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Cartoons, architecture, tattooists, techno music, Damien Hirst ... chef Sergio Herman takes his cues from far more than just food

Author Jay Cheshes

Food presented on artfully shattered dishes at Sergio Herman’s Oud Sluis (Tony Le Duc/Courtesy Sergio Herman)

THE NETHERLANDS—Most chefs look for inspiration in the ingredients around them; others, in the traditional foods of world cultures. Sergio Herman, the Netherlands’ first “rock-star chef,” seeks his in fashion, architecture, electronic dance music, modern art and design. And if his three-Michelin-star destination restaurant, Oud Sluis, and his recent book, Sergiology, are any indication, he’s found plenty.

Located in the quaint market town of Sluis, in southwest Holland, the traditional shingled building that houses Oud Sluis belies the modern cultural treasury it holds. Inside, specially commissioned mixes by Dutch DJ Sander Kleinenberg accompany the 15-course tasting menu. One dish arrives on a plate illustrated by a famous cartoonist; another comes in fractured cups and saucers imagined by top Belgian designer Sofie Lachaert. Ingredients are arranged in conceptual landscapes and seascapes in an homage to a stroll along the windswept Dutch coast, where Herman’s second restaurant, Pure-C, opened three years ago. Miniature chocolate skulls, conceived with leading Dutch design firm Studio Job, evoke the work of renegade British artist Damien Hirst. A few years back, Herman served dessert “tattoos” designed by Hanky Panky, a well-known tattoo artist who once inked Kurt Cobain.

These inspirations, and many more, are showcased in Herman’s book, which explores the complicated question of where ideas come from by profiling musicians, chefs, visual artists and architects who have influenced him. The lavish, photo-filled volume comes with its own audio player, containing interviews with several of the book’s big names as well as narration by Herman himself. “When you go to a museum, you hear stories through a headset that take you deeper into the artist’s world,” he says. “I wanted to do the same thing for my food.”

In maintaining all these varied interests and funneling them into cuisine, Herman, 42, appears to have an almost superhuman drive. Last summer he signed on with the Tomorrowland festival, an electronic music blowout in Belgium, where he cooked under a tent for eight lucky winners who, like Willy Wonka’s potential protégés, had snagged “golden tickets.” He’s developing his first city restaurant, in an old military hospital chapel in Antwerp, and is in talks to open an eatery on Ibiza. He has a string of cookbooks in the works and recently published a magazine with his name and face on the cover. And somehow he still finds time to cook at Oud Sluis, showing up in the kitchen for just about every service.

“I work 17, 18 hours a day. I don’t really need sleep,” Herman says, but adds that he’s not planning to keep that pace up forever. “I’ve got a date in my head when I’ll shut the door at Oud Sluis. I want to stop while I’m at my peak.” Many wonder how much further that can possibly be from where he is right now.

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