I have met François Geurds on a few occasions now. A couple of times at his eponymous FG Restaurant and also at the newer Food Lab. For once, the Michelin judges have awarded their coveted stars with logic and insight.
But it wasn’t just the food that impressed me, it was also the man. I know that Michelin judges are looking for ‘impressive’ in a juggernaut kinda way, but François is impressive with warmth, sense of fun and passion for his food. You can really imagine that this chap actually has friends!
Although based in The Netherlands, François Geurds has travelled the world honing his craft. He has worked in the New York kitchens of three-Michelin star Per Se with Thomas Keller, at WD 50 with Chef Wiley Dufresne, and at Le Bernardin. He moved to Italy to gain experience in the two-star restaurant of Gualtiero Marchesi. I talked to François about his life and travels.
What are this chef’s first memories of food? ‘I can remember when I was 8 years old, cooking with my mother. She would be cooking for a couple of hours every day. I would cook with her, standing on a stool and I made my first cake when I was a kid. I was fascinated when watching the cake rise. It was like a living organism. I wanted to learn about what was going on inside the cake. I am still interested in cooking from the science point of view.
‘I only ever wanted to be a chef when I was growing up. When I was 12 years old I was working in a restaurant. I was still studying and enjoying sport but, yes, cooking was my passion and it still is. Every single day of the week I am thinking and reading about gastronomy. It’s my life. I was 14 when I got a job at my first Michelin-star restaurant. Over the years I have worked at many 1, 2 and 3-star restaurants. I have worked in New York, Italy, Belgium. You have to spread your wings and look around and see things outside your own country. European chefs travel all over the world, French chefs to New York, for example.
‘I like to travel. If you want to be a good chef you need to travel to see what they are doing and what they are doing differently elsewhere. I think it makes you more complete. I have lived away from home for half my life: it’s made me the chef I am now.’
What are the culinary influences for this globe-trotting chef? ‘I like Asian food and I like South American food. Most of all I like cooking that comes from the heart. That’s what makes a good chef. Thai cuisine I find to be quite pure. It has such a lot of ingredients. Beautiful people, great food. They really have a passion for food. Last year I visited Japan – Osaka and Tokyo. I was really interested in the respect they pay to their ingredients. It was an amazing thing to see; you don’t realise until you actually go there. It’s always good to travel for a couple of weeks just to see such things. You realise there is still a lot to learn.
‘I had an ambition to be a good chef, a successful chef, making good food – it was that way with me. I am really glad to have achieved that and am able to work with the best products one can find. It’s a privilege.
‘I opened my first restaurant over 5 years ago and within 6 months I had my first Michelin star. In another 4 years we had the second star. We are still working hard to serve the best dishes we can.’ Recently François added another star to his growing firmament with one for FG Food Lab.
François indulges his obsession with food and experimentation at his two restaurants. They are distinctly different in ambiance. FG Restaurant is conventional with a smart-casual character. It appeals to discerning diners who appreciate culinary flair in accessible surroundings. This isn’t a stiff, starchy and intimidating establishment: it’s about good food and company without layers of formality.
‘At the start of 2014 I opened my second restaurant, and it’s called Food Lab. It’s called that as it’s a technical test kitchen. It has the feeling of a San Sebastian tapas bar. We try and serve good food in a relaxed atmosphere.’ The Food Lab is unique. It’s actually under the railway arches in Rotterdam and that might not sound too appealing but it’s at the very hub of this posh and trendy city. François has constructed his own gastronomic workshop. The restaurant is intimate and cosy with the aforementioned arches creating a wine-cellarish scene. The open kitchen allows virtually every guest the impression of sitting at the Chef’s Table, or almost. I asked François why he wanted a food lab. ‘I look for and find how things work in nature. I work to discover how we might improve on the flavours, how we can improve the structure.’
This charming and natural chef has achieved so much in a vibrant city that is sadly too often overlooked by food tourists. But what next? ‘In future I want to combine more dishes from the two restaurants. We are trying to explore that – crazy things. We are always looking for ways to introduce a bit of humour. It’s a memory of childhood – it gives you a cosy feeling.’ It sounds like François Geurds has come full circle, but I don’t think so: this chef is still very much on a journey, and a delicious one.
3024 EA Rotterdam
Phone: +31 (0) 10 425 0520
Tuesday – Thursday 12:00 noon to 14:00 pm – 6:30 p.m. to 21:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 12:00 noon to 14:00 pm – 19:00-21:00 pm
FG FOOD LABS
3032 AE Rotterdam
Phone: +31 (0) 10 425 0520
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Thursday / Monday – 11:00am to 15:00pm – 5:00pm to 22:00pm
Interview by Chrissie Walker © 2018