Rachel Walker talks to Patricia Trijbits, who recently launched the restaurant Where the Pancakes Are, about this nostalgic and nutritious dish and why she is campaigning to put this simple pleasure on our culinary map...
What’s your earliest memory of pancakes?
In Holland, going out for pancakes is the Dutch equivalent to going out for Sunday lunch. Every town has a pancake restaurant. When I was younger, we would go to a local, pub-style pancake house in Amersfoort, where my family lived. It was a really small dive, and hard to get a table – with this guy furiously flipping pancakes in the corner. Dutch pancakes are flat and round. I often had them with apple, raisins and treacle. So simple, but so good for the soul.
… but, working in kitchens wasn’t your first calling?
No, in my twenties I moved to Los Angeles and started producing films: they were dark, Indie films, very dramatic. It was the stuff you do in your twenties – change the world, head in the clouds. Yet it was such an exciting time – digital filming was just coming about so everyone could pick up a camera and start shooting. I got involved with Dogme 95, the Danish film group with Lars von Trier – a movement that stripped filmmaking to its most basic. Just to tell stories with the least amount of technical interference.
Since moving to London, how did pancakes crop up again?
Well, my husband Paul still works in film and television. Every September we host a dinner party for Dieter Kosslick – not only the director of the Berlin Film Festival and it’s Culinary Cinema program, but more importantly the warmest and kindest man who has a deep love for good food. He has been involved with The Slow Food movement with Alice Waters, and in 2008 he brought me her famous cook book, The Simple Art of Food. I wasn’t much of a cook at all before then, but I was curious.
In the book she offers many recipes for pancakes, waffles, crepes, blinis – actually she wanted to open a creperie before opening the doors to Chez Panisse, in San Fransisco. It was round a time that I was just starting to do food clubs at local primary schools in Camden. One thing led to another, and that’s how the pancakes began.
So, you were hooked?
Yes! Everyone loves pancakes, no matter what their background. It doesn’t matter if you dine in five star restaurants, or live on low income – pancakes are accessible for everyone, and most countries round the world have a sort of national pancake. In Britain, pancakes aren’t eaten in the same way that we eat pancakes in Holland, but it’s rare to meet someone who says ‘I hate pancakes’. I meet people who say ‘I hate hamburgers’ – but rarely pancakes.
How did you go about fine-tuning your pancake recipe?
It was a long journey. First of all, I didn’t know whether to go with crepes, waffles or buttermilk pancakes. In the end I went with buttermilk pancakes, because they are versatile and appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We use a mixture of wheat and buckwheat flour. The biggest challenge was perfecting our vegan and gluten-free pancake mix, which took us a fair few months.
Vegan pancakes. Sounds like a challenge?
It was, but I wanted to be able to cater to different dietary requirements. One of my children used to be allergic to dairy – so as a mother I understood how important it is to cater for whole families and coming up with different dietary options. Also, in the nineties California was at the heart of the Starbucks movement, when people wanted to be able to order their coffee in a zillion different ways, so being able to personalise dishes from a menu is completely normal for me.
Has setting-up shop in an old railway arch caused any problems?
I wanted people to be able to bond over pancakes, so acoustics were always on my mind. Before we moved in, I had the whole place sprayed with a mixture of eco-paint and cotton. We layered one of the walls with pale, pancake-shaped felt circles, which helps with sound-proofing too.
What does the future hold for Where the Pancakes Are?
My next challenge is open for dinner, late into the evening and night. In Britain, pancakes are usually eaten at brunch, but some of my fondest memories are from my Californian days – after a late night screening, sat in a booth with friends, drinking endless refill coffee and eating pancakes into the early hours of the morning.
When I spoke to people before setting-up, I realised that there is this image that pancakes are fattening, so people don’t want to eat them that often. I want to change their preconceptions – remind them that pancakes are super-nutritious: good eggs, good flour, good milk. They make a fantastic breakfast, but a pastrami-topped buttermilk pancake makes a delicious dinner too.
THE 12 PANCAKES OF SHROVE TUESDAY
Where the Pancakes Are will be counting down the 12 days to Shrove Tuesday, with a different pancake each day, which you can enjoy for 10% discount.
Find out more about Where the Pancakes Are