Nick Bril runs The Jane in Antwerp considered by many to be one of the most stunning if not the most stunning restaurant in the world. We recently caught up with him to learn more about him, what drives him and how it feels to run a very busy restaurant.
In this second part of our interview, we delve into what inspires him, who he considers to be his mentor, his move from the Dutch region of Zeeland to Antwerp and much more.
You moved from Zeeland in the Netherlands to a city like Antwerp in Belgium, from nature to a buzzing city? How was the move?
I am maybe more eclectic than Sergio (Herman) and Syrco (Bakker – Pure C). The latter is maybe following Sergio in the mindset of having Zeeland as a region. I am enjoying being able to go to Chinese supermarkets around me, to be able to buy Indian spices around me, having multicultural people around me. I can just go out of the place I live and by amazing merguez sausages from a Turkish butcher. Sergio and Syrco travel to get that experience, I have it here. When I need relaxation. I can go to Zeeland. But I think that for now I enjoy being here, being in an environment that is quicker. Things move faster in the middle of Antwerp. I like this tempo, like to have the clubs where I can DJ, like to have the motorways which enable me to drive and also the Brussels airport which is just 30 minutes away. I get a good vibe here, it is also closer to my style of cooking compared to Sergio who is very local and emphasising produce from Zeeland I am cooking more with spices, with influences from my travels. I am more the traveller.
Which are the chefs that inspire you?
The classical chefs. I have lots of respect for game changers like Ferran and Albert Adria, René Redzepi for me is a chef who I admire. He is able to constantly able to innovate, has a huge group pf people following him. For the opening of the new noma, he has managed to auction his apron or a meal there to raise funds for the MAD Foundation. Hats off for that. in terms of being able to constantly innovate, huge group of people following him.
I was at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Hats off to this American chef. I have respect for him. The food might not wow you but it is extremely flavourful, the technique is exceptional and the produce from the garden incredible. The gardeners are giving you a list of the produce that you can use and you select what you want to use. He has two different teams cooking lunch and dinner which make it like two different restaurants, two different menus. It is a super structure. He is a kind of chef who is always there in his restaurant, not necessarily cooking but speaking to his guests, being busy with his team, being there. I see myself in this position. I can train people to execute my dishes. But is is important to be in the restaurant. He is very inspiring and is focused on everything. David Kinch of Manresa is a different chef but he is also inspiring. He took me around his garden and it was mind-blowing. I really appreciate the game changes but also those who do classical really good food.
Who is your mentor?
Sergio of course, he is more close. He has been my main motivator. It is thanks to him that I am who I am today. He thought me to push forward, to not sleep so much, to never give up, to always be critical. This has become second nature. At the moment, though it is different because he is more focused on thinking about accessible concepts and for him fine dining is not really necessary any more. I am in the position that he was 15 or 20 years ago. Sergio was much more inspiring for me when I was a young guy and I worked in his kitchen. He is still my mentor and I get 50 per cent of my inspiration from him while the rest comes from my travels and my traineeships in different restaurants because I did a lot of traineeships such as at French Laundry and Japan. I stayed in Oud Sluis for 10 years because I was very loyal and it felt the right thing. But I missed out on other things. But Sergio gave me the opportunity to do stages and I am also influenced by a lot of other chefs.
Do you cook at home?
Sometimes. What I don’t like is the kitchen in a the small space and also not having chefs around me to do the cleaning.
Is there something you don’t eat?
No I eat everything. In Asia, there were times during a TV show where there was a cocktail with the blood of snakes and then i said I don’t see the point of having that particularly because it would have lead to hallunications. That was a limit. But I am open to everything and I like everything.
What’s your best meal?
I would mention two. One was at Noma about 10 years ago. It was the first time I went to Noma when he was still cooking more creamy and more classical French based cuisine. It was mind blowing .I had a double menu at the French Laundry in the kitchen in the little desk with window overlooking the kitchen. I must have eaten all the dishes that were served that evening. 40 dishes and I could barely move after but it was really great?
What is one thing that is in a professional kitchen which should be in everyone’s kitchen?
Good chefs. Then you can do everything.
Places where you like to eat?
I like classical cuisine. If I am going out with a friend I like to go to Bistro du Nord in Antwerp or to a Chinese restaurant we have close by called the Chinese place Fong Mei. For the rest, I like to go to very simple Italian places where I can have a simple plate of pasta and a glass of wine. I also like Au Vieux Port and Japanese restaurants.
What’s your favourite book?
Maybe it is stereotypical but it would be White Heat by Marco Pierre White.