The two Dutch teams with Ambassador Stoelinga and Petra Smulders, first secretary at the Dutch embassy, New Delhi
Dutch Cook-up at KochiText Shana Susan
At a time when culinary historians in world cities are heralding Dutch cuisine as something to relish, tucked away in the coastal Indian city of Kochi, the Spice Route Culinary Festival made giant waves. “It was a proud moment to see Dutch maritime maps, documents and photos hanging on the walls of the Bolgatty Palace,” says Bob Albert Burger, who owns an eatery that serves Dutch and French dishes in the centre of Den Haag (The Hague, for non-Dutch folks), Holland.

BOLGATTY PALACE, A DISTINGUISHED VENUE

Organised jointly by Kerala Tourism, Government of Kerala and UNESCO, the Spice Route Culinary Festival was held at Bolgatty Palace and Resorts of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), Kochi, from September 23 to 26. Expert chefs, diplomats and embassy representatives from the participating countries came for the event. Bolgatty Palace was built by a Dutch trader in 1744. It is believed to be one of the oldest existing Dutch palaces outside the Netherlands. It used to be the Governor's palace for the commander of Dutch Malabar, and later served as the home of the British Governors. It is now an eight-acre heritage hotel resort, boasting a swimming pool, manicured lawns, a nine-hole golf course, and an Ayurvedic spa, with its antique furniture and décor standing testimony to its glorious history.

The 18th century Bolgatty Palace is now a heritage hotel

A TASTE OF THE TOWN

Some of the dishes were exhibited for the public to taste. The visiting chefs were treated to a conducted tour led by cooking instructor Nimmy Paul, which included local delicacies like fish, prawn and beef dishes. Teams from 15 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East were here for the International Chef Competition as part of the Festival. The Dutch chefs, Mila van dez Schalke Kamberg, Simone van Veen, Raymond Meere and Bob Albert Burger, were all quite taken by the experience and vowed to return to Kochi, maybe even take part in the next Spice Route festival that will be held two years later. “I’m coming back with my kids to Kochi. They will love this place,” declares Bob. Adds Raymond, “It’s much greener and the air less polluted than the cities we live in.” He recently started a restaurant back in the Netherlands and Bob is helping him set up the place. For him, some of the best moments here were spent in the local markets at Mattancherry, buying regional produce, spices, fish and vegetables. “We interacted with shopkeepers and locals as we went about picking up stuff, taking in the sights and smells and buying provisions for the competitions,” says Raymond.

Mila, who is in love with fusion food, quickly points out: “I’ve never been outside Holland for a culinary festival, and this competition gave me a chance to meet chefs from 15 countries. One of the Turkish chefs has created a WhatsApp group. This way we can keep in touch, and maybe meet them when we travel to other countries.” Mila is keen to try serving dishes with an Indian touch, once back home in Holland.

Simone, the older of the two women and a businesswoman-turned-chef, has just started her own restaurant. “I loved the fact that the Indian chefs spend

so much time in cooking, creating new flavours and fragrances. The people here are friendly too, and warm, always willing to help us,” she says.

Mila’s slick dish: the tempura jumbo shrimp and sautéed snapper

SERVING UP FISH AND WENTELTEEFJES

With a 440-km coastline, the Netherlands is famous for its fish and seafood dishes, akin to the food palette of Kerala. Filleted, batter-fried, baked, smoked, grilled, curried, broiled, sun-dried, and more... fish is cooked in scores of varieties in both the areas. And two of Mila's contributions to the culinary festival—tempura jumbo shrimp with curry mayonnaise and coriander salsa, and sautéed snapper fillet with a mousseline of parsnip and leek, with garlic truffle—are pointers to that fact. The crispy tempura and the sautéed snapper were cooked with a rendering of locally-sourced spices and herbs.

Bob and Raymond’s wentelteefjes was a big hit

Wentelteefjes, a special Dutch breakfast delicacy, comprises bread dipped in egg and cooked in a pan. Malayalis here know it as 'French toast', and it is a favourite among the young and the old.

Imagine the delight of the chefs from around the city when Bob and Raymond decided to whip up wentelteefjes with vanilla sauce and fresh fruit!

FOOD FOR PEACE

Petra Smulders, First Secretary, Department of Political Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the Netherlands Embassy, is very enthusiastic about the entire project. ”After months of discussion and planning, 31 countries were invited, and 15 responded positively. The Netherlands and Lebanon came up with two teams, so there were a total of 17 teams in the competition. We believe there are several ways to work for peace, and ours is through food. Food brings people closer, and makes us feel for each other, irrespective of our nationalities and culture.”

The famed Kerala spices, inspiration for the festival theme

DUTCH SUPPORT FOR MUZIRIS

Next up is associating with the Muziris Heritage Project. “Our dream is to make it a world livable city, complete with proper water management, select museums and art spaces, with Dutch natives stationed there,” says Petra. Our Ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga will be in the city in October to discuss the Muziris project with the Tourism Minister and other authorities.” With the Kochi Muziris Biennale gearing up for its third edition in the city, Kochi is en route to becoming a world art destination. Add to that international culinary festivals, and it seems to be on its way to becoming a world gourmet destination as well.

Salade with poffertjes (a spongy pancake) was another Dutch delicacy to savour

Feature arranged by Heyyo Media