Chef Syrco Bakker recently experienced a significant change in elevation when he left his Michelin-starred restaurant on the North Sea in the Netherlands to take up a temporary residence at the Carlton Hotel for the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival 2018.
Located at nearly 1,900 meters above sea level, the five-star Carlton Hotel has 60 lavish suites that offer breathtaking views of the Lake St. Moritz and the Swiss Alps. Built in 1913, the hotel is home to three restaurants:
- Restaurant Romanoff, where Bakker prepared and served his Gourmet Dîner during the festival.
- Da Vittorio from the Cerea brothers, which offers “Italian haute cuisine” and has earned one Michelin star.
- Carlton Bar & Lobby with its famous sun-filled terrace overlooking St. Moritz.
At the Carlton Hotel — one of 9 hotels partnering with the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival — Bakker was paired with its Head Chef, Gero Porstein, of the Restaurant Romanoff. The festival announced Bakker as a master guest chef in November 2017, after Belgian Chef Nick Bril — a friend of his, had to cancel because of family reasons. Bril told festival organizers, “I’m very happy that Syrco has spontaneously agreed to stand in for me and I am sure that he will more than enthral the festival guests with his creations!”
At 33 years of age, Bakker heads up the kitchen at celebrity chef Sergio Herman’s Pure C in the Netherlands, near the border with Belgium. The restaurant opened in 2010, and within a year and a half, it received a Michelin star — a remarkable achievement for the young chef. Bakker’s mother is originally from Indonesia, and you will find Asian influences in his cooking at Pure C, like his versions of Sea Bass Boemboe Bali (fish in a spicy sauce) and Gado Gado (a vegetable salad with peanut sauce).
Interview with Syrco Bakker
I sat down with Bakker beside one of two grand fireplaces in the historic Bel Étage of the Carlton Hotel. It was the morning before his first 6-course Gourmet Dîner in the hotel’s Restaurant Romanoff, and we talked about the festival, his restaurant and plans for the future. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: When you think of Swiss food, what comes to mind?
Bakker: A lot of great cheeses. Raclette or fondue. It’s really typical, I think. I don’t want to leave before eating this. Also, Andreas Caminada, of course. He’s one of the guys who’s promoting Switzerland at the Michelin level.
Q: Can you describe your experience thus far at the festival?
Bakker: It’s been very good, and busy, as well. We are trying to find the best product available here, so that the function in the dish will be the same. It’s also interesting to see new products and another way of working. It’s important that you see other kitchens and you learn from them.
Q: What ingredients did you bring from the Netherlands?
Bakker: We didn’t bring that much. I brought plankton. It’s like a fine seaweed, and it’s not available here. Other than that, not that much. We are very close to the Netherlands as well, and it wasn’t so hard to get products. It’s also nice to see other products and learn to work with it. For example, instead of mackerel now, we will use kingfish. It was a misunderstanding due to the name of the fish — similar names, but different fish. I was quite impressed with the quality.
Q: What is “Gourmet” to you?
Bakker: Gourmet for me is… It’s about the experience. It’s not typical for me — like a fine dining thing. It’s more that guests will taste new flavors and textures, and also get to know a chef better, by sharing their philosophy on the plate.
Dining has to be fun. Everybody has to be comfortable and feeling good. Sometimes you have a quality that’s super good, but it’s a bit too classy and at the end, the guests are afraid to touch something or make noise, and this is not good. I would say in the restaurant, when we have a birthday cake, and when people start singing — then, we have completed our goal. That’s for me, a big sign that people feel comfortable. Otherwise, if you’re not comfortable, you don’t start singing in a restaurant.
Q: When people eat your food, what do they get to know about you?
Bakker: What I want to show the guests is where I come from, where Pure C is. We have a very rich area — with products from the sea, but also from the dunes, from the land. I think as a chef, we have a responsibility to show guests that there are more fish than turbot and sea bass. There’s also weever and mackerel that are very good.
Also, we use the whole animal. Like, for example, we have duck on the menu [for the Gourmet Dîner]. We use everything – of course the breast, for most people it’s the best part. The legs, we confit them, and from the intestines, we make a butter. From the carcass, we make a jus. You have to kill an animal to eat it, which is totally okay for me, but then you have to eat it with respect and treat it with respect. And, use all the elements from it and not only the filet.
Q: What are you most looking forward to this week of the Gourmet Festival?
Bakker: Tonight, for the first Gourmet Dîner. It’s always exciting to be in another place in the world and to serve the same food that we normally serve at Pure C in our restaurant with another team, in another location. It’s very challenging, but we’re sticking to our schedule. In the end, the first night is the most exciting night, and afterwards it gets easier. I like it a lot because in our restaurant — everything is set, and everybody knows what to do. It’s also nice to step out of your comfort zone, and it also gives a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day. When we came here a few days ago, we arrived here with nothing — no preparation, no nothing, only a menu on a paper. It’s very nice after three days to serve a whole menu.
Q: How is it working with Gero Porstein?
Bakker: It has been good. Because Pure C is still open, I brought two assistants. One guy is a friend, and I worked with him at Oud Sluis back in the day. [Editor’s note: Oud Sluis was Sergio Herman’s three-star Michelin restaurant, which he famously closed in 2013.] And, then I brought another guy I know who spent four seasons working here at the Carlton. Normally you come into a kitchen, and everything is new. And he knows everything — how they work, and it’s a nice bridge between Gero and me. It works out very well so far.
Q: What can you tell me about the menu for tonight?
Bakker: Of course, we will serve a lot of seafood. It’s really funny because here [at the Carlton Hotel], when we ask the chefs about a fish, we say, “Do you normally use this?” And they say, “No, because we don’t have the sea, we only use freshwater fish.” And for me, it’s the same. People say, “Do you use salmon?” And we say “No, I don’t use salmon because we are close to the sea, we only use saltwater fish.” We have the same philosophy.
Q: What are your future goals?
Bakker: We are now in Cadzand, and in July 2018 we will open the newly remodeled hotel and also a food bar, where we will serve small bites and dishes to share, with an Asian influence. We will be open seven days a week. It will be a challenge, but I think we can achieve it.
And, at Pure C, we currently serve 75 guests, but from July 2018 we will serve 60 guests. So, we will reduce a little bit to give more quality and service to the guest. We will also open for seven services instead of ten. This is also to reduce hours for the staff, to give better conditions to the staff and to also achieve goals related to quality. Then in 2019, there will be a terrace on the boulevard side of the hotel.
Bakker’s Gourmet Dîner at the Carlton Hotel
At the Carlton Hotel’s Romanoff Restaurant, Bakker prepared a special menu featuring some of his favorite dishes from Pure C for three evenings during the festival. Following our interview in the morning, I had the pleasure of attending his first dinner that evening, which included the following courses:
THE SYRCO BAKKER MENU
Oyster│Hierbas de las dunas│Green Apple│North Sea crab│Pure C Bread
Sea bass Boemboe Bali│Gado gado
Caille (quail) egg soufflé│Truffle│Bone marrow│Plancton
Mieral Canette (duck)│Sea buckthorn berry│Rocket│Salsify│Carrot
Beautiful plates of food arrived from the kitchen that night, one after another, with fresh ingredients and lots of wonderful seafood. In terms of individual dishes, I am not generally a huge fan of oysters, but I really liked how he paired it with the tiny, crisp cubes of green apple. The delicate quail egg soufflé with grated truffles was also a particular highlight. After it arrived, I felt like all of us at the table stopped talking for a brief moment, savoring the dish in silence. The dessert, made with Itakuja, a Brazilian dark chocolate, avocado and passion fruit followed the same theme as the earlier dishes — light, delicious and full of flavor.
In front of a huge picture window with a scenic view of the snow-covered Alps, very comfortably seated in the elegant dining room of the exclusive Carlton Hotel, I thoroughly enjoyed Bakker’s signature dishes from his seaside restaurant. Along with exceptional food, we had excellent service from the staff at the Restaurant Romanoff — genuine, friendly and thoughtful. I had a truly memorable experience, even if we didn’t sing during the meal.
For more information:
Please note: I stayed at the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz and attended Syrco Bakker’s Gourmet Dîner at the Restaurant Romanoff as a guest of the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival. As always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are purely my own.