Dick Middelweerd and Jermain de Rozario

The Burgundian DNA of the Eindhoven region
Dick comes in with a stiff neck (the result of a racing bike crash). Jermain apologises for the bags under his eyes (the downside of working hard and raising a young family). And ‘our’ Bart? He makes his grand entrance on crutches (something involving getting up on the wrong side of the bed). As soon as the coffee is poured and the fresh apple pie is cut, all the bumps and bruises seem to be forgotten. The gentlemen look sixteen again and dive headlong into a mouth-watering conversation.

Text: Ine van de Laar 
Image: Charlotte Grips

The setting for this meeting is rather distinctive. A glass greenhouse in the green space at the Gasterij het Wasven restaurant in Tongelre. We are sitting at a summery picnic table, drinking home-brewed coffee from a thermos. There are potting tables full of seedlings all around us. It seems to be spring here, but the clouds of condensation every time we exhale reveal the cold truth. Yet the photographer, Charlotte is relentless: the jackets have to come off, otherwise the pictures will look awful. An animated conversation between Bart and the two star chefs proves to be the perfect warm-up.

Bart asks if Dick and Jermain know each other. Jermain: “As a young boy in the catering industry, I already looked up to Dick. I had just started working at De Lindehof and tasted one of his dishes with shiitake mushrooms. I asked Dick for the recipe and he gave it to me straight away. Cheeky as I was at the time, I said: ‘You do know that I’m going to use that here now, don’t you?’ Dick replied: ‘That doesn’t bother me one bit.’

Jermain has never ceased to be impressed by Dick’s self-confidence and kindness. Not to mention his gift of selfless sharing. Dick: “I learned the lesson early on: sharing means multiplying. If you share your knowledge, ideas and inspiration with others, it will have a positive snowball effect.” Jermain admits that it took some time before he was truly able to share. “There was a time when I wanted more, more, more. Until I realised that desire to have is stronger than having.”

When Bart asked Jermain what he meant by this, Jermain explained that he had been asking a lot of himself in recent years. “I took advantage of every form of publicity out there. When I published my book, Lotus, I realised that it was too much. That book was a real eye-opener. Reading it was like a mirror. I realised that I wanted to go back to the basics, to my family and my kitchen, and do what makes me happy from there. For me, that’s all about love.”

The two men have had their share of setbacks. A past full of drugs and debt for Jermain, a heart attack for Dick. More in the present day, there has been the corona crisis, of course, and a fire in the kitchen of Dick’s restaurant. Bart is curious to know how they deal with setbacks. Dick: “I think it’s natural for every chef to ask, when the world is faltering: ‘What is it that can we do?’ We looked at every aspect of our concept with the team, and we put the ‘Trees voor Thuis’ healthy food service on the map nationwide. We also organised a popular culinary walk together with the Eden restaurant. Well, it’s not the first crisis I’ve been through.”

Ten years ago, Dick and his team came up with the idea of a ‘meal kit box’. Dick: “Back then we still thought: ‘a box of food and cooking tips, who’s going to buy that?’ Look how massive that is now. This concept is what kept us going during corona.”

Jermain didn’t sit still during the corona crisis, either. He sold pizzas with a twist for delivery at home, wrote a book and opened a second restaurant. He and his team also went cooking at a home for the elderly. Jermain: “I have used these past two years for self-reflection. I now listen to my instincts better than ever before and only do what I truly want to do. On the one hand, that means cooking in my own way – in jeans if I feel like it – and, on the other, helping people.”

“In the home for the elderly where I worked with my sous-chef Martijn Bax, we asked a visitor, the husband of one of the residents, to join us for dinner. After some hesitation on his part, he sat down opposite his wife. A few days later, he walked into my restaurant. He told me that his wife had passed away, but that we had given them a wonderful gift: their last romantic date together. That really touched me. I know what Dick means when he says ‘sharing means multiplying’. Love and reciprocity is where true happiness lies.”

Dick: ‘A box of food and cooking tips, who’s going to buy that

Yelling in the kitchen
Bart notices that the chefs talk about their team with great respect. What happened to all the Gordon Ramsay-like attitudes in the star kitchens? Jermain: “I can’t do everything myself. There are cooks in my kitchen who are really better or more creative than me, and I give them a lot of freedom. Although I can flip out if my team doesn’t communicate properly. I don’t like it when they’re too proud to ask for help. To me, that’s essential for a good team.” With a nod to Bart and Dick, avid PSV football supporters, he says: ‘You know; working for and with each other. That Ajax feeling.”

Dick wants to be more of a coach, because he thinks that’s when young people perform at their best. Dick: “I sit down with everyone on a regular basis and ask what they need. I also did a mindset course and I like to pass on those tricks.” Dick pinches his right thumb and index finger together. “You should do this every time you experience a small moment of happiness. If you feel crappy, pinch them together, too. Your bad vibes are guaranteed to go away faster.”

Painter’s easel
Bart pours some more coffee and asks where the gentlemen get their inspiration to keep on surprising people. What do we discover? Jermain has a ‘moodroom’. As he says himself: “A creative room; without alcohol and with an easel.” Dick, an avid cyclist for years, is in his element when he’s in the DJ booth. Dick: “Hard work is only possible if you find the right balance between work and leisure.” Jermain: “For me, leisure also means having a coffee with my son on my lap. I don’t think it’s important what I give my children, but what I give them of myself. Though, I still find it challenging to balance family with business ambitions.”

Planting your own field
The vegetable gardens and fields that we are looking out over prompt another question in Bart’s mind. His sausage rolls are primarily made using local ingredients. What do the chefs think of local products? Dick tells us that he is preparing a large piece of land with a gardener. Jermain has given a cook the space to practice his passion – gardening – in a vegetable garden. Dick: “Not only herbs and vegetables, but things like goat’s cheese also don’t need to come from New Zealand for guests. A local story is more appealing.”

In between clearing the coffee cups, Bart asks his final question: “What does ‘enjoying the good things in life’ mean to you?” Both gentlemen agree: it’s about finding the right balance between working hard and enjoying yourself. Bart thinks that’s a nice yet surprising answer. What about food and drinks? Dick: “That‘s just a given for us. For us, it’s all about the right flavours, surprising ingredients and amazing combinations. But you can only really enjoy the good things in life after you’ve worked hard.” At that, Bart helped himself to another piece of apple pie.

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