Sergio Herman is not just a chef. He is one of the top creative minds to come out of the culinary world in the past years. His story could be an inspiration for many not just in the culinary world but for those who work in all creative fields.
After all, today’s top chefs are not only cooks, they are also artists in their own right. Driving back home after meeting him, I was thinking of the many lessons in just over an hour speaking with this incredibly successful chef. When you meet him, you realise he is buzzing with energy but also incredibly focused in his responses.
With this, we are starting a new series on the lessons to learnt from these high performers. We hope that this serves as inspiration not only to chefs.
1. To reach the top you need to work hard, extremely hard. There is no short-cut for success
We have heard it many times and it might sound like a cliché but you cannot be successful if you are not prepared to make sacrifices. For many years, Sergio worked incredibly long hours. When the service was over after lunch, he would not go for a break but together with his team they would start preparing for dinner. When dinner was over, he would try to create new things. 18 and 20 hour working days were not uncommon. He also has an incredible capacity to focus and to work on details which may be irrelevant to many. He still works hard though now it is different.
2. Have a goal and go for it. If you have dreams and goals in life you have the power to achieve them
Sergio turned his parents’ restaurant, which used to be a traditional North sea restaurant serving typical cuisine such as mussels with fries, into one of the best restaurants in the world. He used the same space and did not look for excuses. He used the resources that were available. He had a goal and reached it. Every year he set targets which he then worked hard to achieve. The recently released documentary Sergio Herman Fucking Perfect was a way to tell young chefs that if you have dreams and goals in life you have the power to achieve them. This lesson should not be just for chefs but for anyone who is a dreamer.
3. Once you’ve reached your objectives and you are no longer having fun, don’t be afraid to take decisions, even tough ones
Closing Oud Sluis was certainly not an easy decision. After all, it was the place where he grew up as a child, it was the restaurant owned by his parents so there was a lot of sentimental value. But Sergio had reached all the objectives he had set out to achieve and felt he needed to try something new. As he himself says, he could have done it for another five to ten more years but would it have been fun? For him the answer was no and that was the reason why he decided to close the place. Sometimes we fall into the trap of taking the easy way out. As human beings we do not like change. But sometimes, if the spark has gone, we need to have the courage to search for new goals.
4. Quitting at the top does not mean resting on your laurels
Sergio closed his restaurant but did not quit working. He co-owns two restaurants, has an online shop and a publishing house and is also a television personality. He does things differently now. But cooking is still his first love and while he does not always cook, he still tries to work a service from time to time to retain his passion for cooking.
5. Find your own style, don’t copy
Copying is tempting particularly in the age of social media when everything is shared in an instant and you know what is happening around the globe. But nothing beats having your own style in whatever you do. It is easy to copy nowadays but you need to find inspiration and to be creative yourself. You need to go for a drive, take a walk in nature. Social media may actually have made it harder to be creative.
6. There are moments in life for everything. Including balance
One of the reasons why Sergio closed Oud Sluis was to try and find balance in his life. There are times for everything in life. There is a time for hard work but there is also a time when you need to recognise that you also need to look after your health or your family. Finding balance is never easy and is one of life’s main struggles. It is worth remembering this.
7. Look at awards as signs of recognition. Just don’t be fixated by them
Awards are obviously important. They are like medals in sport. If you work extremely hard, you deserve to be compensated. But recognise them for what they are and don’t be fixated by these. As Sergio told me, awards give you a great feeling and give you the power to push and go further. They give you the ability to motivate your team and to work harder than before. He had his fair share of success. Maximum points in Gault Millau, 3 Michelin stars and listed in the World’s top 20 restaurants, but he is no longer interested in this. “I don’t have the ego to live for stars any more. It was my life for so many years,” he told me.
What he recommends to the next generation of chefs is to find their own style and to follow their own gut feeling.
8. Find the time to be creative
Creativity comes from working hard but also from finding the time to think. Now that he has more time on his hands, and a little calmer he can find more time to be creative. But ironically he says that he also needs more time to be creative because he needs to rest more and focus more. Discussion with your team is essential (and teamwork is the secret of success) but then you need the time to join the dots. Find the best way to do it. It could be while you are driving or simply going for a walk.
9. Simplicity is not something you learn instantly
The ultimate aim of any chef or any artist is to keep things simple. Because simple can be extremely complex in many walks of life. Cooking comes from the heart, from your passion. Simplicity is not something you can learn in a year. It takes a long time to find simplicity.
10. Never stop dreaming
Sergio reached all his objectives with Oud Sluis. But then he went on to open The Jane, a stunning restaurant which he described as a ‘once in a lifetime project’. He is now searching for something new. Something simple, something perfect.