Marco Somer is owner/chef at De Harmonie 23 in Rotterdam
A 23-course tasting menu: how do you even come up with that?!
‘I get inspired by traveling far: by the taste, the culture, the people. Although i have to say that i’ve been away less often because of the startup of my restaurant. This year it will be Italy: nice as well. I would still like to visit Japan. And not for a special dish or ingredient; I prefer to eat something that i don’t know at all. But nature in The Netherlands can also trigger me. Just at the time when something starts to bloom. For example when i drive through De Zweth, where i live. My Grandmother and -father had a farm in Drenthe; that’s what shaped me as well. My parents recently bought a farm in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t see myself do that five years ago. But at this moment i think: gosh, how nice. Maybe one day…’
But why 23?
‘That’s a number that i have been using for a long time. I don’t like gambling, but when i used to go with friends, i alway set my money on 23. And when i listened to the radio, i automatically turned the radio to 23. I did that unconsciously; until someone pointed it out to me. When i took over this restaurant, i wanted to serve all kind of small dishes; not putting all my ideas in just a few dishes. And that worked out well. We’ve been working for two years now and our guests are wildly enthusiastic. There’s plenty of room for my creativity. Working with vegetables plays a major role. Apart from the six desserts, there are five vegetarian dishes out of the 23.’
What are the favorites?
‘The bapao sandwich with slow cooked oyster mushrooms and hoisin. But also the mini-sponge cakes of chlorella-alga with mayonnaise of tarragon, tuile of ink and coral fungus. And, so simple but so tasty: rettich rolls with sweet and sour honey and chardonnay vinegar, lime mayonnaise and roasted pine nuts. People find our King Boletus extremely tasty. We serve that with ice from Parmesan, foam from Parmesan and crumble from shiitake that’s smoked at your table. It’s a 100 percent umami dish that contains everything your taste palette likes. The Orange Wine, and unfiltered wine, makes i complete. That’s how you get to the essence. It’s a dish that came out of nowhere. It just suddenly was there. We started making this dish and suddenly we thought: yes. It’s in my personal top 3. I’m never 100 percent satisfied, but i won’t be saying goodbye to this dish for a while.’
What do you like to work with?
‘In July i work a lot with young broad beans and peas; basically with everything that’s small. For example, we serve ice cream from peas with a poached egg. But my all-time favorite ingredient is lime. You can use it with everything. When i make myself some yoghurt and cruesli in the morning and add some lime zest, that changes it completely. Something that’s tasty, suddenly becomes amazing.’
You have your own garden, own greenhouse and own scent…
‘You smell the scent of cardamom and cedar wood when you enter the aperitif room: it gives a homely feeling. That scent reflects exactly what i want here. Our gigantic garden, what is truly special for Rotterdam standards, is now full on growing. Like corn, beets, carrots and young vegetables like onion and leek and edible flowers. But not everything goes right: the chickweed and rocket won’t grow this year, while other years it grew like weed. We have new paths that are well contaminated: i have no idea what goes wrong this year. We also have an eight meters long path with marigolds and a one and a half meter hole where nothing happens. But at the same time, that’s the beauty of nature. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you have no control over it. That’s why we also have Rungis. For example, we have the celeriac from that, because it’s really hard to grow ourselves. Plus all the little stuff: mini vegetables such as turnip and carrots. And we get all our fruits from them. We like working with Rungis because they have everything and if they don’t have it, they make sure to get it. They are specialists, easily accessible, they deliver well and and are the best in terms of quality.’