Dutch chef Sergio Herman took his first trip to Singapore 15 years ago, when he was still running his famed three Michelin-starred restaurant, Oud Sluis. A lot has happened since—Herman shuttered the doors to Oud Sluis at its peak and opened a slew of creative new restaurants (many now with Michelin stars attributed to them). Finally, he is getting ready to launch his first ever restaurant in Asia.
Back in Singapore for the third time in his life, the gifted chef remembers a few key things about the city. For one, the unbearable heat has not changed. “We were eating Chilli Crab yesterday, and that was when things got really intense. We started sweating profusely, but we didn’t stop eating,” Herman laughs over Zoom, sitting in—thankfully—the air-conditioned comfort of a chic hotel room one afternoon.
Singapore’s food culture, too, is something Herman loves about the city. He is hence eager to add to the culinary landscape here with his newest venture: a landmark restaurant at Grand Hyatt Singapore. Taking over the space formerly occupied by Mezza9 (a local culinary institution in its own right that is finally being laid to rest), Herman’s new restaurant is set to open in the first half of next year.
Beyond its expected launch date, Herman is curiously tight-lipped about what diners can expect from the establishment. Ever the showman, he divulges only this: “There’s one thing I can tell you—it’s very important to me that when we open a restaurant, it’s about more than just food.”
Here, the culinary maestro chats candidly about his relationship with food, the perils of cooking for family and the one mussel-themed culinary dream he still hopes to pursue.
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Why did you pick Singapore as the destination for your next venture?
I’m always thinking about Singapore. There’s a lot of history in the food here—you can get a taste of Malay, Chinese, Indian cuisine and more. But you also have typical Singaporean dishes that are unique. It’s fantastic to see all these food cultures coming together in food courts, for example. The first city I ever visited in Asia was Singapore, 15 years ago, so it’s also nice that things are coming full circle.
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What do you think is different about owning a successful restaurant now than before?
I think it’s way more intense to have a restaurant now. With social media, especially, everyone knows so much more. When I started, you had to look to cookbooks, go to school, and stage at a good restaurant to learn how to cook. Now, on Google, there are over a million recipes for macaroni alone. People are also travelling more, so hospitality has become very important. It’s more than food—it’s nice music around you, it’s good design, it’s an energy that makes people forget their problems.
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What do you eat at home, when you’re off-duty?
In Holland and Belgium people eat more frequently at home than go out to a restaurant. I have four kids and don’t always have a lot of time, so I like to make really simple food at home. Just a good pasta, for example—not too high end, but just really good. You make a tomato sauce with the best, freshest ingredients available and combine it with well-cooked pasta.
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Do your kids like your cooking, and are they interested in following in your footsteps?
They’re always challenging me. They’ll say, ‘Are you sure it’s supposed to be done like this? Papa, you’re always trying to be too high-end. Oma makes the potatoes and the meat better than you, it’s more tasty.’ [Laughs]
My oldest son, who is turning 23 next week, is cooking in one of my restaurants now. I told him, ‘Just learn, be on time and work hard’. Step by step, he is growing. It’s probably not easy for him to be in the kitchen now—as my son—but he is a pure-hearted guy, with no pretension. I’m very proud of him.
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Is there anything you hope to explore in the future that you haven't done yet?
Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is impossible to do everything. But there is a particular dream that I have. When I was growing up, my parents had seafood restaurants and one of their signature dishes was traditional mussels cooked in a white wine sauce. It was my dad’s classic sauce, served with rice and a nice glass of beer or wine.
A few years ago, we did a pop-up in Belgium to recreate that dish. For the first time, I was back in a kitchen cooking with mussels. The smell alone took me right back to the days when I was a teenager, cooking with my father. I thought to myself—ah, I want to do something more with that. The first thing we did is make a cookbook with 50 recipes around mussels. Now, I’m thinking that it might be great to open a restaurant just with mussels—some classic preparations, some creative dishes. We will see. I don’t know, but it’s always good to have a dream.