and by using exotic ingredients like mango or coconut - I got the idea of combining those flavours that everybody seemed to love with my refined French cooking style. Let’s say I grew up in Western Europe, but I also owe a lot to my Surinamese roots. So I feel very gifted and blessed. Well, that’s the story of how I developed my cooking style at my restaurant De Lindehof. And today we keep on pushing ourselves to continuously improve the flavours or to create new things.

Chef’s Secret: So how would you describe your cooking style yourself? What and how do you like to cook?

Soenil Bahadoer: It’s all about spices in order to create interesting dishes with powerful, intense and refined flavours. I really love all kinds of slowly cooked meats or stews, as well a fish and scallops.

Chef’s Secret: Such a multicultural approach at the highest level of the gastronomic scene is definitely idiosyncratic. We can imagine some people would be rather sceptic or even negative. Was this actually the case?

Soenil Bahadoer: I like to do things in my own way, that’s for sure. So I’m very happy that I have that freedom in my restaurant De Lindehof. Of course that also means I need to be more than just a chef. I’m the patron, so I need to make sure I manage the team and the financial aspect of the business as well. However, I’m not scared to fail. I need challenges in order to keep motivated and engaged.

After a warm welcome the culinary experience at restaurant De Lindehof takes off with a variety of tasty appetizers, all presented in a creative and elegant way.

Chef’s Secret: Can we call you a trendsetter?

Soenil Bahadoer: Why not... I certainly feel I’ve succeeded in making a difference in the gastronomic world, which is in itself rather conservative. For example the popularity of rendang (the typical Asian stew) is one of my specialties. When I first started serving this dish, people were quite surprised. But now you can have it in many places. The same goes for the use of spices in my cuisine. In the beginning no one seemed to understand, and now some aspects of my style are becoming more mainstream.

Chef’s Secret: Do you think the lack of understanding of what you were trying to do had to do with the early stage the development of the Dutch gastronomy was going through at that time? Many things have changed since then, haven’t they?

Soenil Bahadoer: The past few years the gastronomic scene in The Netherlands has definitely been catching-up with the rest of the world. Today we are at the top of the culinary world, although the gastronomic culture is much older in countries like Belgium and France. Considering the colonial influences in The Netherlands, our heritage is different. But today I think we can say we are at the same level. If you look at how many Dutch chefs are nominated for The Best Chef Awards, we can be proud. However, what we are still lacking in The Netherlands is a range of top quality restaurants in the segment below the Michelin starred restaurants. I’m talking about places where you can eat a fantastic steak tartare or vol-au-vent at an affordable price. In countries like Belgium and France you have many good restaurants like that, but The Netherlands is still lagging behind here.

Another beautiful appetizer is made of Thai curry, salad and espuma of cowpea salad and crispy young coconut.

Chef’s Secret: What has been the key to your success as a chef and the evolution of your business?

Soenil Bahadoer: I’ve always taken the stairs instead of the elevator. Everything I now have is the result of what I’ve built up through the years, and I must say I believe it has been good to go through that evolution. Being a chef is not enough, you need to be a coach and a manager as well. My team is quintessential for my business, so it’s my responsibility to guide them in their way to the top. I’m very proud of the sixteen people that make up the team of De Lindehof, and also of the fact that many of them have been worked here for many years now.

I must say I’m flattered that we can welcome many new guests - local or international - at this restaurant who choose to come here because they really want to discover our food or because they want to meet me in person. I also believe it’s important to promote myself as a chef on an international level in order to attract a broader audience. For example when I was cooking in Hong Kong a while ago, and the people there were very enthusiastic, that’s something that really keeps me going and that gives so much satisfaction for all the hard work.

Chef’s Secret: We can imagine life as a chef can be harder than it seems at first sight. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve experienced so far?

Soenil Bahadoer: The hardest part of being a chef is finding a good work-life balance. I’ve never been able to find that balance to be honest. Let’s say I’ve always been working for about 80% of the time, what doesn’t leave a lot of time for other important things in life. That’s also the main reason I missed many precious moments of my kids growing up and I must say that’s something I regret in hindsight.

Chef’s Secret: Where do you find your inspiration to keep on coming with fresh ideas?

Soenil Bahadoer: I’m a very passionate person, so feeling the energy floating to my veins is like a driving force to me. The cultural melting pot that is so typical for my cuisine is a never ending source of inspiration for me as well. My mother passes by at my restaurant quite often, sharing tips and tricks with me about our traditional cuisine. She really knows how to create fantastic flavours, but sometimes we can argue a bit about the need to present the food in such a refined way (smiles). Besides that, the team in the kitchen is a great source of inspiration, day afer day. Last but not least, I get much inspiration from travelling and spending time with my family.

Crab tartare with avocado, king crab, curry emulsion, different structures of radish and radish ice cream. The vinaigrette is made of sambai vinegar.

Chef’s Secret: Are there certain chefs that you look up to?

Soenil Bahadoer: I can only answer to that question with the names of chefs whom I worked with. I could name a famous chef that is on top of one of the renowned lists, but what could I say about him if I don’t know him personally and if I don’t know what it’s like to work with him.

So yes, I can say I’ve always looked up to chef and patron Cees Helder and the way he has built up everything he has accomplished. That man shows how you need to know how to cook and to count to be a great chef. Of course Roger Souvereyns, the chef I’ve worked with for four years, was also a kind of trendsetter who was ahead of others. He used to travel to countries like Israel to find the best curries over there, long before others started doing things like that. Roger Souvereyns has really pushed me to the limit many times, but he himself was just as fanatic. And now I am grateful for the education they gave me, and I also understand why they did it their way.

Coming up next: two styles of tuna. On the one hand otoro with different preparations of cucumber, on the other hand akami with ginger and yuzu.

Chef’s Secret: Let’s end this interview with a classic question. What are you up to in the coming months and years? Any specific plans or ambitions you’d like to share?

Soenil Bahadoer: If you feel there’s nothing more you want to accomplish, it’s time to stop. But I’m nowhere near that point. I want to keep striving for the best and prove that I’m worth those two Michelin stars. Besides that I keep on looking for a good work-life balance, that permits me to do other things than being a chef and a patron, although I just love being and doing that as well.

Irresistable is the barbecued crayfish, served with a roll of pomtayer, sweet and sour pumpkin and phulauri and a sauce made of apple and curry.

Wagyu is served in three ways and served in amazing handmade plates. We start with wagyu and caviar (on the left). Then there’s a piece of exquisite meat with fermented vegetables such as kailan and palm heart and a sauce of white soy (in the middle). Third we taste a pita of wagyu with tzatziki and birambi (on the right).

From savoury to sweet with foie gras in two ways. Left, there’s a terrine with strawberry ice cream, marinated strawberries, meringues made of Madagascar pepper and madame jeanette-strawberry vinaigrette. On the right there’s baked goose liver with black brioche bread, soy sauce and palm sugar foam. Each dish is accompanied by a very special matching wine.

#SWEET

The first dessert is all about cherries, with sour cherries, yuzu gel, crispy chocolate with pink pepper and pastilles of cherry beer.

The second dessert is a creation of peach with sour candy, pad thai ice cream and burnt peach.

Even in the small sweet bites we are served with our coffee we can taste the powerful and spiced flavours that are so typical for restaurant De Lindehof and Soenil’s cooking style.

Practical information

De Lindehof, Beekstraat 1, 5671 CS Nuenen, The Netherlands | T +31 (0)40 283 73 36 | www.restaurant-delindehof.nl | info@restaurant-delindehof.nl | facebook.com/restaurantdelindehof | instagram.com/soenil_bahadoer/

Interview by Sarah De Hondt

Photography by Adriaan van Looy

@hungryformore.mag

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