Let food be food

Chef and concept creator Edwin Sander is seemingly infinitely inspired by an assortment things. Everything from Mother Nature, his Dutch and Indonesian roots, his Michelin-starred training, and even Pharrell Williams.

With such a variety of muses, it's no wonder he began his own successful pop-up company soon after finishing culinary training and later Food Creativ - a restaurant consultancy and collaboration business responsible for such projects as The Morning (an amazing breakfast pop-up and collaboration event) and Food Creative Kitchen, coming this year. 

We caught up with Edwin at Kitchen Republic, the culinary laboratory where he tests ideas, develops new dishes and recipes and collaborates with other up-and-coming food innovators. 

Undoubtedly uber-talented with a unique approach to food as a social connector and a passion to work hard, try hard, fail hard and ultimately succeed, Edwin is an inspiration himself. We're sure Pharrell would agree.

Read on for more of his story and thoughts on fermented foods, his love of citrus and the importance of failure.

On what he does and how he got started...

After I finished school I went straight into a culinary arts program. I did everything I could, from the basics, to specialized restaurant courses in pastry, warm and cold sections. I also worked in a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants - in Amsterdam but also in Copenhagen and San Sebastian.

I've had very good teachers so when I graduated from school, I started my own business. I started with pop-up dinners and through the pop-up events I got a lot of assignments from different companies [as a consultant]. From there I started Food Creativ.

At Food Creativ we believe in different collaborations with people. Not really always people out of the food business but people with different experiences. What I like about that is that they think differently and I use that in my food business.

 And what he loves about it...

As somebody that's always getting bored, I always want to create something new. At Food Creativ we develop of a lot of new concepts.  I like the process of creating something... the goal most of the time is boring, so for me it's always about the process.

Developing new recipes, new dishes, training people... that's what I like.

On the importance of failure...

In product development I've had a lot of failures. But that's what I like about the process - I think it never goes the way you work it out. There's always the possibility of error and failure and you come back and motivate your staff to push further and push further.

I don't actually see failure as failure - I see it as something we can learn from so we can understand the process of developing a new dish or a new recipe. So we understand why things happen. If something works very well and you don't have any failures, what do you do when the failure suddenly drops in?

I think to be successful, you just have to do it. It really doesn't matter where you start, even if it's the end. You just start. And work hard. And the rest will come.

I think to be successful, you just have to do it. It really doesn’t matter where you start, even if it’s the end. You just start. And work hard. And the rest will come.

On his love for cooking...

My background is half Dutch, half Indonesian and food was always something social in my family. If you come to my family's house, they will never ask you how you are doing, it's always "What do you want to eat?"

I think I fell in love with the way food connects people. You give people food and suddenly there is something happening on the table, there is some interaction, some connection through food. You have to share the dish or share knowledge about something. 

At the age of 12 I worked in a small restaurant in the village where I lived. Within the first year, all I was doing was cutting butter. It was actually a very good restaurant, very classic French. And I thought "Okay, this is what I want to do." I already knew it at the age of 12 or 13. 

His food and cooking style is...

My style is... respecting products as they are in nature. I think what Mother Nature creates is beautiful itself and you have to respect that as a chef. Nature already created something nice so you don't have to... make a tomato into a strawberry for example. 

Just let food be food. As a chef you have the responsibility to give food to people because you're the expert. So as a chef you have to select different kinds of very good quality products and make something nice with it and it's as simple as that. You can do something creative with the presentation or with technique but let food just be food.

I think what Mother Nature creates is beautiful itself and you have to respect that as a chef... Just let food be food.

His favorite product to work with (at the moment) is...

Well now it's a lot of fermented things. What I love about fermented stuff is you can create your own flavors. For example if I make a kimchi or a kombucha at home, it will always be different than if I prepped it at your house. Even if I have the same recipe, the bacteria at your house are totally different than at mine and that's when you can kind of create your own flavors.

On who inspires him...

Well in general I like people who are doing their own thing. And sometimes those people are a little bit crazy, but I like that.

So for example, Pharrell Williams from NERD, Todd Selby, as a photographer is very inspiring for me.

As a chef, Dan Barber, who is from New York. He thinks about the whole ecosystem. Yes, the sustainability factor but also "Where does flavor actually begin?" And that for me is very fascinating. 

On his secret weapon...

I use a lot of citrus in my cooking: lemon, lime, lemongrass, orange, hand of Buddha, etc. I use it a lot instead of salt because citrus is not only something you add to the dish to flavor it, but it has the same property as salt has, it enhances the flavors.

Also if you have it in the dish, it clears you palate, so when you take a bite there is always excitement to take another one.