This is my birthday present from our friend Gert. Note the orange tamarillos and the glaze of the little pot. The significance is that oren means orange in Dutch and Welsh, and Oren is the name that Gert gave to his restaurant in Caernarfon.
Gert is a very singular Dutch chef. I first came across him just after I set up the microbakery in 2007. He was cheffing at a community/business centre in a village outside Llanberis and started ordering bread from me especially for his periodic themed food and film nights. After this he moved on set to up the Caernarfon restaurant. This came to an abrupt end with a serious kitchen fire over the Christmas period – fortunately it happened at night when the restaurant was closed so no one was hurt but the kitchen was totally ruined. Gert being Gert he was already thinking of moving on away from the commitments and overheads of a physical restaurant. He started managing a B&B establishment in Caernarfon which not only provided him with accommodation, it had a kitchen and dining area which allowed him to carry on cooking for his growing group of admirers. Then the British Government stepped in. The owner of the B&B was an Australian man who had lived in the UK for decades. He ran small businesses, had always supported himself, was no burden on the state. He was here legitimately but somewhere along the line had not renewed a visa. So the Government insisted on deporting him which also rendered Gert homeless and without restaurant accommodation. Innovative as ever he started running pop-ups in peoples homes, yacht clubs, cafes, even in a book shop – anywhere where there was a kitchen and room for people to eat. For a long time these were very successful but eventually the novelty wore off, numbers dwindled and finally he has had to call it a day.
Not just that – he’s moving back to the Netherlands! What am I going to do?
I thought I was keeping my invoices filed on computer in case the taxman ever knocks at the door but I now realise there’s a whole social history there in which Gert looms large.
The thing is, he changes his menu every week. I don’t just mean the individual dishes, I mean cuisines, countries, continents …
Apart from Far Eastern weeks, where bread doesn’t feature and I get some time off, I was expected to produce breads to go with the food. It didn’t have to be totally authentic, just something to fit the theme. So there was a group of breads borrowed from other bakers or my existing repertoire but there is also a whole group that I devised, adapted, developed from ideas on the internet. You can google the breads of any nation and something will come up – actually it’s invariably the same over-yeasted recipe with a particular characteristic herb or spice that transports the exile instantly back to the homeland of their youth. But it also gives you a clue that can be used to make a better bread. Plus a dash of my own perverted sense of humour…
In addition to my regulars, here’s a list of just some of the breads I associate with him:
Med (Mediterranean) Bread
Black Bean Bread with Herbs & Jalpenos
New York Rye
Nina’s Swedish Spiced Laputabrod
Silesian Rye with Pumpkin Seed
Belgian Light Rye
Pumpkin & Chipotle/Chile Colorado
On top of this, he presented me with “formulas” for a group of eight Dutch sourdoughs – all totally mad. Here’s a typical one:
1 liter sourdough (they all begin “1 liter sourdough”)
250g wholemeal flour
250g buckwheat flour
100 ml sour cream
4 tablesp honey
4 mashed bananas
150g ground peanuts
No water specified, no salt, no definition of sourdough. Starter at around 30% is normal for a dough. This works out at about 193.6%.
It’s been a strange relationship in a way. A great deal of it has consisted of five minute conversations over a lot of years when Gert picks up his weekly order. We haven’t eaten enough of his wonderfully inventive food – public transport is not easy round here after sundown – but we managed Oren restaurant a couple of times and pop-ups when they’ve been in Bethesda – and finally one at his house last week. The menu, which will give you some idea of his style:
Peanut ‘Tofu’ with Wasabi dipping sauce
Beetroot and Miso Soup
Belly Pork /Smoked Mackerel /Caws Rhydydelyn
Rhubarb, Amaretti and Fennel Seed Cake
all for a mere £17.50.
Gert did the catering for about 90 people at my 65th birthday (duck & veggie cassoulet, Dutch apple cake – hard to forget), we held a weekend baking event at the B&B (blew the fuses while he was out and spent a frantic ten minutes trying to locate the fuse-box before he came back, all the while trying to get rid of the black smoke from an experiment with coconut oil in lardy cake). And he was beginning to became a fixture at my birthday brunches ….
What can you say? It’s been an enduring friendship over a number of years when things haven’t always been easy – never straightforward surviving in maverick businesses but we work things out. Gert’s been one of the major influences on my baking which is odd given that he doesn’t bake bread. A restaurant with a book club? A chef who paints? You will be seriously missed.
Today I’m doing my last bake for him. Three of his mad Dutch sourdoughs: Banana Bread, Sauerkraut Bread, and one I haven’t tried before, Fig & Coconut. Plus a mundane Pane Pugliese for old times sake.
Clockwise from the top: Banana Bread, Sauerkraut, Fig/Coconut.