Thomas Kooijman is chef at Bar Alt in Amsterdam
Food- and beer pairing is the point of focus. Do you first create the dish or…?
‘First the dish. Only with very special beers we work in the opposite way. You know what the thing is, there’s no reference at this level; we’re discovering everything ourselves. I know how to cook, so it makes sense to start with creating something beautiful and then look for the right beer. Maybe in the future, when we have our own collection of combinations, we will do things differently. Which vegetable goes with which beer? Well, Jerusalem artichoke goes very well with Bockbeer and mushrooms with Trippel. But the most important part is the sauce: it provides the bridge to the beer. My cooking style is slightly adapted to the craft beers we serve; i just started cooking a bit different. For example more pepper, like the Peruvian amarillo from Rungis. With beer you just notice that something spicy is amazing in certain dishes. Especially with Saison beer.’
Tell us about your vegetables preparations!
‘With the beef loin we serve cabbage that’s made into an old-fashioned rouleaux. The outer leaves are blanched; the core is chopped and stewed with butter, fresh herbs, shallot and garlic. Then the inside is rolled back in the leaves and you get some kind of cannelloni. We use the same technique with the venison in endive from the barbecue, with lentil salad and a dressing with Stout beer. We also use the leaves of that vegetable.’
I see you use a lot of fruit in your dishes?
‘I like smokiness with fruit, like our smoked mussels with seaweed, pickled crosne, mussel gravy, Pata Negra, Ch’ti curry, emulsion of beurre noisette and mirabelle plum. I was looking for fruits, saw the stack of plums and brought the entire stack and preserved all of them. With the venison back fillet, which we serve in its own gravy, i partly opted for the beer. In addition we serve in aniseed impregnated nashi pears. Great with Tonka Bock.’
You’re a purchaser of exotics. Is that why you choose Rungis?
‘ You can also choose another greengrocer for celeriac. When it comes to innovation and new things, Rungis is the one. For example, they tell farmers in France they want a certain vegetable in a smaller size. And then they put a lot of effort into it; so we can get an unique product. But also for the service and their contact i choose Rungis; the Rungis colleagues have a lot of knowledge and know what they do. They are also flexible, as with the back order delivery. Rungis might not always be the cheapest, but you get a lot in return…’
How do you find your inspiration?
‘Food is so intertwined with my life that i don’t know at what moment i’ll come up with something. Just before i fall asleep, or when i’m dreaming i’ll think of something new. Or just when i walk on the street and think: what do i smell?! But most of it comes from talking about food; with colleagues, with the boys in the kitchen or with my parents at home. I always keep my eyes wide open for something new. It’s so much fun when you prepare mussels and out of nowhere you think; how would that taste with mirabelle plums. And Rungis cooperates very well: a couple of times a season they bring an inspiration box along. Like; this is what you can expect from this season.’
The Rembrandt apple has a starring role on the menu…
‘In terms of taste and structure, it’s the best apple in the world. I wanted to make a dish for my grandmother who used to make apple with sugar and cinnamon for me. First i started to analyze the apple technical and then started to choose the taste profile; What part do i make bitter, sweet and sour? I work toward that very systematically. The result is Pommes grand-mère, consisting of three parts. Marinated Rembrandt apple and compote of cranberries. Served with a salad of Rembrandt apple with sugar and Ceylon cinnamon, Jan in the bag with raisins and Tonka bean custard sauce. And finally: warm Rembrandt apple filled with cream cheese and brandied raisins, caramel buttersauce and crispy walnuts. My grandmother will come and taste it soon!’