DENNIS KUIPERS & JURGEN VAN DER ZALM
In the heart of Amsterdam, tucked away behind a historical façade right on the canals, you can find the luxury boutique hotel The Dylan and its restaurant Vinkeles, a destination unto itself. Awarded a Michelin star, its refined French cuisine offers an excellent blend of classic and contemporary styles. Set in a sunken dining room surrounded by the original wood ovens that once served as a bakery for the Old & Poor People’s Office, the restaurant offers an intimate and elegant setting combining the old world charm of authentic Amsterdam with the new, refined style of today. Executive Chef Dennis Kuipers and Chef de Cuisine Jurgen van der Zalm use only the freshest ingredients for their seasonal menu, which showcases their dedication to purity of flavour and presentation.
Restaurant Vinkeles in three words?
Exciting, Modest and Refined.
When authentic meets modern
Situated right on the prestigious Keizersgracht canal near the ‘9-streets’ area, and just a short stroll from the city’s main attractions, the hotel and restaurant couldn’t have a better location. The building’s history goes all the way back to the year 1613, when the first city theatre was founded here. The restaurant is located at the back of the hotel, in a cosy and separate dining room. Inside, it’s as though you’re having dinner in the midst of an old bakery, as they’ve managed to keep several original features – such as the old ovens, the brick walls and wooden elements – intact. These robust features are complemented by the warm and sophisticated decor that uses elegant, classic and timeless interior design elements like natural colours in varying shades of brown and cream, soft fabrics and comfortable chairs, perfectly starched white table linen, and elegant candles to finish off the table setting. To complete the wow factor, the restaurant gives a delightful view of
the secluded and romantic garden.
Team Vinkeles: a combination of power and passion
From the very start back in 2006, Executive Chef Dennis Kuipers and Chef de Cuisine Jurgen van der Zalm have each made their own personal mark on Restaurant Vinkeles. Both are driven by a will to bring out the pureness, strength, colours and flavours of the premium quality products they use. Together with sommelier Natasja Noorlander – who has been a key part of the team since 2016 – and restaurant manager Tiffany Kensmil, they’ve set the bar high from the outset and managed to turn Restaurant Vinkeles into a household name in Amsterdam and far beyond. The knowledge, passion and power of each individual staff member is what makes Vinkeles so unique.
Meet chefs Dennis Kuipers & Jurgen van der Zalm
Executive chef Dennis Kuipers insists on doing the interview together with his Chef de Cuisine Jurgen van der Zalm, which emphasises his respect for his colleague and demonstrates that both chefs are key to Vinkeles’ cuisine. For years, they have formed an inseparable team, where 1 + 1 really does equal 3. While Dennis provides the classical foundation and strongly honed techniques – which Jurgen also masters to perfection – the almost 20-years-younger Jurgen adds a more contemporary and minimalistic flair. It’s fascinating to see how the team truly works in tandem.
Chef’s Secret (The Best Chef & Hungry for More): Can you tell us how you got started here at Restaurant Vinkeles?
Chef Dennis Kuipers: It all started about 10 years ago, when we wanted to attract more people from the outside. There was already a restaurant at our current location, albeit not under the name of Vinkeles. At that time, we decided to change the concept in order to appeal to people in the neighbourhood who weren’t even aware that The Dylan had a great restaurant. So we started off, not wanting to rush things, and that’s how we have built Vinkeles into what it is today. A culinary school: I’m trained classically and I wanted to continue this way of cooking. When my previous sous-chef decided to leave, Jurgen followed in his footsteps. It wasn’t easy at first, I had to open myself to new influences and give Jurgen the space to develop his own cooking style as well. But it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made, because our cuisine evolved quickly from a traditional one to the contemporary cuisine we serve today.
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: From the very beginning, we had a plan. Throughout our collaboration, we have worked together to achieve the next logical step of our plan and that’s how we have developed the Vinkeles concept.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: During the process, we also had to consider the fact that we’re in a hotel with all sorts of guests – foodies, businesspeople, groups, couples – who come to the restaurant for differing reasons. So right from the start, it was very important that Vinkeles be accessible to every type of guest, which is also the strength of the restaurant as far as I’m concerned.
Chef’s Secret: How would you describe the cuisine and cooking style of Restaurant Vinkeles?
Chef Dennis Kuipers: What’s really important is that our cooking style is shaped by our teamwork. We’re constantly learning from each other, even after all these years.
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: I would describe Vinkeles’ cuisine as a search for the most beautiful products. We try to serve our products in a simple way, one that showcases our respect for the product, and we take inspiration from classic techniques and beautiful preparations.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: Our guests sometimes describe it as a fusion of French and Japanese cuisine. Japanese cuisine presents the most beautiful products, without relying on too many preparation techniques. In Japan, chefs are appreciated for their use of fresh quality produce. I think their philosophy matches ours: we also make sure that the product plays the leading role in our dishes. Together with our French base and strong techniques, this forms the backbone of our cuisine. On the other hand, a product-driven cuisine can also be quite tricky as there’s not much to hide from. Your product has to be perfectly prepared; you can’t allow it to make any mistakes.
Chef’s Secret: How does the process of developing new dishes work when you collaborate so closely together?
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: First of all, I’d say there’s a lot of technology involved. A new dish doesn’t suddenly appear on the menu every week, it takes time. Flavour is the most important thing, that’s our starting point. But during the development process, there’s still a lot that can change and the end result is sometimes a completely different dish than we first had in mind.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: We’re both artists, we like to draw our dish first. In that way, we have something tangible, then we start improving our initial ideas step by step. What I learned for example from Jurgen, is that you shouldn’t change a certain product just for the sake of it. If you do make a change, then it must be because the product will thus be better or more flavourful. Although for our regular customers, we sometimes make an exception and create something custom-made, just to keep surprising them.
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: We have plenty of ideas and experiment a lot in the kitchen, but only a few dishes make it to the final cut. Everything has to really be perfect before we include it on the menu.
Chef’s Secret: What about inspiration? Where does it come from?
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: For me, going out for dinner and experiencing the cuisine of other chefs can be really inspiring. And Instagram of course – that platform gives inspiration for a lot of different flavour combinations. Besides that, nature and our suppliers also form a crucial part of my inspiration.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: I agree with Jurgen, we’re really looking for suppliers that we can work together with. We’re not looking for the cheapest, we’re looking for someone who inspires us. Every chef in the Netherlands is looking for that one-of-a-kind product and wants to be the first to use it. Take for example our selection of Dutch cheeses. Ten years ago, we couldn’t serve a cheese plate with only Dutch cheeses, because there weren’t enough varieties. Now, we can present our guests with thirty to fifty high-quality Dutch cheeses, because the suppliers have invested in that kind of product and the booming Dutch gastronomy scene has created a market for it. Collaboration between chefs and suppliers bolsters both, and can bring each party to the next level.
Chef’s Secret: It’s no longer a secret that Dutch gastronomy is really booming. In your opinion, what’s the reason for this?
Chef Dennis Kuipers: Right now, we’re lucky to have a great generation of chefs who grant each other their successes. But we also realise that we need one other. ‘He who cannot divide, cannot multiply’ is a saying that’s written here on the wall for a reason. We respect each other and we’re not afraid to ask our colleagues for advice, and to open our doors to someone else’s questions. I think that’s a very unique way of working together.
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: Here in the Netherlands, we have no secrets from one another. And that’s what makes our generation of chefs strong. We really want to put Dutch gastronomy on the map, so we all collaborate in reaching that goal.
Chef’s Secret: Is there a certain moment that has been crucial in your lives as a chef? One that has made you into the chef you are today?
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: I’m very lucky that The Dylan offers me the opportunity to do a lot of internships and gain the necessary experience. My first internship, for example, was at a restaurant In de Wulf, by the famous Belgian chef Kobe Desramaults. I was really intrigued by his style of cooking and I learned a lot over there. That experience is the foundation of my current cooking style.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: About three to four years ago, I wanted to be a different kind of chef. I used to be very direct, everything had to be done my way. I was trained very strictly and so I thought that I had to handle my team with the same level of severity. That kind of attitude created a gulf between me and my team. So I decided to change my entire approach to working, and that brought me a lot of inner peace. I also truly believe that the change to my management of the kitchen team is the reason why Jurgen still works here. So thank God for that epiphany! (smiles)
Chef’s Secret: Apart from Restaurant Vinkeles, you’re also in charge of Bar Brasserie OCCO?
Chef Dennis Kuipers: Indeed, Bar Brasserie OCCO is another project inside the hotel. I’m actually in charge of the team there – I want Jurgen to be able to focus fully on Vinkeles, but he will always remain my sounding board. OCCO is a totally different concept to Vinkeles, here we want everyone to feel welcome. At the Bar Brasserie, our main focus is good food, fresh produce and everything home-made. It’s also the place where we invented the ‘High Wine’ concept, a variant of the High Tea. Back in the day, our second sommelier Bart and I came up with the idea and it turned out to be a huge success. Nowadays, people come to OCCO especially for the High Wine. Actually, we should have patented it, because now you see many bars offering the same concept. (smiles)
Chef’s Secret: What’s next? What are your further ambitions and goals for the future?
Chef Jurgen van der Zalm: Let’s be honest, our main goal for the future is to get that second Michelin star. We’ve managed to keep the first one for almost ten years now – which is already a huge achievement – but now the whole team is determined to get that second one.
Chef Dennis Kuipers: It’s true that we’ve already been working for a few years towards reaching that goal. But we’ve determined a path and we want to evolve slowly, doing it the right way. If the time isn’t right today, maybe it will be tomorrow. In the meantime, we want to continue to improve our cuisine and to develop our product and speciality. And maybe that second star will give us another boost.
As soon as you enter Vinkeles, you’re immediately struck by the warm and friendly welcome of the restaurant’s staff. Vinkeles may be a restaurant of the ‘classic’ type, but there are no signs of stiff service or heavy, traditional dishes. On the contrary, the staff are not afraid of a joke and will do everything they can to make you feel at ease. The high-quality products are served to you in a spontaneous and creative way.
At Restaurant Vinkeles, you can either choose to eat à la carte or experience the chef’s Signature Menu as well as a Vegetable Menu. We choose to sample the Signature Menu, wanting to fully experience the French-Japanese cuisine of chefs Dennis and Jurgen. Sommelier Natasja makes sure that every glass of wine perfectly pairs with your dish. With her sincere ebullience and impressive knowledge of wine and gastronomy, she will undoubtedly treat you to an unforgettable evening.
Our culinary experience at Restaurant Vinkeles starts off with a selection of appetizers: these are accompanied by several delicious varieties of bread, served with butter and a home-made olive oil. Simple, but extremely tasty.
We continue with a langoustine, Dutch ‘table’ oyster, cucumber, dill, elderflower and shimeji mushroom. A dish that is close to perfection.
Next up: a dish of aged seabream, pear, yuzu, Dutch brewed Tomasu soy and black olive. The Tomasu soy adds a special touch to the dish, because it’s entirely made in the Netherlands and was developed by a group of three friends. Starting off with a circulation of only ten bottles – because quality is the most important aspect – they’ve now managed to turn their soy sauce into a world-wide phenomenon.
The dish of Dover sole, fennel, white grapes and beurre blanc is well-balanced thanks to its creamy sauce with a hint of acidity.
The next dish looks and tastes like a piece of art: scallops with Jerusalem artichoke, apple, pancetta, ice plant and Breizh curry.
The chefs demonstrate that you can be very creative when preparing the different parts of a pigeon: bresse pigeon with preserved blackberries, Forono beetroot ‘liquorice’ and a sauce of the bones and liver.
Chefs Dennis and Jurgen present us a sirloin Wagyu A5 ‘Gunma Prefecture’ with Chinese Imperial caviar, furikake and black fermented garlic dashi. This is served with a bowl of rice, finished with the jus. Through the simplicity of this dish, the chefs evince their respect for high-quality products.
As we’re about to start on dessert, we are first served a dish with duck liver, caramel, almond, Sakura leaf and cusco chuncho 100% chocolate. Because of its soft structure and sweet touch, it’s the perfect dish between the main course and dessert. If you ask us: an original and lighter alternative to a cheese plate.
We finish off our delectable dinner at Restaurant Vinkeles with a dessert featuring mandarin sorbet, cheesecake, Murray salt, oatmeal and coriander. It really is an explosion of flavour.
We’re surprised by the daring selection of friandises, served by Vinkeles’ kitchen team. Our personal favourites are definitely the slices of mandarin, topped off with some spices. Simple, but oh so flavourful and delicious.
Restaurant Vinkeles, Keizersgracht 384, 1016 GB Amsterdam, the Netherlands | +31 20 530 2010 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.vinkeles.com | facebook.com/restaurantvinkelesamsterdam | facebook.com/dennis.kuipers | facebook.com/dylanamsterdam | instagram.com/restaurantvinkeles | instagram.com/denniskuipers_chef | instagram.com/jurgenvanderzalm | instagram.com/hotelthedylan
Interview: Sarah De Hondt
Text: Carline Roggeman
Photography: Adriaan Van Looy