A passion for travel, a flair for food and a five-year-plan that saw him up sticks and move to Cornwall in a matter of months. Here’s more on our Penventon Park Hotel new Head Chef, Freek Peters…
There aren’t many teenage boys that know exactly what they’d like to do for a career, but Freek Peters was one of the rare ones. His first furore into a professional kitchen was at just 14-year-old when Freek took a job in his local pizzeria in Holland where he grew up. He dabbled with hotel management education for six months, before realising that the only place he truly felt at home was in the kitchen. And so began a five-year educational journey honing his skills at catering college.
Once completing his training Freek combined two of his favourite loves – travelling and food. “Food was always a theme as I travelled,” Freek recalls. “I wanted to learn as much about food in as many different places as I could find. Wherever I went I would find work in a kitchen – I was literally loving life.”
As he travelled through Italy, France, Australia and America Freek worked with many inspiring and talented chefs. “I worked with a man called Paul Bocuse, in France, who is something of a legend having held three Michelin stars for practically forever,” says Freek. It was a venture onto a cruise ship for two years that eventually brought the Dutchman to the UK. He met his first wife on board and they moved to Cheltenham in 2002.
“I lived in the area around the Cotswolds, Bristol and Bath for almost 16 years, working in some truly fantastic restaurants and pubs. I worked in a hotel with two rosettes; for a pub crowned Cotswold Pub of the Year and another crowned Restaurant of the Year. I moved around a lot because I was so eager to learn. I wanted to truly understand the English customer. In Holland, we’ll sit back and enjoy a meal for three hours, but in England people tend to eat and leave much more quickly. The expectations of timings and food are very different and you only understand that by watching and learning,” Freek explains.
Over the many years of living and working in the South West, Freek parted from his first wife and remarried. He and his second wife, Rebecca, had a five-year plan to move to Cornwall, but that was suddenly expedited when a dream job came up. “I was asked to send my CV over to someone at a business called the Penventon Park Hotel. I was invited down for an interview and I just instantly clicked with Nick, the General Manager. It meant that our five-year plan to move suddenly became a three-month plan. I’m not sure my wife has forgiven me yet, although she does love Cornwall,” admitted Freek.
Since arriving at the Penventon in late summer, Freek has spent time streamlining processes. Getting the details right behind the scenes is imperative when he’s running a successful kitchen. “Nick has been great at giving me the autonomy to say ‘this is where we need to go’. I’ve been working on bringing more control to the way we do things and, of course, creating a new menu,” says Freek. Moving away from the traditional English food previously served at the Penventon, Freek is concentrating on a brasserie style French-European menu – with a UK twist.
“Yes, I’ve got targets and goals for the business, but the most important thing for me is the customer. I want to serve honest food that makes people want to tell their friends about it and come back to enjoy again,” he says. A great range of steaks is an absolute must on Freek’s menu. “Our pork belly dish is always hugely popular and the salt and pepper crispy squid flies out the door every night. I’ve got all the tools in the kitchen – water baths, dehydrators etc. I could serve dishes with a gel of this and a foam of that, but in actual fact I want people to think of the restaurant and food at the Penventon as approachable. For me that also means catering well for vegans and vegetarians – it’s about going the extra mile.”
With the new menu recently launched, Freek says he’s already considering what will come next. “If something isn’t working I will change it. In the end it’s the customer who decides and it’s the customer that I cater for to keep them coming back.”