Neolea starts the conversation with several star chefs about their careers and their unique outlook on cooking and life. What do they do differently than others and where do they get their inspiration from? With these stories we want to inspire everyone to be 'different' and get out of your comfort zone every now and then. In part one we speak with Alain Alders, Executive Chef and SVH Master Chef at de Vrienden van Jacob.
Alain has a huge passion for the trade and has been cooking since he was 15 years old. He describes his cooking style as 'casual' and likes to cook with French and Mediterranean influences. In this interview we look for the origin of his great class and enthusiasm to offer a unique experience.
"Our philosophy is, you come as a guest and you go as a friend."
What can you tell us about your vision
& way of working?
I think the most important thing is that the guest feels at home here. Suppose it's your birthday and you're having a party, who are you going to invite? Our guests are coming to the party.
I like to join the guests at the table. To break the ice I come along in my chef's suit to ask what they like and what they don't like. This way we can take care of someone all evening. As a guest you come to our restaurant, you sit down and the rest of the evening will be filled in by us, so you guys have time for each other.
Our philosophy is: you come as a guest and you go as a friend. As a restaurant we are not very accessible, so we try to make it accessible in a pleasant way. We like to make it a party, also for ourselves.
How do you try to distinguish DE VRIENDEN VAN JACOB from other star restaurants?
Since 2008 we have been trying to distinguish ourselves. How do I make a difference and am I different from others? How do you make such a threshold of a star restaurant and the atmosphere cozy? Creating a convivial atmosphere is my biggest challenge.
If guests have booked a 6-course dinner for two, we would like to invite them to come and eat one of the dishes in the kitchen with us. So we create a nice band and the guests have a look in the kitchen. We can do this about four times in one evening. What I also find very important is cooking with the seasons. I like to work with products that are available at that moment and I also take my 'footprint' into account, but I also get my products from the right regions.
How do you get inspiration to keep innovating?
A lot of eating out! Actually, I'm trying not to go out to dinner in the Netherlands too much. The Basque Country is a nice region, but in Germany there are also a lot of nice new concepts, especially in Berlin. I'm also excited about Budapest and in May I’m going to Tel Aviv where many vegetarian dishes with special spices can be found. They work with food in a different way there so I find that interesting to see. I also have to do more with vegetarian food, I notice that there is more and more demand for it.
What's the most beautiful compliment you've
ever received from a guest?
Every guest who gladly leaves the door and comes back again is the best compliment for me. There are so many restaurants . Last week I even had people from New York as guests. They had come here especially to eat and I find that very special. Those are the compliments that make you happy.
"I've actually accomplished more than expected and that makes me very happy."
WHEN DID YOU OUTDO YOURSELF?
I became a cook when I was 15. I was a bit of an annoying kid and I'd rather throw in windows than go to school. When I heard about the cooking school I thought it would be fun and I started to do that. I realized then: school can be fun too! That's where it started. In those days, cooks didn't have the best image. It surprised me what a beautiful life my work can give me. I've just been in the good flow that cooks became popular and appeared on television. It's became more of a cool profession. I really never expected to become a chef, how cool! The fact that as a cook you don't just stay in the kitchen but can really go all over the world is something I find amazing. I have actually achieved more than I ever expected and that makes me very happy.
What kind of dish do you think Neolea does best?
I think that depends on the season and the mindset of the guests. We work a lot with dressings, but more in spring and summer then in autumn and winter. You also have to respond to the guest's state of mind. Dishes are associated with certain moments in the season. In addition, I think it depends on how the olive oil of the current harvest year is. Is the taste fresher or spicier? So look at the moment, the temperature and the climate when you're going to use Neolea.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to tell us?
I feel like it’s important to say this: work only becomes a success when you really love what you do. If you're going for something, you can really make a nice living out of it.
I can enjoy my job and make nice trips but most of all I enjoy my work. I guess sometimes that's forgotten.
More information about De vrienden van Jacob can be found at www.devriendenvanjacob.nl
This was the first interview with a star chef from a series of 3 interviews. Soon part 2 will appear with another chef with a unique vision and working method.