Profiles: London Loy: “Chefs and poets are alike.”
Every few weeks we interview an inspiring entrepreneur or artist chosen from our online network, Profiles. This week: London Loy.
London Loy lives in Rotterdam, works as a chef for Ballroom in Witte de Withstraat and recently published his first cookbook titled: Mijn recepten – van appeltaart tot saotosoep (My recipes – from apple pie to saoto soup). You might also know him as a tv chef for 24Kitchen, Top Chef Academie on RTL 5 or from the RTL 4 hit show Dance Dance Dance.
We phone London on a scorching day when everything seems to ‘turn out differently’. He’s driving, on his way to pick up his kids from school and doing some grocery shopping along the way. “Yeah man, a group from TENT Rotterdam booked unexpectedly and I really want to make them something good”, he says, while cheerfully taking a couple of wrong exits.
Your cookbook has just been released, congrats! A long cherished dream come true or a project you spontaneously ran into?
Writing a cookbook has never been a goal. It’s money and time consuming and quite tough to do as a side project, you know? But all of a sudden there was this publisher (Carrera Culinair, red) that also publishes Freddy Trathlener and they wanted to get in business with me. More importantly, they understood my needs and my dishes. We were on the same page right away; they weren’t looking for some pretty boy on the cover and they understand the rawness and honesty I represent. So the drive and the enthusiasm were there and we just went ahead and did it!
The trailer for the book is gorgeous by the way and really poetic. You compare chefs with poets, can you explain why?
Thank you. I am really proud of it. I made the trailer with Stacy (documentary filmmaker) and with my boy SugaCane (renowned rapper from Amsterdam in the ’90s and ‘00s, red). He did the voiceover, but he thought it would be cooler if I wrote my own lyrics. So I was just being philosophical and rhyming and this is what came out. Chefs and poets are alike in the sense that both use a variety of ingredients and both need to search for a balance in what goes well together. It’s a learning process and sometimes you need to see the simplicity of it and do less.
What do you mean by ‘It’s a London thing’ and ‘The London way’? How would you describe ‘a pinch of London’?
That’s about me doing it my own way. I don’t want to abide by certain rules. If I want to put Brussels sprouts in a sping roll, than why not? If I use bok choy for a saoto soup instead of bean sprouts, then people are quick to tell me: ‘You can’t do that, you should keep your hands off a traditional recipe’, but I think a chef needs to experiment. Especially when it just tastes good, you know? So that’s me. When someone says go left, I go right. But I do check left as well, haha.
Can you describe creating new recipes?
That’s kind of funny, because it often happens on the toilet. I got that from my dad. Oh, and my son does it too. We can all be in there quite long. It’s a moment to be alone for a while and just think, right? And sometimes ideas hit me when I’m walking in the forest. Or I think of a strawberry when I see my daughter wearing a red dress. It makes me associate, you know? Is it summer? What kind of sauce can I mix? It goes on in my mind all day. But the real recipes arise in the kitchen. It’s the place where I experiment and prepare dishes. I’m in my own domain. That’s where it all happens. And what’s most important: whatever you do, weigh everything and write it all down! Even if it fails. The grams of salt, the millilitres of oil; really, write down every step. Because you can’t remember it all when there’s so much going on inside your head.
What are the ingredients you can’t go without in the kitchen at home, in your opinion?
Always have lemon. Always have the spiciest Madame Jeanette, a good olive oil, a four pepper blend and sea salt. With these ingredients you can go any way you like and even turn a simple tomato into something exciting.
Talking about excitement, what cuisine is most interesting at the moment in your opinion?
At the moment, I’m really enthusiastic about Caribean and Asian cuisine. My roots are in Surinam of course and I can still find depth in that cuisine. But I won’t choose roti but other traditional dishes. Like a dish called ‘Eerste hulp’ (sardines in tomato sauce). It’s a dish you eat when there’s nothing left in your fridge. You just open up a can of sardines, chop up some tomatoes, add something spicy and combine it with some rice or just toast. Delicious!
Is your cooking influenced by your former career in athletics?
Absolutely. The one hundred percent discipline and being sure of myself; that’s something I still make use of. For athletics I had to train hardcore and I also practised Thai boxing at competition level. That eventually gave me body and mind. By body I mean standing firm. Since the corona measures have been eased and we’re back to work, the young guys in the kitchen are all complaining about the hard work. ‘How much longer?’, they’re crying. And I yell: ‘Who’s the soldier?’ I’m turning 46 this year.
What’s your advice for hard working entrepreneurs that can’t find the time to cook?
I believe you make time. And if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to manage your time. Don’t plan everything in one day. That whole: ‘I’m too busy, man, I don’t have time’-thing, that’s rubbish. What’s the most important thing? Good food! If you don’t eat well, you don’t feel well. Being able to think and perform well, requires nourishing yourself well.
What kind of mentality does it take to become a successful chef?
It sure doesn’t take a nine-to-five mentality. First and foremost you need to have a free mentality. Forcing yourself will only cause you to block. And being dedicated, feeling the love. It’s as if you’re taking care of a tiny, young kitten, that’s just been born. You only feel care for it and nothing else exists. And of course you need to love your ingredients. Keep tasting always. Some chefs cook by intuition, but some days you’re just having a bad day. And that’s ok, you’re human, but keep tasting for god’s sake! And discipline is important too. And taking care of yourself, eating well. Be fit. Exercise!