Who: Jurgen van der Zalm
What: Chef de Cuisine at Vinkeles
What does your function entail?
I take care of everything that has to do with Vinkeles. You will find me in the kitchen five evenings a week.I am in charge of the team and I develop the dishes that go on our menu. I discuss everything with Dennis, he has to approve of the dishes I come up with. Creating the menus and tasting the food is something we do together.
How long have you been working here?
Eleven years. I did work a year for the Amstel Hotel in between. I felt I needed to see other places to learn. But when Dennis started here, also after having worked at the Amstel Hotel, he called me to ask me to come back and I did.
How do you start your day?
We come in around 10.30 am. We, that is me and the boys, about seven for Vinkeles and three for OCCO. We all sit down and have a sandwich and we talk about the day ahead, and the evening before. There is also time to just chat about little things. After, the real work begins; the mise en place. I don’t cook myself anymore, but I oversee the process. I taste every dish and while the guys cook I work on new recipes. I try to keep involved with the cooking as much as I can. I would love to do it all by myself, but that is impossible. So I have to let go a little, while ensuring that we maintain our level of quality. I am definitely a bit of a control freak. Everything has to be exactly the same, that is what is expected on this level.
What is the best moment of your day?
Near the end of service. I often stand around the corner where I can see into the restaurant. Everyone looks relaxed, no ones pays attention to me and I see how our guests are enjoying their evening. I like that. At the start of the evening people don’t know what to expect, it takes a little time before they unwind.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am not the kind of person to sit at home a lot. What I like is exploring new places, so I go on city trips, here in the Netherlands or around Europe. I go out for dinner, do fun things, enjoy life. My last city trip was to Rome. It was my first time and I thought it was amazing. My girlfriend knows it well there so she showed me everything in one weekend. We ate in small restaurants, little local joints that you will pass in the street without ever thinking to stop. Those are often the best; an old chef in the kitchen, a grandma serving the food. Perfect.
Imagine; you don’t live here anymore, and you are just passing through. You have one day in Amsterdam. What do you do?
I would drop by a little restaurant in Oost where they serve the best Ramen in town. It is called Mr Chen, in the Linnaeusstraat. Then I will have a walk in the Vondelpark, just to take in the city again. And I will end the day on some terrace of course.
Do you imagine going abroad in the future?
I do have that ambition one day, I find Asia particularly attractive. But that will have to come on my path. I picture myself staying here for the moment. The minimalist cooking that we have developed suits me. I love modern cuisine; light and fresh. Where there used to be 20 actions involved with the preparation of a dish, now there’s a lot more focus on one main ingredient, with one or two side ingredients. And plating up a dish like that in a beautiful way is a whole different challenge.