Peter Scholte is executive chef of The Green House in Utrecht
From herb to table at your place means: harvesting upstairs, eating downstairs. How well is the urban farm doing?
‘It’s pioneering. During the summer, about sixty, seventy crops, including tea herbs, grow on the first floor. Below the ground we have two basins that each take in 4000 liters of rainwater. But last year, during the drought, we had to use extra tap water. And unfortunately some plants froze to death this winter. But fresh harvest has so many advantages. It ensures less waste and more taste. We use a lot less salt and pepper.’
The basis is the Dutch Cuisine-concept. But you go a step further…
‘This is the first stand-alone restaurant of Albron, the largest caterer in the Netherlands, set up from the aim of not producing any waste. Our principle is reduce, re-use, recycle and reconnect. That means that a lot of steps have been taken and a lot have to be maken. Our pavilion is circular. After 15 years the restaurant gets a new destination; it’s dismountable. And also the kitchen is as plug-free as possible. Of course we have a refrigerator and there is a modest deep fryer for the oyster mushroom balls, but we have ovens and a grill that is fired with biofuels, such as briquettes of olive kernels. Besides baking bread and pizzas, we also use the ovens for cooking meat or stewing vegetables.’
On the menu are signs to indicate whether dishes are local, environmentally friendly and vega, but also whether they support a ‘vital lifestyle’ …
‘We think that everything should come from the Netherlands. Fruit and vegetables, but also the organic beet sugar which we need for our chocolate; it’s made by a company from Utrecht. And we have Dutch three-star chicken! In terms of food and the impact of health, i get inspired by reading a lot, talking to people who know what they’re doing and by sharing stories and innovations. We also organize breakfast sessions, including a guided tour. For that matter The Greenhouse is a great platform for circularity. What we do is also very interesting for the other Albron locations, although many suppliers aren’t ready yet for this scale. Here alone we need 1000 sous-vide Knakwortel every week for the Dutch Carrot Dog. For the entire company of Albron, that could easily be 12.000! Our bread is made from the fiber rich brewers grain, a waste product from Heineken in Zoeterwoude; it’s the barley that remains after the first phase of the beer brewing process. If you would like to scale-up it means you don’t need 1000 but 20.000 loaves a week…’
What can you put in practice based on your years of experience in restaurants like Le Garage, elBulli, Annetage in Oslo, where you received a star, and Sucre?
Smiles: ‘My dessert restaurant has been a long time ago, although i’m still patissier in my heart. At The Green House we make approachable desserts. Creme brûlée using the iron from the pizza oven. And ice cream made with residual fruit and liquid nitrogen, which is also a residual product… At the starred-restaurants that i’ve worked everything revolved around quality. Now i also look for the matching story. At the moment we’ve collected 130 of them, from the way of cooking and the construction of the pavilion to the seats of PET bottles and the tables of waste woods. But in those 15 years we want to grow to a thousand stories in the circular area.’
You’re ‘all day green’. What are your top dishes?
‘We have been doing this for a year now and noticed that vega really predominates. People want healthy and recognizable foods and like to opt for vegetable dishes. The fact that we use a bit of milk and butter isn’t a problem. Our vegetable soup is vega and sometimes even vegan. The composition depends on the remaining batches: what do we have? Today we had cauliflower soup, but two days ago we had mushroom broth. Also the pizzetta of spelt flour-piadina is popular. We don’t use tomato, but a spinach-herbsauce with crispy puffed vegetables on top.’
Any other green favorites?
‘The grilled and deep-fried leek with a leek and celery foam and celery leaves. Through Rungis we get our leeks sous-vide cooked. We only have to grill them. There’s a little fried leek for the crunch and from the green part we make our foam. We also work a lot with vegetable gravies, we use the sweet onion rings from Rungis for that. What remains is for the hamburgers. Or for the soubise, an onion puree. Absolutely nothing goes into the garbage can.’
i get very excited about those delicious sweet Lambadas
Your father was a greengrocer. Is that why you have such green thumb?
‘Must be the reason. I grew up with eating only fresh vegetables that were completely used without any waste. Including the foliage of the roots. I really love Jerusalem artichoke. I also love herbs like marjoram and summer savory, classics. And in terms of fruit: i get very excited about those delicious sweet Lambadas.’
Why do you choose Rungis? And what is it you get from them?
‘Rungis thinks along with us, knows what quality is and knows the Dutch market very well. We can also order late and receive the products the next day fresh info our kitchen. Mostly from the cutting kitchen; we have to with about 400 to 500 guests a day. We order all kind of things from colored inca tomatoes to apple and pear cubes for the fruit salads. And our ‘kind of fries’. These are potatoes that have been cut in to quarters and are being puffed in our oven. Sometimes even twenty kilos a day!’