An Interview with Dennis Kuipers

Who: Dennis Kuipers
What: Executive Chef Vinkeles
Age: 51
How long have you been Chef at Vinkeles?
Since February 2006. I worked at La Rive before, Amstel’s 2-star restaurant. But then we lost one in 2005. René Bornmann, who I worked with at La Rive, had just left for the Dylan and he was the one who told me they looked for a chef. A perfect opportunity for me; I could start from scratch here. We opened Vinkeles at the start of 2009. We had our first star by the end of the year. Of course, it was right in the middle of the crisis. What could we do? We filled our dining room with Amsterdammers; the neighbour from two doors down the street. 2009 and 2010 were actually terrific years. Now tourists have returned to Amsterdam and great hotels and restaurants are opening on every corner. If we want to compete we need that second star. Yes, we are disappointed we didn’t get it this year. But that is part of the game.

How do you start your day?
I come in around 10.15 and I start by checking my emails. At 11 I have breakfast with the boys. An important moment for us to sit down together and start the day. No phones. This morning we were just 3, so we relax and discuss the papers, but tomorrow we will be 10.  First, we all finish our breakfast, like a proper family, and then the briefing for that stay starts, after which everyone starts working.
I spend about 80% of my time managing and 20% cooking. I am never happier than when trying out new things with Jurgen or Milan. I can just stand there cooking and thinking: I love my job. But I do need the dynamics of both managing and being in the kitchen. Still – there is always a bit of a tension between those two. And also; who teaches you to be a manager? You often just become one. Someone asked me one day why I behaved differently as a professional person compared to how I was in private. I am sociable, approachable, easy going, but as a chef, I was bossy and strict. And I couldn’t say why. Changing that has changed everything. Now I work with Jurgen as an equal. I give the boys space to take responsibility, to make mistakes, to try things. It has thoroughly changed how I feel in my work.

What do you do in your spare time?
I live in the centre of Haarlem, so I often go to the beach, just to take a walk, empty my mind. Or I go to a bar, watch a game and have a couple of beers, sit amongst people. My most important occupation when I don’t work is my 16 year old son. He’s with me every other weekend. He finishes early on Friday afternoon, so I pick him up and we make ourselves a great big lunch. And then we spend time at home; just chilling, gaming, playing chess. On Saturday we sleep in and have a big breakfast; avocado, eggs and bacon; that is his thing. Then sometimes we go for a climb at the climbing wall. Or we do nothing at all and I have to ask him three times; get dressed pall. And then we go to the market to pick a nice fish. He’s not much of a cook, but he can eat.
If you had to pick a dish that defines your work at Vinkeles, which one would it be?
My theory is that, if you use the best ingredients, you don’t need any extras. You just let the ingredients speak. This style is defined by simplicity. An ultimate example of this is a dish I created in the spring of this year; “flat oyster from Zeeland, Champagne Beurre Blanc, sea urchin and caviar.” It simply works – no improvement possible. Jurgen created an amuse like this; “cucumber meringue, seabass, vadouvan and tzatziki”. People will have a seven-course menu and tell me at the end of the evening that “that first one” was the best. I am proud of Jurgen that he created this and proud of Vinkeles for giving him the space to do this.

What would you do with one day in Amsterdam?
I would go to the Vondelpark for a good walk. And then off to Hoppe on the Spui, to order a beer – or two; in the standing up part of course. I came here all the time when I lived in Amsterdam and I still love that place. They know their craft. They look smart in their white shirts. It’s just a great bar.

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