Headshot by Murtaza N. Daud
Jeroen Van Helvoirt is originally from the Netherlands, where he trained as a pastry chef. His creativity and curiosity led him to travel the world and work at renowned patisseries, such as Joost Arijs in Belgium and Dobla in Vietnam. But what brought him to Canada was love. He fondly recalls following his fiancée to Toronto on June 27, 2017. “I am not good with dates,” he says. “But this one I remember clearly. That same weekend, we celebrated Canada’s 150 years and our arrival.”
That twist of fate worked out well for La Rocca Creative Cakes, where Jeroen now works as their head pastry chef. Bringing 15 years of international experience to the role, Jeroen supervises purchasing and production for the family-owned business in Richmond Hill, and is helping develop new products for their customers across North America.
His eye for design, his knowledge of pastry and chocolate, as well as his strong leadership skills and passion for innovation have quickly made him an invaluable member of the La Rocca Creative Cakes family.
And feeling at home in Canada has come easy for Jeroen. He remembers being quite stunned by the diversity of cultures he found when he first arrived. “I was also surprised and touched that everybody seemed to want to help,” he recalls. “Especially during our first month.” Looking back he says it makes a lot of sense, since so many Canadians are immigrants, they have empathy for newcomers because they remember what it was like.
Adapting to Canadian cuisine has also been a pleasure for Jeroen. When asked to name his favourite thing to eat in Canada, with no hesitation he responds: “the bacon is really amazing here! It is my favourite thing, although I really like poutine too.” Then he quickly adds: “And we ate here the best cherry tomatoes of our lives. They were like candy! Canada seems to be a good land for tomatoes.”
When he wants a meal that reminds him of home, Jeroen says his go-to is Boerenkoll Met Worst, a dish composed of mashed potatoes and kale, topped with sausage. “It’s my first memory of home,” he says. “I use the recipe from my grandmother’s cookbook.”
To get to know Jeroen a little better, we asked him a few more questions about his inspirations, favourite dishes, spices and what makes him tick!
Check out his answers below:
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
My hands! They help execute my ideas.
Your favourite spice?
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
A disorganized and messy kitchen.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Juniper berries and dark chocolate.
What’s your most extravagant purchase?
Stéphane Leroux’s new book- Bleu Chocolat.
Favourite song in the kitchen?
James Bay’s live sessions.
What’s your comfort food?
Boerenkool Met Worst – a traditional kale and potato mash served with sausage.
What’s your most essential tool?
The emergent blender.
If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?
I would like to see more people thinking about quality first. We should always choose quality over quantity.
How did you build an international career?
I’m always trying to improve myself professionally and personally.
Trying to learn with and from the best has lead me to build a strong network which eventually opened up doors for international opportunities.
According to you, what makes a great pastry chef?
Being hard working, creative and curious, but also having discipline and an open mind.
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
Fresh apple pie!
What’s your bad habit?
Snacking on sweets, and not always the most noble ones…
What do you admire in other chefs?
Original creations, technical knowledge and the ability of building flavours and aesthetics in perfect harmony.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
Stéphane Leroux and exotic ingredients found through travels.
The dish you are the most proud of?
It’s a cake that was created for one of my recent hands-on classes, based on pandan, coconut, sticky rice, spiced mango and sesame praline.
What’s your end of the world menu?
For an appetizer: gin and tonic.
For a starter: nice cold cuts with fresh bread and salted French butter, served along with a Pinot Grigio.
For the main course: a nicely prepared tenderloin, served with freshly cut fries and a Rioja.
For dessert: freshly baked mille-feuille with warm apple compote and vanilla ice cream.
Your favorite advice or quote?
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford