UK-born but decidedly Dutch at heart, Vicky Hampton (of the popular food blog Amsterdam Foodie) has been eating and writing about food in Amsterdam for more than ten years. It's safe to say she loves to write and perhaps most importantly, she loves to eat.
Lucky us (and you!) because her site is a wealth of knowledge, recommendations and no bullsh*t reviews of a majority of Amsterdam eating establishments. We talked with her about the motivation behind her blog and why asking her to choose between cooking or eating out is just cruel.
Cropbox: Where are you from and how did you end up in Amsterdam?
Vicky Hampton: I was born in the UK and I first came to Amsterdam as a student in 2001 on the Erasmus exchange program. I just fell in love with Amsterdam, I really didn't want to leave. But I had to go back and finish my studies in Edinburgh so I went back there for a year, then I ended up in London for two years.
I ended up hating London so I decided to hand in my notice on my job and my house and everything, and just board a plane to Amsterdam and come back here. I moved here permanently in January 2006 and luckily it was pre-financial crisis so my skills were in quite high demand and I got a job really quickly.
CB: What inspired you to start your blog?
VH: The food scene in Amsterdam was very different back in 2006. It's changed completely. Back then the good restaurants were French, maybe Italian.. and frankly there just weren't that many good restaurants at all. So I started writing about restaurants, partly just because I love writing about food and partly because there just weren't that many decent places to choose from. So I wanted to tell people what the good places were, where to avoid and so on.
I'm sure at the beginning it was only read by my friends. I didn't think it was going to be anything bigger than that. But then it just sort of grew and grew.
CB: How did you start out finding the restaurants you were going to write about?
VH: At the beginning it was pretty random, frankly. It was just wherever I liked the look of basically because I don't even think things like TripAdvisor existed back then. A lot of the stuff we go to now was not there and the people I knew hadn't necessarily been here any longer than I had so nobody really had recommendations. Now I'd say the majority of places I go are based on recommendations from other people.
CB: So I read once that when you're a restaurant critic, it can be somewhat hard to separate your job from when you want to just go out to dinner with friends and enjoy it. Do you find yourself critiquing every meal?
VH: To some extent I'm always kind of critical about food (laughing) but that doesn't necessarily detract from the overall experience. I could be somewhere and be with friends for someone's birthday or whatever and if I didn't like the food it wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world... well maybe it would be (laughing). But they're kind of separate things in my head.
CB: Where did your love of food come from?
VH: My dad was a hotelier and restaurateur so I grew up in that industry, for as long as I can remember. My dad taught me to cook. And I think it's quite significant actually that it was him who taught me to cook because I'm a huge feminist. I think if my mum had been the primary cook in the household I might have rebelled against it and felt like I didn't need or want to learn it.
CB: What's your favorite thing to cook?
VH: That is a very difficult question... I'd say as a genre of cuisine I always like cooking North African/Middle-Eastern types of food. But really I like making all sorts of things. It's hard to choose. I like comfort food... big dishes of things you can stick in the oven.
CB: Do you prefer cooking or eating out?
VH: That's like asking me to choose between my children! (laughing) I have no idea. I like eating in general, whether it's my own food or in a restaurant. At least if I cook it myself I'm 99% sure it's going to be good whereas if I go out, it could be rubbish.
CB: What do you think of the Amsterdam food scene?
VH: It's way more international now. You can get food from so many different countries now, which really wasn't the case 10 or 11 years ago. Also just the quality has improved so much.
I've interviewed a few top chefs and they've said there was a moment when Dutch chefs started traveling and getting more influences from overseas but also a moment where they started recognizing Dutch produce as well. They were using the local food but they were bringing to bear all of the stuff they'd learned abroad and that's where we've got this more creative modern-European food that's going on now.
CB: Is there one city that you just think the food scene is just amazing?
VH: I would probably pick Istanbul. I went there for the first time last September and I was there for about a week. I love Turkish food anyway but I just had the best time. We had really great food. You can go to high-end places, you can get street food that's really cheap and amazing and everything in between.
CB: What was the best thing you ate there?
VH: Whenever I travel I try to write foodie travel guides. So I wrote this really long guide to Istanbul because I was so overexcited about everything. There was a restaurant we went to called Çiya that was on the Asian side of Istanbul. It was kind of like a buffet but it was really just amazing. All the mezze stuff was amazing, the meat dishes just had so much flavor. And there was tons of aubergine and I just love aubergine.
CB: So how did Vegetarian January go?
VH: It was funny the way it happened. I'd been thinking about it for a while but in a very vague way, like maybe I would just do it for a week or maybe I'd do Vegetarian January but eat fish as well. And then I mentioned it on my social media and it just exploded and everyone got behind me and was sending me tips and recipes and everything. So I knew there was no backing out and I had to do it. So I kind of accidentally made it much more serious that I had intended it to be. But it was good, I'm glad I did it. It was a bit of hard work, you need to make more effort to make good vegetarian food. There is tons of good vegetarian food it's just always a bit harder to prepare.
I wanted to do it because of the sustainability argument more than anything else. I wanted to cut down my meat intake in general and that seemed like a good way to kickstart it.
CB: What is your favorite food memory?
VH: One of my best food memories happened five years ago. I was doing a road trip through the United States and I was going through the deep south and I went to a tailgate party in Louisiana. I was like this high-on-life British woman going around and saying "Oh my god, what are you cooking in here!?" and these people would have massive cauldrons full of crawfish etouffee or whatever it was.
The group I was with had made ribs. Now I've eaten a lot of ribs in my life and objectively I've probably had better ribs elsewhere. But those ribs were such a good food memory because I just had the best time at this tailgate going around and eating all this food. It probably has something to do with the fact that I met my now-fiance that day too.
CB: Do you have a favorite food?
VH: I have favorite ingredients. If I had to pick one ingredient I'd say lemons... but that's not a very exciting answer.
Let’s see… I love artichokes, my logo is an artichoke. I love the way artichokes look, like this feminine flower... and how hard they are to prepare. You really have to work for them but the inside is so rewarding in its earthy creaminess...
I’m also well known among friends and family for my tagines that use preserved lemons.
As I mentioned, I ate SO much aubergine during my Istanbul trip, and it's one of my favourite vegetables - it's so versatile and meaty. And another North African/Middle Eastern ingredient that I cook with loads is pine nuts. I am well known for over-using, especially by my brother.
CB: We love all of those things too... sounds like you'd make a yummy Cropbox! Okay, let's do some rapid fire:
1. Dinner in front of the TV, okay or not okay? Okay. Not every night but okay.
2. Breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast? Dinner for breakfast.
3. Champagne or martini? Champagne.
4. Food on a skewer or food on a tiny spoon? Skewer. Because then you have a toothpick at the end.
5. Would you rather have a coffee or red-wine spill on your favorite outfit? Probably red wine. I think coffee is worse because then you have the milk as well as the coffee and the smell is bad.
6. Buffet or sit-down dinner? Sit-down dinner
7. Soup or salad? Salad.
8. Nutella or Speculoos? Neither.
9. Worst food to get stuck in your teeth: Kale or poppy seeds? What a ridiculous question! (laughing). I guess poppy seeds?
10. Edible flowers or edible gold? Edible flowers. Edible gold is just silly.
11. Crushed ice or cubed ice? Cubed.
12. Pizza or pasta? Pasta.
13. Sing in the shower or sing in the car? Car... not that I have a car.
14. Are you a hunter or a gatherer? What does that mean? Hmmm... I'm going to say hunter...
In the box today:
Slooooow-roasted, herb-crusted aubergine steaks
Garden pea and mint pate
Husked silver rice with vine leaf pesto wrapped in a soft Romano pepper
Garlic and lemon massaged cavalo nero
Balsamic and mustard baked artichokes