Gijs Kemmeren is chef of De Kop van ‘t Land in Dordrecht
In this type of environment you will automatically start cooking greener…
‘It indeed happens automatically at this place, located at the Nieuwe Merwede and the edge of the polder landscape of Dordrecht and National Park De Biesbosch. I’m the chef for three years now. Liesbeth and Ewout are still the owners, but i have complete freedom, even though we talk about food every minute of the day… I work in a different way; but i also have other baggage. Ewout used to be the owner and chef, as the owner you have other things on your mind then just cooking. But i don’t: i only have to focus on the food. That way i can dig deeper.’
Everything revolves around vegetables: are you a vegetarian?
‘No, no one in our kitchen is. Most guests are surprised when they hear that. But a sushi chef doesn’t have to be Japanese either. Working with vegetables is just a part of cooking. And we do this according to the seasons, as much local as possible and focused on the product itself. When we get something new, we start trying all sorts of things. The most important thing here is what the product itself likes. We don’t want to add things, but change flavors through other preparation techniques. A lot is done by discovering yourself. I actually think i haven’t bought a cookbook for over 10 years now.’
You’re also amazing with your waste!
‘We have our own workspace for frying, fermenting, sprouting, and potting. For cooks everything has to be fresh nowadays, but that just isn’t always possible, definitely not in this season. We always say: what can we do with this product? When cooking jerusalem artichoke you can only get it two ways: hard or as puree. We cook the vegetable first and then we put it in the freezer. Due to the formation of water crystals, the structure breaks down and little segments are made which make a great tartar. Just by something as simple as freezing, you get a totally different product!’
ome discoveries are probably better than others?
Laughs: ‘A lot goes wrong; we have a stockroom full of waste processing products. That’s part of it. Sometimes things go fast, but it can also take months. We sometimes put it away to continue on a later moment. Sometimes even a season later. At this moment we’re busy with a salsify project. Salsify contains fructose, that stuff which makes your hands sticky. But it also creates great opportunities.’
Wow, that sounds like a lot of work…
‘Indeed. Fourteen hours a day is no exception. And that’s only for dinner. But the best thing is: i work with people who also want to do this, even if it’s five days and sometimes even more to keep an eye on certain processes. After the service we often continue with what we were doing. We also pick fresh herbs in the Biesbosch, make our own oil and vinegar and develop recipes for beer and cheese.’
You also invented the dry aged beetroot!
‘The very first time i made the meatroot, i’ll never forget. I was baking it, saw the complete maillard reaction and started running around the kitchen: everyone had to come and watch. It’s an invention of last year, but we will continue with it for a while. We use large beets that are grown especially for us. It’s a lot of manual work and it takes a lot of time before you have something, but luckily you can save them for a long time.’
Other nice things?
‘Chestnut mushrooms as a crisp: we dry them at 70 degrees to give it extra flavor. Also all our soups and sauces are made of dried stuff. Within a hour, maybe even 3 minutes, we serve a no waste stock made of residual products. Right at the table with the help of a cafetière, like a French Press. We also make crackers, strained yoghurt and meringue of string beans. But that may as well be another vegetable…’
Where does Rungis steps in?
‘We are working more and more with local products, so no miso or soya: we are purely involved with the Dutch product. You don’t have to come to me with chili peppers from Peru: it’s specials, but not in here. We have our own horticulturist with who we set up our own cultivation plan and from whom we take everything, even if the harvest isn’t great. That is our commitment. Everyone wants the best, but that’s not how it works with plants. Ecoville, the organic brand of Rungis, has a fantastic network of smaller farmers in our country and a wide variety of products. Fortunately, with just one farmer you can’t offer a seven-course menu for a whole year. This requires some outside assistance. Rungis is a good example of a great network with beautiful products.’
What people are visiting the Kop van ‘t Land?
‘Everyone and everything. It helps that cooking with vegetables is hip and happening at the moment. On Mondays we regularly have cooks who are interested in what we are doing.’