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Around the world through pancakes

Robin Vogelaar had a dream to lead an unconventional life, travel and unite people through their love of food. Today, he is known as Mr Pancake all over the world. I asked him how he transformed his life through three simple ingredients.

 

How did you become Mr Pancake?

Seven years ago, I was living in Amsterdam, working as a consultant, leading a very ordinary life. I would go to work at 9 am every morning and often would not get back home until 9 at night. I had very little time for my friends, let alone socialising and getting to know new people. Then I thought back to the time I was an exchange student in Hong Kong: one time, I got invited for a dinner where my friend cooked Chinese food for me and in return, I offered to prepare the only thing I knew how to cook for him and the whole class – an event, which turned out to be a huge success. Then I realised that making a pancake parties would be a good way to see a lot of my friends at the same time, so I started organising them in Amsterdam. However, one day, my landlord asked me to move out as he wanted to sell the apartment I was living in, which gave me two choices: look for another apartment and continue with my ordinary life or take this as an opportunity and plunge into what I had been wanting to do for such a long time: become a nomad by combining my love of pancakes with seeing the world.

And you went for the second opion.

Yes, I decided to dedicate my Saturday nights to throwing a pancake party in a different location every week, where I prepare the dessert for everybody for free. So far, I have organised 220 events it in 47 countries, 96 cities, during which I have served 24.000 pancakes and brought together around 30-40.000 people. Initially, I asked people if they could host the get-together in their homes and invite a few friends over, creating a cosy event for around 10-20 people. However, as the initiative is gaining popularity, today I get a lot of offers for venues from hostels and bars and it is not unusual to have more than a hundred people present at one event. The biggest one so far took place in Rio de Janeiro, where 260 people gathered on three floors of a hostel.

Have you had any really memorable parties?

The most unique pancake party was probably the one I organised in Jakarta. It was hosted in a local guy’s villa and although the event was officially starting at 7, people started arriving at 3 already. When making the pancakes, people got really creative and put the widest range of toppings on them, from sweet to sour and salty. Then, the whole thing turned into a sleepover party, with people sleeping everywhere, even on the side of the pool. But every event is memorable for one reason or another: in Lima, the guy who was hosting the event handed out musical instruments and we started a jam session after eating and in Tansania, the party got invaded by homeless people who heard that I was distributing free food.

Have you ever organised one in Hungary?

Yes, more than once and I have very fond memories of the country and its people. The event took place in a hostel in Budapest, however, as soon as I arrived, I realised that the kitchen was not equipped for the cooking I was planning to do. Therefore, I asked people to bring some pans and other kitchen tools and I was surprised to find that so many people offered to contribute by bringing their things. Afterwards, we went out in Pest and I thought the city was gorgeous and everybody was really friendly.

What is the key to your success?

I feel that the pancake nights manage to unite elements that - no matter on which continent you are – are predestined to make people happy. They bring people together and give them the chance to make new friends who live in their area. Moreover, they are very international, so it lets people have an insight into other cultures and with that, into different eating cultures as well. Last, but not least, I think everybody has positive childhood memories connected to pancakes, so eating them puts everybody in a good mood. And of course, the fact that it’s all free helps a lot as well.

Besides the opportunity to travel, what is your motivation to keep the events going?

It is all about creating connections and bringing back social contact into people’s lives. Every place I go, I try to organise a whole programme around the pancake nights. I normally arrive one day before and ask people who are planning to attend the event to show me around. Also, if we are in the mood, we go out all together after the event as well. Therefore, people get a chance to really get to know each other and bonds are created. After an event, I got a message from a girl telling me that she was studying abroad in Italy, but did not have many friends, however, during the pancake party, she got to know a bunch of people whom now she hangs out with on a weekly basis. Moreover, I have seen many people fall in love and become a couple over pancakes. Many people keep returning to the events and some have started their own tour of cooking their favourite dish for others in different countries.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to keep organising the events. I got to a stage where I do not need to put as much effort into the advertising and the search for the ideal location as before because now it is people and companies directly approaching me to invite me to come and do it at their venue and more and more sponsors are offering to cover the cost of the ingredients or my accommodation or travel. However, I feel that I have already explored most of Europe and the United States, so I would like to focus more on South America and Africa in the future. I have never been to Australia or New Zealand, so I am definitely planning to bring my pancake parties all the way out there too. I would also like to connect some of my events to some social causes and raise money for charities through them. Last, but not least, my big dream is to organise an event with more than a thousand participants and maybe try to get into the Guiness World Records book through it.

 
 
Judit Molnár