Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

Freddie Janssen

Interview by Danielle Pender
Photography by Nacho Alegre

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

London: Freddie Janssen is the type of woman you always want around when you’re deciding where to go for dinner. She knows all the best places that serve up the tastiest dishes in the least pretentious settings. Growing up in Maastricht, in the south of Holland, her culinary experiences were limited to horse meat and fried snack-bar food until she travelled further afield. On an auspicious trip to LA, an intervention with a plate of pickles at Roy Choi’s A-Frame changed the direction of her life. Since then she has created her own range of pickles and a pickling cookbook, hosted communal dinners and summer taco parties, and served up some of the most delicious and addictive grilled-cheese sandwiches at markets all over London. The food of your childhood can be some of the most evocative and comforting—tastes you often come back to or can’t escape. Never able to stray too far from her roots she has been drawn back to the fried food of her teenage years and recently started Snackbar, a series of pop-up events at restaurants all over London. It’s the perfect outlet to serve up food that is a rich blend of sweet, sour, and a punchy umami, all focused on bringing people together to have fun. For Freddie, all roads inevitably lead back to the Snackbar.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

You grew up in a small town in the Netherlands. Where was it?

Maastricht. It’s pretty small and a little conservative. We have a saying that goes, ‘Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg’. Which means, ‘Just be normal, then you are crazy enough’. Growing up there, if you were a little bit different they just looked at you and spilled out, ‘What is wrong with you?’

But you still love going home?

It’s an absolutely beautiful city and it’s super chill. Both my mum and dad have moved abroad, and my sister is only based there for six months of the year, so I don’t quite feel like it’s my ‘home’ any longer. But I love going back; it’s fun and I look forward to eating Dutch snacks.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

Well, I wanted to ask you about Dutch cuisine because my experience with Dutch food hasn’t been great.

When I grew up, food culture was pretty non-existent. Getting friends and family together for a meal wasn’t a thing. We didn’t have friends over and didn’t go out for dinner. Meals were had at around 5pm or 6pm and they often consisted of meat, vegetables, and potatoes—all overcooked, more often than not. I saw it as eating for fuel.

That is so weird because the Dutch were merchants and travelled all over. It’s weird that none of these other influences fed back into the home cuisine.

The Dutch food I grew up on was really just meat and potatoes. It was the early ‘80s though; I am sure things are very different now! In my mid-teens, however, I was introduced to Indonesian and Surinamese food—that was a bit of a game changer. There’s a big Indonesian and Surinamese community in Maastricht, so there were a few small restaurants and snack bars where I was introduced to what then felt incredibly exotic—and tasty—to me; roti was a common midday snack, so was soto ajam, an Indonesian chicken soup, and my favourite back then was pepesan, mackerel stuffed with lemon and sambal cooked in banana leaves. Of course we also have the snack bar, which is where you get fries slathered in mayo; fried sausages slathered in curry sauce, mayo, and onions; fried cheese; and Amsterdam pickled onions.

What about FEBO? Do you love FEBO?

Oh, I love it. I fucking love it. It is fried food in a vending machine and it’s open all the time, so you can go over no matter how hungover or drunk you are. It is always there. Whenever I go home these are the things I’m nostalgic about.

So when you were at home, because it was quite conservative, did that make you want to rebel or go nuts or did you stay in line?

No, I think it made me go nuts. I started dyeing my hair in a weird way, and I wore really weird clothes. Thinking back now, I feel a bit bad for my parents: I was such a teenager! But I just wanted to get out of there. I moved to Amsterdam when I was about 17.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

And then you came to London after that?

Yes. I came to London after I graduated, as I was pretty bored in Amsterdam. I was hosting these parties there called Penis and Vagina because there was a big lack of places to go out in Amsterdam. There wasn’t anywhere to see bands or see something a bit different, so I started organising these parties as my graduation projects.

In London you used to live in the centre of Soho. Did you like being in the centre of everything?

I loved it. I was toying with the idea of moving to New York at that time, so I thought I would like to live in the centre of London and see what that was like before I moved to New York.

Where was it in Soho?

It was on Rupert Street, so right at the edge of Chinatown. It was just so awesome being among all the restaurants and all the cafes. It is just that old, amazing Soho atmosphere—and the characters. I lived there for about two years.

You must get such a different experience living in Soho and seeing all the early-morning rituals rather than just dipping in for dinner or going to a bar.

Yes. Saturdays and Sundays are great in the morning because it is so calm and deserted. There are no tourists in the morning, and I used to love walking around Chinatown when everyone was getting ready and getting all their shops set up.

Where was your favourite place to go?

Hard to say. I used to do the occasional double-down dinner, because we were so excited to be living there. We would go to Chinatown for soup dumplings at Leong’s Legend or Szechuan hot pot sticks at Baozi Inn, then somewhere else for dessert or ice cream at Gelupo. My favourite place was probably sitting at the bar at Quo Vadis; they serve the best negroni in London and their smoked-eel sandwiches are very special.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

How does where you live affect what you eat? Did you eat like specific things in Soho or do you eat specific thing now you’re living in Clapton?

I ate a lot of Asian food when I lived in Soho because I was next to Chinatown, and now I tend to go to a lot of the same places. In Lower Clapton, there’s a bunch of really great places that have opened up over the past few years, such as P Franco, which is a natural wine shop/bar. They have a rotating roster of incredible chefs that they take onboard for three to six months. It’s a small, intimate place with just two inductions in the back, so it’s very, very basic in terms of the kitchen set-up. But they have had some great chef talent there, like Tim Spedding, ex-sous chef from Clove Club, and Giuseppe Lacorazza, who worked at Contra in New York. And two of London’s greatest: William Gleave and Giuseppe Belvedere, who are now heading up the kitchen at the wonderful Bright, a restaurant by the P Franco guys, in London Fields.

The London food scene has exploded in the last seven years. Where do you think that comes from? Because it is now such a focal point of culture rather than, say, going clubbing or any other kind of night out.

When I moved to London nine years ago, you would go to the pub and then maybe you would go for Vietnamese food on Kingsland Road, where you’d spend a tenner and that was it. But when I was going to see friends in LA or New York, the food element in their daily lives was always there; it was always a lot more important. People were always looking at where to go for lunch, where to go for dinner, where to meet friends for breakfast. It seemed a big part of their lives, and that got me interested, because I hadn’t really had food as such an integral part of my life like that. I think the wider shift has come because people travel more.

Do you think it will come to an end or do you think it will evolve as people push things forward and chefs get more innovative?

I think London has one of the most interesting restaurant scenes at the moment. There are new and exciting, but mainly good places opening up constantly—it’s almost hard to keep up. I’ve enjoyed watching the focus shift from fine dining to more-casual restaurants; if you look at the top 10 of the National Restaurant Awards 2018, Kiln—a tiny and casual Thai restaurant in Soho—took home the award for best restaurant. But we’ve also seen a lot of restaurants close over the past few months, including some that were only around for three or four years.

Freddie Janssen | Apartamento Magazine
Freddie Janssen | Apartamento Magazine
To me, going out for dinner is about having a great time. Having a table full of lots of small plates, where everyone can try a bit of everything, is simply more social and fun.

Do you think that it is a bit of a problem because there are so many places that are successful for a short space of time? What about the longevity of restaurants now?

A place as iconic as St. John didn’t take off instantly; it took years of determination. Now, 25 years later, it’s an institution in the restaurant world, globally. I don’t know if restaurants are given much time to get a following these days. It’s a tough industry: overheads are high and there’s a lot of competition. People seem to be obsessed with going to new places, and with so many new restaurants opening, you can’t blame them. But there doesn’t really seem to be much room for trial and error.

There are the whole communal/sharing elements to your events and food; you love bringing people together. Where does this come from?

To me, going out for dinner is about having a great time. Having a table full of lots of small plates, where everyone can try a bit of everything, is simply more social and fun—to me, anyway! When I was growing up you would get one plate in front of you with a bunch of beige things, you’d finish it, and that would be it. It was the opposite of fun, basically.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

So Snackbar is the series of pop-ups you do with your business partner, Seb Myers. How did this come about?

Seb was working as head chef at a restaurant in East London, and I was invited for a lunch there. I was blown away by the food. We found out that we had a lot of mutual friends and shared the same ideas around food, so the idea of throwing a taco BBQ party came about. They were great fun, and we found that we work quite well together. Seb’s a great chef, and he makes some of the most exciting, creative, and tasty food in London.

Are you thinking about opening your own place?

We’ve been looking at sites and investment for a while now, and we’re hoping to open something permanent this year.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Freddie Janssen | Apartamento Magazine

What food do you make at home?

I’ve recently started eating gluten-free, so in all honesty I’m having a bit of a weird relationship with food—I’ve just cut out a food group that made up 70 percent of my meals each day. I don’t like the idea of replacing things with, like, gluten-free pasta or gluten-free bread, so I’m in a bit of an experimental stage. I also really miss pizza and pasta and frozen dumplings from the Asian supermarket, which used to be my go-to 10-minute quick dinner.

Pickles, we haven’t even touched on the pickles! Why pickles?

I was eating at A-Frame, which is Roy Choi’s restaurant in LA, and I had a plate of pickles there. I think I had this kind of eureka moment! I was working in advertising at that time and looking for a change, so I started pickling as a hobby. I started making them for friends and a few stockists. It just happened quite organically—like, friends who were running shops or restaurants that wanted to stock the pickles, kimchi, and my hot sauce. And then the book came, which is out in the UK, America, and Australia, and it just got picked up by Holland and Germany and Japan.

You always seem to have side projects. Have you always had that?

Yes.

Do you think you always will or do you think Snackbar will be your main focus for a while?

I’ve always enjoyed doing multiple projects. I’ve juggled a full-time advertising job with non-profit art projects and supper clubs, and I like it that way. When we open Snackbar I’ll be doing the PR and marketing for the brand, and I’ll most likely extend that for a few other select restaurants or clients.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen

What are some of your all-time favourite places to eat?

These places, in no particular order. Lyle’s: the best lunch in London, the best restaurant in London. St. John: the bar in their OG Clerkenwell restaurant is iconic, and my number one happy place for after-work drinks and snacks in London. Red wine, bone marrow, Welsh rarebit—perfection. Milk cafe in Balham: good coffee, great and creative food, nice vibes; I think this is one of the best and most innovative cafes in London. They do supper on Thursday to Saturday; I’d be here every week if I didn’t live at the other end of London. Rochelle Canteen for a boozy lunch with girlfriends, in the sun, on the terrace. 40 Maltby Street: the perfect Saturday afternoon pit stop after you’ve done your market shopping around Maltby and Spa Terminus. XU: an up-market Taiwanese restaurant from the team behind Bao. P Franco: I’m stoked to have this natural wine bar-cum-restaurant as my local. Their rotating resident chefs have cooked up some of the tastiest dishes I’ve eaten in London.

Apartamento Magazine - Freddie Janssen
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