He thinks he doesn’t have time to chat because he’s busy chopping coriander, but Dennis, our chef de cuisine, tells him to take a seat while he takes over from him. Can Mike recount his life story quickly? This proofs to be a perfectly normal question once he has finished doing so. Mike can do everything quickly.
Life as a banker
When you see Mike hard at work in the two-star kitchen of the restaurant &samhoud places, you would never guess that his day-to-day job four years ago involved focusing on hard- ware and software issues. Back then, Mike held a full-time business support position in the ICT division of Rabobank. Barely pausing to take a breath, he relates his life story. “At the age of 18 I began taking part-time jobs while studying economics. I saw all corners and departments of the financial world: archiving, insurance, mortgages, ING, the insurance company Nationale Nederlanden, you name it. Things started moving swiftly when I arrived at Rabobank and very soon I was the spider in the web responsible for ensuring that local banks across the globe received the hard- and software they required. The first two years were fantastic, but after three years everything started changing at Rabobank and my interest in the world of banking diminished. After a good discussion, I bid the bank farewell. And that’s when everything started itching.”
As a child, Mike was already busy “creating”, as he puts it. Up until the age of 18, I always spent my free time painting, telling stories and playing the piano. My piano teacher believed I had enough talent to become a professional pianist. I left all of that behind me when I decided to go into business. But after the business adventure, I wanted to find the same kick the piano gave me. Create something with which you can give people the evening of their lives. Something you have created that makes someone close their eyes and dream.” Mike leans back slightly, his eyes gleaming. “I experienced that sometimes with cooking. During my years at Rabobank, all my spare time was devoted to cooking. I watched cooking programs late into the night, devoured cookbooks and spent as much time as possible in the kitchen trying out dishes for friends.”
A long journey to the kitchen
A key turning point occurred at the age of 28, when Mike decided to become a chef. Not just a chef, the best chef possible. “But nobody wanted to hire me, unfortunately. Of course 28 is a terribly old age in this world. Most youngsters become assistant cooks when they’re 17. I didn’t have a diploma and therefore paid for basic training out of my own pocket. The opportunity to gain experience was provided by a temporary employment agency for cooks. With the BMW purchased during my time at Rabobank, I drove across the country, wherever an assistant cook was needed. The salary I earned from this helped pay for a second diploma and from then on I was finally taken seriously. I worked in several restaurants, but learned the most at Solo, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Gorinchem, leaded by chef Mohamed El Harouchi. I rediscovered again how to make a vinaigrette, how to chop properly and how to bake fish the right way. It was an incredibly difficult time, the lowest point of which was when a silly car accident left the restaurant’s chef severely handicapped. We suddenly had to keep the restaurant running without its chef. He visited the kitchen one more time, in a wheelchair. I was the only one he recognized. I cried in an alley afterwards, distraught at seeing my teacher in such a vulnerable and helpless state. At such a high level you do everything for your chef – he is the person for whom you cook. The restaurant lost its star, because of the long absence of the chef, the day before I left.”
Dreaming about a third star
After working at Ivy for half a year (now called ‘FG restaurant’), the light went out. “Over a period of two years I had worked my way up from nowhere to a chef in a Michelin restaurant. That takes its toll eventually. I could no longer do anything.” Mike admits that this was one of the hardest periods of his life. He sometimes even received offers from the banking sector. “I really had to think about what I wanted. I then heard about Moshik indirectly and recognised the similarities in our life stories: we had both fought incredibly hard and climbed our way to the top of the culinary world with remarkable speed. If there was someone I wanted to learn from, it was Moshik. After extensive research I decided to apply. During the job interview with Dennis, the chef de cuisine of &samhoud places, it clicked immediately. At previous interviews I often felt a cold arrogance, but Dennis was interested in who I was as a person. The click is still there. Nowadays I have more focus compared to when I started out: my aim now is to see &samhoud places progress from its second to third Michelin star. I dream about the restaurant at the highest possible level. My desire is to be part of that when it happens.”
And then all of a sudden, our few minutes together have passed and the interview is over. The coriander has already been chopped, but Mike is needed elsewhere. The fish supplier has some finance-related questions, and Mike appears to know a thing or two about that.