In The Hague, at the Piet Heinstraat number 103A, there is a cosy pretty place where you can savour a delicious tea while eating a delicate lemon pie, listening jazz and admire the beautiful photos on the wall or read one of the multiple books in the bookshelf. This place is called Lavinia cakes’n buttons . What makes it so unique is not only the decoration, the high quality of what you are served but it is also the atmosphere. It is something difficult to describe but you can feel that you are not in a standard place, you are and you feel like the guest of the house and the woman behind this is Lavinia. In a previous post I shared with you my experience as a guest at Lavinia cakes ‘n buttons, as I wrote it was beyond expectations, I also discovered her talent for food photography and all in all it made me curious to know Lavinia and her journey better.
Lavinia, how did you end up in The Netherlands?
It was my husband decision to come here, actually he was in love with this country since he was little. He has a special story with The Netherlands. Anyway, I knew since the beginning that if he had the possibility he would come. The possibility never came to us so we came here with all the risks. But somehow because he really loves this country and he was really ready for it, he started to study Dutch before coming here. That made our lives easier, he knew the language, he knew the culture and somehow he was in contact with other Dutch people and he was sure that this was the country where he wanted us to raise our kids. That’s the first reason why we came here, for the kids, for their future.
And what is your personal story before you moved to The Netherlands?
I studied literature and after that during the last year of faculty I had the opportunity to work in television. This is what I did the last fifteen years, I worked for television, I made documentaries, short stories about people places, nice places, interesting people. Most of the time I wrote news and I was doing this palette of things television needs.
And you jump to a completely different situation
Actually it happened after I had the kids, you know. Everything changed and you have to do a lot of new things for your family. I had somehow to give up a bit of myself, in order to find other challenges that fit with the family and what I had to do together with them. Food was the most common and the most easiest way to get involved with them.
But how did you learn how to cook and how to make it look so beautiful? You have to learn those things; if you ask me to do a latte, I will make one to you but not as delicious and good looking as yours.
I think it’s a question of practising and exercising, it’s not about the Latte. For the cakes, those cooking and baking skills have always been in my family . And somehow, suddenly I remembered all my family past, all my childhood when my grand-mother used to bake and cook. Memories of when she used to tell me how to do if I wanted to bake or cook something like this or like that, you know small details and tips that I did not care about. And twenty years after, they came back. My grand-mother was somehow the engine of the family, she was a tough woman but in the same time very talented. She was the boss, if she said like this, it had to be like this. For example, I remember that every year for my birthday, together with my mother, they prepared something special for me. I always had surprises on the table, she always used to say “the table is sacred and you have to give it to the next generation”.
So you reproduce it
Yes, but I was never interested in food. This suddenly happened when I realised that I am a mother, I have a family now and I have to take that cultural background of my family and give it to my children, it’s a legacy. And I know that my grand-mother was like, put the things in the right place on the table. Treat the people like you want to be treated, bring them joy, give them happiness through food. Because she said it’s the easiest way, it’s like a magic trick, use it. Make your family and people happy, put good food on the table.
Do you have something from her here?
Yes, I have a lot of things from her here, there are like talismans. I really feel her presence around all the time. She died four and a half years ago and did not see this place but she is there, she gave me this somehow. I often think of her and wonder if she would like it or if she would be satisfied?
While we were discussing people came in to drink and eat something and the first thing they said when they entered was kind words about the interior decoration and after you served them they add that the way you put things makes it also so delicate and let’s not mention all the mobiles that pop up and snap everything here!
Maybe it’s something that I have from my family and you know, you always bring your past with you. No matter what, you can’t neglect this. You are you but you have your past with you, your family, your legacy from you family. Of course there are things you have to change but not the nice ones, those small treasures that you take from them you have to give them to other people, to your children, your family. I feel I have been lucky until now because I always did what I wanted to do. Even when I used to work at the television, it happened by accident but I saw there a way to do what I like using images, making stories with images. Here I do the same, I make stories with ingredients but it’s the same thing, it’s the same mechanism. Creating, creating, creating. You use different tools, but in fact all of us we are doing the same.
And what is your next step?
Everybody think that here, it’s a patisserie or a pastry shop or a cake shop but in fact this is just the first level. Actually I want to go with it to the next level and explore the fooding in a cultural way. When you drink a coffee, you don’t only drink a coffee you drink a story. You have to know something about the coffee you drink, you have to know something about the tea you drink, about the cake you eat. Everything you can find on a table has a story and this is what I want to bring to people, the story behind the food.
How do you want to achieve this? Do you have a specific idea?
Yes, I do! I try, but it’s really difficult, to write a research about food in the past, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and I want to bring that artistic and aesthetic part in the food. Actually, we do the same things but with modern tools and I try to keep it as a permanent line. They used to make beautiful food with stories, with a lot of symbols and this what we do, this is what we have to do in the present. I really believe in the symbolic of the food you eat everyday. It’s not just here, you must go to the top of the pyramid, go there to the signification, to the meaning of food. Food does not only feed your stomach, it feeds also your mind, your soul.
As an entrepreneur what did you find the most challenging when you started this business?
The amount of work. We received the key and I waited three months before opening it, I wanted this place to be exactly like it was in my mind. I’m very emotional and follow my feelings, my emotions come before the rational part. When I started, I had no doubts and I don’t want to make compromises. If it doesn’t work it’s ok, I’ll close the door and will try to find other solutions for my life.
What advise would you give to someone who wants to start his/her own business or make a radical change in his/her life?
Well I don’t think I’m the right person to do this. For me an advice is something fixed, with borders and I work with no borders. The only thing I can say is if you want to make something, just do your best to make it work. We dream about a lot of things, we dream about the future, we dream about what we want to do. But, you have to make the step from a dream to the reality and I think this bridge is made with courage, determination, consistency and work.
I’m afraid to give an advice to someone because I did listen to my inner voice despite all the advices I received and still receive. When you do something according to who you are that brings authenticity. I have my own way, even in the kitchen. There is that line you are supposed to follow step by step but me, I always start somewhere in the middle, then I go here and I go to the end. Somehow for me the chaos creates beauty, somehow I work like this; I don’t use the normal line. So I thought if I do the things I feel, again if I listen to my emotions, it works. Who says what is the normal way? Who says this is right and this isn’t? I do what I like; with this place, I don’t want to make it a business because it’s not about the money, it’s about the pleasure.
But still, it is a business
It’s true, it has to stay up but if it can stay like this without any concession, just the work and the pleasure I have when I’m doing it then I think it’s enough. For someone with a business view this might sound a bit crazy, but my goal is not money, money, money; it’s more about the happiness and pleasure I can give with my food and the exchange I have with the people here. But of course I have to survive and it’s difficult. I use special ingredients, high standard ingredients, for example chocolate that comes from France. I use a special cacao that is not too dark because dark cacao is really burned and it’s not good for your health, and I try to tell people those kind of things because they don’t know it. Cakes I bake come with a part of education, you have to tell people what they are eating, why it’s like this, why it’s not too sweet and to explain a bit the price.
How do you feel as a woman and a foreign woman here? Have you every been confronted to the fact that you are not Dutch?
No, never. I never felt this; I have friends with different stories but I haven’t bad experiences. I think it’s a question of circumstances. I’ve only nice stories about the way I’ve been received here by Dutch people. I mean, they are open to our story, to my personal story with this place. They let me be who I am, they let me be different and this is really important to me otherwise I can not do what I do everyday. I really feel a positive vibe. Here, I like that Dutch women are very independent, I have the idea that they do what they want and that they have their husband’s support. They are very direct in what they do and what they say, they are open.
As a woman, wife, mother and entrepreneur how do you manage to have a balance in your life?
It’s very difficult but fortunately I have the precious help of my husband. Without him it would be almost impossible to deal with all these challenges, he helps me with a lot of things and we are together. Kids also come here often and people have to understand that we are a family, it’s a family business.
What inspires you?
Everything, I can see things where there are not! It’s crazy because it’s the same way I worked with images. I used to have a boss who gave me the most difficult tasks and I always came back with something. I guess it’s my gift to see things.
How did you come to photography? And do you have any plan to more develop and promote your photography?
Photography is connected with images and I worked a lot with camera , I used to frame everything in my daily life. By framing you create a story in that frame. In the future, the plan is to have a book, not only with pictures but again with a story behind the pictures. And of course, pictures with food!
Is there a book or film that has a special place in your heart?
I like the movie Chocolat a lot, I first read the book and then saw the movie. Juliette Binoche is truly amazing in that film. Furthermore, I like books about history of food and I always have one with me.
Do you have a motto?
It’s a common one but it’s about try, try, try and never give up. And, be yourself, it’s difficult to be yourself in this world because we have rules, we have specific lines we have to follow but just try to be who you are and I don’t think you will fail.
A huge thank you to Lavinia for her warm welcome and time. I hope you enjoyed reading this interview and I encourage you to go to The Hague to meet the chef herself and her magic treats and/or visit her Facebook page or Instagram account to savour her photos.
May you all have a beautiful day,
All rights reserved Carole Rey