Adri Branderhorst is owner/chef of Restaurant Het Weeshuys in Geertruidenberg
You started 20 years ago in this former chapel of a medieval guesthouse. What is, besides the flamboyant interior, the biggest change?
‘The fact that eating vegetarian or organic dishes becomes more and more popular. That’s a trend that keeps going. Ik like that a lot. I love to hunt and appreciate a beautiful piece of meat. But i would rather not eat any meat than eating those bloated chickens. The exact same thing you’ll see with our guests. Just ten years ago, a vegetarian dish wouldn’t be accepted in the middle of the menu. But now, everybody likes it.’
You skipped shared dining…
‘I’m a huge fan of sharing dishes at the table; it’s cosy. But with us you see that people prefer to have their own plate. They still want to see those ‘artworks’. We have a lot of loyal guests, that’s absolutely great. But sometimes it can hinder you, like in this case. And ‘shared dining’ and ‘regular dining’ don’t go together: you have to pick one and do that one good. But i can still be a bit stubborn, so we made our monthly special into a disguised shared dining style. The fourteen little taste moments during the celebration of Valentines day are all served on beautiful plates, but the first five dishes are served at the same time. It’s a bit like teasing, it’s good to trigger people every now and then.’
Is that the reason the menu has a ‘different’ lay-out?
‘The a la carte menu is limited in choice. That’s why we change it every 4 to 5 weeks. The dishes are divided into introduction, progression and completion instead of the regular starter, main and dessert. That’s how we keep things exciting for everyone. When guest visit us twice in a short time, they can still eat a completely different menu than the last time.’
The dishes on the menu starts with naming the vegetables…
‘I first saw that in Africa at a beautiful wine house with a five-hectare estate. The supply of their vegetable garden determines the menu. They also have big pieces of meat on the barbecue, but the vegetables stand strong on their own. That gave me an idea. Most restaurants are still too focused on fish or meat. And the vegetable part consists of a few broad beans and some broad bean cream. Ofcourse you’ll find some creams or some drops of fruitcoulis at our place, but we want people to see and be able to recognize their vegetables. Whenever we serve eggplant, some delicious preparation has been done to that eggplant, but you’ll actually eat and recognize the eggplant itself.’
But how do you do that?
We have an oriental dish with veals neck. The meat is baked with spices, cooked in the oven overnight and cooled down. We cut a niece piece of it and bake it like babi pangang, but without the bacon. The result: A crispy layer on the outside and beautiful soft and tender meat on the inside. The eggplant is roasted in the oven on high heat with some curry marinade. We serve them with steamed leeks with sesame and some type of curd with smoked garlic. Another exciting dish is with Cecina de Léon with veal and a thin layer of fat in between. And to weaken the greasy fat we add a vinegar like sambai, candied fruit and beets and some sweet and sour and flavor-enchancing cresses.’
What are your favorite vegetables at this moment?
February is one of the hardest months there is; there’s almost nothing. Everybody had enough of the kale. We need to do our best to find new vegetables. But for now we’re going the work with pointed peppers and asparagus, unfortunately still from far away. We also do a lot with mushrooms. I’m a huge fan of the King bolete and its meaty texture. We first roast some parsnips: we use the prettiest slices and use the rest for a cream. We serve them together with Parmesan foam, fried King bolete, cashew nuts and silver onions fried in balsamic vinegar. Together with a sauce of mushrooms, enriched with vadouvan which we serve as a cloud of foam. For the crunch we deep-fry the thin skin of the parsnip, which we put on top. A true wintery dish.’
Why have you been a loyal customer for so long?
‘I don’t know either! No, just kidding: they just have everything. And above that they’re always willing to help you. They perfectly guide you through the transition of a new menu: they come and show you which products are available in the next 5 to 6 weeks. They then link that to an orderlist and deliver our products. Our own vegetable garden? If you believe the stories, every chef grows its own vegetables nowadays: it’s just not possible. Just look at your garden at this moment, there’s nothing. You also should have an enormous piece of land to be self-sufficient. I know what i’m talking about; i’m from the country. My mom and dad had their own vegetable garden. Broad beans for example, are only available in August. Green beans on the other hand give such a large yield for six weeks straight; you can’t even eat them all!’