From traditional French to Asian flavours, the term Modern Global Cuisine is lost to many without knowing the variation of this cooking style. With a wealth of knowledge from working in various parts of the world, Eric Heijkoop, Executive Chef at Macalister Mansion sure knows his way around the heat of the kitchen. We get to know a little bit more about the Dutch-born, Spain-raised, and French-trained chef who is creating new and exciting things on the wonderful island of Penang.
Your influence and your culinary skills is apparent from the dishes you create at Macalister Mansion. Can you give us a bit about your background and how your cooking skills developed?
“I was born in Brussels to a Dutch father and a mother of Taiwanese (father) and American Indian (mother) descent, but I grew up in Madrid, Spain. I went to culinary school in Holland for 5 years. I worked as Chef de Partie at Amstel Hotel and Hotel Dunrain. I have also worked in The Capitol Hotel, High Holborn Restaurant and Edgwarebury Hotel, London. I then moved to Kenmare, Ireland and was the Sous Chef at Sheen Falls Lodge, under Chris Farell. Then it was the big move to Nice, France, where I worked at Chateau Eza, Palace Negresco and Hotel Rosalp in Switzerland. I then moved to Hotel Le Toiny in St. Bart’s, which has been awarded best restaurant for several years. I then was Head Chef at Hotel Byblos in Courchevel.
After your ventures you started your own Restaurant Capcisum in Torrelodones, Spain. How did that come about?
After that I took a break from hotels and restaurant and started chartering on motor yachts for private owners. This is where I met my girlfriend in the Virgin Islands and we decided to go back to Spain to open our own restaurant, Restaurant Capsicum, which was runner up as best restaurant outside Madrid.
Your time in Europe is prevalent in your cooking style. You have moved around quite a bit, and then to Asia. How did this come about?
After several years of adventure we decide to sell the restaurant and move to unexplored Asia. We moved to Hong Kong where I worked at Harbour Grand Hotel but the lifestyle did not appeal to us so we decide to leave after 18 months. We then moved to Koh Samui, Thailand, where I was Executive Chef at Beach Republik. We went back to Spain after 40 months living in Asia for the best thing that has ever happened to me… being a father. We are now on the road again looking for the place to settle with my family, Penang perhaps? At present, I am the Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage at Macalister Mansion, still with a lot of dreams to fulfil.”
Your dishes have influences from traditional French and Spanish cuisine. How would you describe your cooking style?
“I did my training in Holland in traditional French cuisine, and I have worked in many other countries. My most serious training has been in France for 10 years. I grew up in Spain and lived there for many years, so that is why, I picked up a lot from Spanish cuisine and its flavours. My cooking style, I would say, is Modern Global Cuisine, with solid French techniques and influences from Spain and Asia.”
When it comes to creating a dish, what are the key features you find important, and what is your thought process when creating these dishes?
“Well I think that when I conceptualise a dish I always start with the main ingredient. I then will think about the family of products that can pair well with this main ingredient. I then would think about different techniques to produce different textures and flavours to enhance the entire dish, as you said, it’s very important to have the right balance, otherwise some ingredient may overpower and then what could have been a great dish will become a ordinary dish, and of course when it comes to plating I also believe that there needs to be something for the eye.”
You have impeccable balance of flavour and textures, and incredible plating. What is your philosophy to cuisine when it comes to presentation?
“As you know the food industry is the kind that involves all senses. A long time ago a chef once told me that to have a great dish, you need to first be able to entice the guest with the eye, the first impression of the dish. Obviously if a dish doesn’t look appetising, mentally you will think that it’s not going to taste good. Secondly, the aromas of the dish when they bring it to you, it should bring you memories, excitement, adventure, sensuality, all those things that the chef really wants to share with you. And then, the most important one, the taste. All these combinations of textures, colours, and flavours that blend together will transport you to a moment, a place… the joy of life. I think that when you come to a restaurant, you come to have an experience. It’s about the entire experience that will make it a memorable moment.”
The style of fusion cuisine has been used too liberally today. What does it mean to you?
“For me, fusion cuisine has never been a trend but a way of life. My mother with her roots and her Asian style of cuisine, growing up in Spain and living all over the world, it all just happened naturally.
Your culinary style is what I would describe as international cuisine. What does international cuisine means to you?
For me international cuisine is, as I said before, a long time a go, food was more localised because the world was a wider place and people did not have access to all the products that they nowadays do. Today, you can get products from anywhere in the world depending on the style of cuisine you’re making. This means that in French cuisine, you will be able to find spices, fruits and vegetables that are only used in Asia. Same goes for Asian cuisine, you have a lot of products from Europe or even South America in your kitchen today. So yes, I think that everyone is actually cooking International cuisine even if they claim to do French, Spanish or any other cuisine.”
Your use of ingredients is very varied and adventurous, from the use of black garlic to the use of black chickens. What ingredients are you most looking forward to experimenting with?
“Well when it comes to ingredients I don’t have any preference. I just like to play with different products and of course, here in Penang, I would like to show and share with my guest totally different products from what they have been used to and to do something unique in Penang. As you already know, I want to be a reference in Malaysia so we need to be innovative with our products. I hope this will help you understand my view of this amazing world — the culinary world.”
To get better acquainted with Chef Heijkoop’s culinary prowess, see our review of Macalister Mansion.
| PHOTOGRAPHY BY: TATLER MALAYSIA & MACALISTER MANSION |