Herald Scotland, 9 Aug 2010 by Senay Boztas
‘Dutch food: I wouldn’t brag about it,” admits Iwan Dam.
He once had a girlfriend whose eyes would shine at the sight of raw herring.
His father taught him how to eat this salted delicacy the traditional way – by dangling it into his mouth.
Now this 40-year-old actor, who has taken his Dutch palate travelling around the world, will try to impress Edinburgh with Cooking for Love,
a musical play incorporating an eight-course international menu with a pickled herring salad centre stage.
Fresh from performing in the Dutch version of Mamma Mia!, Iwan Dam has decided to take his first solo production to Edinburgh and, to
stand out and display his love of cooking, he has written a play about a man who romances a Frenchwoman in various exotic locations.
His attempts to woo Severine are told through song, football and freshly cooked tidbits from chicken satay to crunchy yoghurt sorbet.
His is just one of a steady trickle of actors tempting audiences with that festival favourite, free food.
Curry Tales, a Traverse Theatre production back in 2004, was a taster, and now audiences flock to annual shows such as Fawlty Towers the Dining Experience
(August 5 to 31, B’est Restaurant, 16 Drummond Street).
Other foody offerings this year include At Home With Mrs Moneypenny and Sausage and Samosa, a show that is described as Ready Steady Cook meets Blind Date.
But is Iwan Dam asking a little much from Edinburgh audiences with the dish that persuades Severine to kiss him for the first time: “beetroot salad with
Dutch marinated herring”? I have lived in Amsterdam for a year and faced a few eating challenges.
I was underwhelmed by the “boterham”, a sandwich named after the essential butter and ham.
“Hagelslag” is the less than appealing name for chocolate vermicelli eaten on toast by adults.
However, after giving birth in true Dutch style (with no pain relief),
I was strangely grateful to be offered buttered rusks with blue and white “muisjes”, little mousy droppings of aniseed covered in coloured sugar.
Yet despite the herring stalls on practically every corner and despite my Finnish mother’s efforts to stock the house with roll-mops,
I have not acquired a love of pickled fish and the headless, salted “zoute haring” is normally a delicacy I avoid.
But the Festival is the Festival and art is art, so as an attempt to train my palate for this fine land,
I dared Iwan to prepare his salad for me (although I was not promising anything in the way of kissing).
So, here he is telling me about his play as he delicately chops up slices of marinated herring and beetroot,
to be coated in horseradish and creme fraiche. “I talk as I cook. For the marinade for the satay,
I start with a plate which is white. It is early in the morning. I put turmeric on the plate and slowly the world turns orange,
the sun comes out … I play with the food. Egg white is like a blanket of snow covering the park. You see what I am doing and I try to give it other terms.”
As his protagonist is preparing the herring salad, the football is on, and Severine suddenly turns up.
“The problem starts before the herring. She is the problem. Then we have to find out if she is really the one, and that is where the herring comes in.”
He switches into character.
“Suddenly I received a card from her, and I sent a card back with a picture of a herring.
She was looking for a new place to live, a new place to work. It was four years ago and the world championship was well on its way,
Holland had to play to get into the quarter final and everything was getting more and more orange.
I had an orange hat and painted the whole three parts of the flag on my face.
“I opened the door to her and said, ‘There’s football on’.”
He offers her something to eat, goes out of the room, returns to find her “totally orange, one of the guys, my orange angel, cheering”.
And as he completes the little morsels of salad, to be served on rye bread, he tells me about the kiss.
There are six more courses to go, cooked for Severine in various countries around the world, with four songs and then an ending which may or
may not involve indigestion. Needless to say, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way of this love story.
So, how have his audiences responded so far? The tale started as a monologue about a boy cooking for a girl who will never arrive when Iwan was at drama school.
He wove it together with fragments that he wrote about travels around the world, and now he has performed parts of Cooking for Love in
several “house theatre” shows in the Netherlands.
I take a tentative bite, and am impressed to find that there is no obvious fishy taste. Actually, it’s rather nice.
“Different people will get a bite,” Iwan says. “Sometimes one person doesn’t dare, and then no-one dares. I don’t know if it is the weather.”
Herring is to the Dutch what haggis is to the Scots, Iwan agrees, and he has been pretty impressed with Scottish food so far.
“When I was there, I bought two little cooking books from Scotland, and the haggis I tried too,” he says.
“I thought some restaurants were very good compared with the money you pay.”
He’s not sure how the herring will go down but he won’t be asking audiences to taste it the traditional way, dangled into the throat.
He also decided not to prepare his own salted herring because of the logistics of ferrying it to Scotland and keeping it fresh,
so his audiences will have the more subtle, pickled version.
“But if you come to Holland, you shouldn’t miss the herring,” he says. “You have to try it, although my mother doesn’t like it.
It’s healthy. Now, I eat it with a knife and fork, though.”
Other foods in his top five? Stamppotje, a hearty mashed potato and curly kale mixture which even has its own babyfood versions.
Squares of “farmer’s cheese”, a Dutch-Indonesian invention, the tapas-like “rice table”, and deep fried balls of veal and mashed potato, bitterballen.
I ask him what the secret might be to avoid burning your tongue on these blisteringly hot bar snacks. He looks at me in a very Dutch way and says: “Waiting.”
And the secret to love? You’ll have to watch and taste his show.
Iwan Dam: Cooking for Love, A Theatre of Spices, Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall, August 8-30.