André Swagerman is chef of Bertmans in Rotterdam
You’re from a different type of gastronomy…
‘I’ve worked at restaurants like La Duchesse and De Harmonie, but also at O’Pazzo and cafe NRC. Nelleke Elbert and Niels Koomans wanted to take the next step with Bertmans; and that’s how we found each other. Bertmans in the north of the city used to be a breakfast and lunch shop three years ago. But, one with a lot of potential and ambition. After we also started to open for dinner, Bertmans Centrum joined us, where i am now. Many people live, work and shop in the area of the Schouwburg square. The city also attracts more and more tourists. It’s clearly booming.’
The menu has a high avocado level. Is Bertmans for hipsters?
‘On the contrary! If you look closely you can see that the center location has a more commercial menu than Bertmans Noord. You can choose from vegetable dishes, but also from three fish- and three meat dishes. We now have that from the best supplier in town. People become more aware of what they eat. I experience the same thing; that’s what attracts me to our concept. We work as much as possible with organic and local products in season. And we also think it’s important that the farmer get a fair price for what he does. Bertmans is just a small player, but if there’s a possibility to contribute something to a better world, that’s always a start. That feeling has become stronger since i started working here.’
Where do you get your inspiration from?
‘The menu gets developed with Bertmans’ owner, Nelleke. Nelleke travels a lot and always comes back with tons of ideas. She buys cookbooks every week , and we give our twist to some of the recipes. Or we use a part of the dish, sometimes here and there improved. And even though Ottolenghi, Nobu and The Green Kitchen are sources of inspiration, we remain ourselves. We want to be accessible, with a down-to-earth Rotterdam like approach and a worldly and progressive kitchen.’
Which dish is the healthiest?
‘You can’t say it like that: we cook very healthy, but what’s healthy for one person isn’t for another. That varies with every person. Some do well on gluten, the other don’t. Anyway, we always take into account that there are guests with a food allergy or intolerance: for them we have savory and sweet alternatives. For example, we have socca on the menu, a pancake made of chickpeas prepared with turmeric and topped with peas, chard, green herb salad, avocado, lemon zest and coconut-yoghurt raita. Our variant on the okonokomiyake is a basic pancake made from white cabbage and carrot that we combine with flax seed and bake on the plancha. We put spinach on top that’s baked with ponzu, seaweed salad, avocado, daikon, pickle, miso mayonnaise, spring onion and furikake. But our most popular dishes are the brunch platter and the Japanese- and the halloumi bowl.’
How healthy do you actually eat?
‘I’m nog vegan like some people who work here. But i do eat consciously: meat up to three times a week, and if i do, a good piece of meat. Sometimes also fish, but more often something like pasta with vegetables and homemade pesto. You can say i’m a potential customer of Bertmans.’
What do you prefer to work with?
‘In June we are heading to the green vegetables. After the dutch asparagus, we now use the green version for roasting or grilling. I’m also a fan of broad beans, green peas, snow peas and sugarsnaps. In terms of fruit i go for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. The last one we use all year round, but i prefer the Dutch ones.’
Which Rungis products do you choose?
‘We have an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Inside we have 120 and on the terrace 140 to 150 seats. Every day it’s a challenge in the mise en place kitchen, because there’s a lot of work in preparing vegetables. Rungis is our main supplier. We get al our fresh vegetables through them. Preferably organic, but that’s not possible all the time with the different ingredients. Their service is perfect. If we need pre-cut vegetables for the red cabbage pickles, you can choose from extra fine, fine or roughly chopped. That’s great. The dressing with ginger and spring onions we make ourselves. Even though we have to cut over 60 bunches of spring onion a week. Rungis is amazing. I once had an inspirational tour at them, and when you see all the things they have… The knowledge of the employees is also great. A lot of former chefs work there who are happy to think and brainstorm with you. And if you forgot to order something, you know that a second round is being made in the city.’