Chef Jasper Udink ten Cate is turning beaches into food and beef carpaccio into camouflage. We spoke to the chef about why he wants his cuisine to end up at the MoMa.
Cooking food is inherently creative, but having to make the same menu every day surrounded by the same people can make a chef go crazy. Jasper Udink Ten Cate can relate. When he no longer wanted the full-time kitchen job lifestyle anymore, he turned to freelance work. He calls himself the "creative chef" and combines catering and creating art. Last week, his book Creative Chef was released, which reads more like a manual than an actual cookbook, teaching readers tricks like sneaking beef carpaccio into a strictly vegetarian dinner party by hiding it underneath a layer of spinach. I sat down with the chef to discussing his perspective on how food and art connect, and why he's making beaches from his pantry.
MUNCHIES: Hey, Jasper. Congratulations on the new book. Who were you writing this book for? Jasper Udink ten Cate: For everyone who wants to have a bit more fun with their dining experience. It features recipes but I don't think many people will actually use it to cook meals. The book is meant to inspire home cooks and give a different perspective on dining.
Interesting. So why do you call yourself the "Creative Chef"? I've had this dream of creating an edible exhibit at the MoMA, which is how the Creative Chef came about. I'll never actually get to do that—or maybe I will—but I've made it my ultimate goal. Everything I've done up to this point has brought me closer to that goal. The first step is this cookbook. I figured that if I make a very creative cookbook, people will see me as an artist, which will lead to more jobs that combine food and art. This [project] is not about me at all, but about the things I can create with other people. Creative Chef is a collective that includes designers, illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, and architects.
Do you consider yourself an artist? Cooking is my language and eating is a tool, but not a goal in and of itself. The most beautiful thing you can achieve as a chef, musician, or artist is touching someone else with something. The words in a song can speak to you at such a personal level and can give you goosebumps. I want to do the same with food.
So how do you achieve that through food? By getting to know the people you're cooking for. If I do a wedding, I first visit the couple, write down who they are, what they do, and what makes them happy. I'll even look around on their Facebook pages. And then based on their story, I create a menu for them. Cooking is often about transmitting something. While I serve the food, I tell that story. If all goes well, this will start a conversation. Because of that, people will remember the food. All of my memories of trips with my parents when I was younger, for instance, are connected to food.
That makes sense. Why did you want to write this book? In 2014, I quit working at an event planning business I had started with friends, where I was in charge of the cooking. I wanted to fully focus on Creative Chef and started a crowd funding campaign with photographer Rogier Boogaard and Luc Janssens, who I run a small chocolate factory with. We raised 14.000 euros, which was enough to create the content for the book. I had planned out the chapters in my mind: presentation, music, smell, stories, and playing with food. The cooking aspect was added on top of all that. The paintings, for instance, were a project that cost a few thousand euros. You put down the canvases, serve food on them, people eat it, and through that a certain pattern emerges. Then I added a layer of varnish and Roger took the pictures. This way, you get art pieces made by Jasper, Roger, and six hundred eaters.
Did you have any help from a food stylist? No, it was just a matter of discovering along the way. I had no idea what went into creating a book.
Thanks for speaking to me, Jasper!
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in Dutch.