To say Jonnie Boer, chef of De Librije, the three Michelin star restaurant in Zwolle takes his produce seriously would be an understatement. When he took the stage at Chef’s Revolution in Zwolle he wanted to place the limelight on his suppliers. “It is always the chefs that are in the limelight but in reality what the dish is about are the producers and their products. “So I want to pay tribute to the men and women who have been supplying our restaurant with quality ingredients over the past years.”
Jonnie knows his produce incredibly well and also knows how to showcase it to reach its best potential. He was championing local seasonal ingredients 20 years ago before it became fashionable to do so to the extent that he recalls how he was ridiculed for trying to serve Dutch lamb as if there was something wrong with it. His wife, Therese heads up front of house and is a trained viticulturist and wine specialist. They have been open since 1992
He presented the first dish on stage which was shrimps with tulip, seaweed and chicken liver served on a chicken skin waffle. “We get a constant supply of shrimps from the North Sea thanks to a passionate captain of a fishing boat who takes his fishing so seriously.”
In this dish, Jonnie Boer expresses all the philosophy of De Librije. He said that the freshness of the shrimps is combined with tulip bulbs. He recalled that this used to be a staple food during the war. “We researched which would be the best tulips to use for the restaurant. We visited many farms and some of tulips we tried were inedible. But we ask ourselves the question of how we could use them in a dish. The challenge for us is to make something which is not tasty, taste good. When you do this you are ahead of the game.”
The dish is combined with chicken livers and waffles made of chicken skin. The dressing is an oil of different seaweed.
Jonnie Boer is another chef who is fermenting his products. “When the produce is good, you can ferment and preserve vegetables.” He pickles rose petals and juniper berries in fermented cabbage. When you preserve something in its natural environment, you do not need to use vinegar,” he said.
Jonnie learned preservation techniques thanks to a Korean cook who worked with him in the restaurant some 15 years ago. He preserves his vegetables mainly in a fermented cabbage juice which he prepares. The mixture has been tested at a university in the Netherlands and he has been to South Korea to attend fermentation classes.
He spoke about the importance of the ingredients and how he enjoys foraging to pick his ingredients which are then used in the final dish. He mentions, as an example, milk from cows that have just given birth. He says that this milk has incredible qualities which when mixed becomes like a custard. But the milk peaks at around 12 hours and after that it turns into the milk we are accustomed too.
There is a long process which goes into creating a dish. “We talk a lot about it and then go about preparing it. We use different techniques and ideas and then the dish is assessed by my wife Therese and she rejects half of the dishes we prepare,” he said jokingly.
Jonnie speaks about the importance of a dish being a “De Librije” idea. “Our aim is to be different. That is our spirit. Sometimes we do not know what the best way to prepare something is, for example the tulips, but we still go ahead and this is what I call the De Librije spirit.
He says that while he is influenced by other chefs, he does not try to emulate something by doing it right. “What’s most important for me is that it is mine. Even if it might not be right.”
Is his cooking Dutch? he is asked. “Dutch cooking exists but this is my cooking. When I used to serve Dutch lamb, people used to laugh at me thinking that we needed to import lamb. But my philosophy is to use ingredients as close to home as possible. Why should I buy porcini mushrooms which are imported when I can find them here, why should I get seafood from Brittany when I can get it from fishermen in the North Sea,” he says.
It is a philosophy that you have to admire.
Despite the fact that these videos, which he presented at Chef’s Revolution are in Dutch, I would recommend you watch them to get an idea of the attention to detail that goes into preparing some of Jonnie’s dishes.