A story by Michiel- a Hungry Streetcat
Who is the Hungry Streetcat? Good question. We might all be one without food or shelter. The streetcat who created this idea and started this tour is Michiel. A Dutch boy who takes pride in his Frisian roots -up north in The Netherlands- where he grew up. A rural environment, dairy cow country. Endless green pastures of fat rich grass. A boy with a desire for exploring. A desire for food and tasting new worlds. Born from a loving mom from a meat-focused-family in Brabant (in the south of the Netherlands). A dad (bless him) from Amsterdam with partial roots in Indonesia (due to my flying grandpa / my flying Garuda guardian).
“Food was important for me and my family. Not for all us, some just regarded it just as nutrition. Stomach filling. But there is a strong relation between my father, his mother and me because of the love of food. My grandma (bless her) took her secret recipe for her vegetable soup with her down the grave, and I can still can remember her dishes. Same for the food my dad was cooking on a daily base. He communicated through the food he made. He had an open mind for the world and its beauty. I remember going to Amsterdam with my dad when i was a child. Visiting the Chinese supermarket or an Indonesian Toko, mind you, these were the early eighties and this was not funky shop yet, it just smelled funky.”
“From the strange ingredients (like trassie or krupuk) my dad collected and the stories that surrounded this food he cooked up the most brilliant Indonesian dishes. You can still wake me up in the middle of the night to have a ‘Rijsttafel’ with soft Rendang, sate Gambing with peanut sauce, good stir-fried rice, spicy eggs, ajam pedis, spicy mackerel, and sweet and sour cucumber.”
My first job in hospitality was washing the dishes in the local Chinese restaurant. I learned to work, to push through and keep smiling when it’s 45 degrees and dishes are piling up like mad. My Cantonese colleagues nicknamed me Camel for a good reason. I was happy being part of this family (even though I was the only Dutch-boy) of co-workers where we would collectively serve up food for sometimes hundreds of people a night. Like a human machinery a restaurant has a strange beauty in it. It made me realise we all are part of the total.
So, this boy became an urban dweller while studying History in the most exciting Dutch metropolitan area of Rotterdam. Disbelief in academic virtue and family soap opera soon made me travel. Which is different than a holiday by the way. You allow the context to talk to you, change you. As I was young and restless in mind and body I landed my first cooking job in Christchurch (N.Z.) and I was making yummy pasta and funky pizza’s. I learned less is more (especially topping of a pizza), and things start with a good base (home-made-dough), and have fun while you work.
After a period of couch- and soul-searching I decided to learn a trade. I could talk bull**** in seven different languages but I could not cook. So, I learned, and became a cook. And as you learn from the people you encounter on your way you adopt, learn and take in the best for yourself. I set out sailing and cooked my way around the world. Tall ships in different sizes and settings, cooking, organising and exploring the world.
Back on shore I wanted to cook for real. I managed to get an internship at the best and only ***star Michelin restaurant in Rotterdam, but soon realised I was a misfit. I shared the love and interest for beautiful products and making brilliant food, but lacked skills and decisive; the fitting attitude. I was too autonomous and did not fit in the warzone academy of the business. I thanked the patron-cuisinier after service on a Saturday night. He was insulted.
Having experienced the working conditions of this level of restaurant, the stress, long hours, no pay, and the hostile cutthroat attitude it created I decided to look elsewhere. This was not my path. The next day I got a phone call from a friend in need. Without a blink of an eye I started the next week to manage a small restaurant on a campsite in my beloved Fryslan.
I learned to manage staff, develop crew, be responsible for sales and purchase, create coffee like a barista and make the menu fit together. Though at twenty-five I was too young and ambitious to stay and wanted to lead a different life. Like most migrations, I ended up in a different city because of love for a lady. I became a resident of Haarlem and I felt at home in this city. Halfway urban and rural life, Haarlem has the best of both worlds. I worked in several restaurant settings and decided to go back to school. 40+ hours a week between tiled kitchen walls was not my destiny. I studied part-time to get my Master in Art History. Life is simple: I live to enjoy beauty and eat well, I only do it in a complicated way.
During this age of maturation, I finally met my life partner in a Haarlem lunchroom I set up for people with a disability. She made me a proud father of two girls. During the last ten years I part-time worked as a chef for third parties; mainly cooking and hosting various workshops. Besides that, I teach at a university of applied science. I teach everything what you possible can eat or drink. I get energy out of learning students to pave their own path, training them skills and offering them an attitude that changes their future horizon.
Setting up the idea of Hungry streetcat food tours was an idea I played around already for years. Never a real necessity, too much distraction in life itself, but I realised I needed a way to interact with the world and change it in a small way. A Storyteller of food and (art) history, that is me. Therefore, the existence of the hungry streetcat.