In the nice, not too crowded neighbourhood of the Jordaan near the canals – the famous waterways – in the city centre of Amsterdam, lies an elegant, vibrant restaurant called Daalder. And there’s more to this place than the allure of a hotspot; chef Dennis Huwaë.
In 2016 Dennis Huwaë’s dream came true. He was invited to become the co-owner and chef at Restaurant Daalder. Seen his impressive background (until then Dennis had always worked at a 2 Michelin star level, ed.) this change in his career came as a surprise for many people in the culinary world. But in fact his choice was quite exemplary of Dennis’ personality. He follows his heart and isn’t afraid to leave the beaten track to chase his dreams. In restaurant Daalder he saw the perfect opportunity to creatively shape his experience as a chef in a 2 Michelin star kitchen into his own project. For him it was the ideal place to cultivate his talent and limitless creativity to its fullest potential.
Meet Dennis Huwaë
At 16 years old, Dennis had an encounter with the renowned Belgian chef Guy Van Cauteren, who was on a project in Amsterdam as a culinary advisor. When Dennis saw Van Cauteren cooking, he was so impressed that he instantly decided he wanted to cook at that same top level. At that time Dennis was still studying at the Koning Willem 1 College in ‘s Hertogenbosch and he chose to apprentice with culinary heavyweights such as Onno Kokmeijer and Arjan Speelman of Okura’s Ciel Bleu**. At the same time he managed to win the Dutch Championship for Apprentice Chefs. Being Dennis’ ultimate teacher, Onno Kokmeijer recognized his talent and gave him the opportunity to learn everything he wanted at Ciel Bleu. And before long Dennis became sous chef of restaurant Ciel-Bleu**. However, his ambition to orientate himself internationally still persisted. Dennis left Amsterdam for an internship at the FatDuck*** in London, returning four years later as chef during the Olympics. Upon his return to the Netherlands his talent was recognized by two Michelin star chef Moshik Roth, with whom Dennis would work closely for the next eight years. First at the legendary restaurant Brouwerskolkje, and the last four years as the chef at &Samhoud Places**.
Even though he performed at the highest level of gastronomy and the collaboration with Moshik was perfect, after eight years Dennis was ready for a new challenge. It was time to start his own story. He accepted the offer by Frans van Dam and became the chef and co-owner of Restaurant Daalder.
From authentic bar to contemporary restaurant
Many young chefs have refreshing and creative ideas when it comes to fine dining, and so has Dennis Huwaë. As he believes a great meal and a lovely dining experience go hand in hand with a relaxed atmosphere.
Daalder is a former bar that was transformed into a contemporary restaurant. The setting with touches of the classic French brasserie style match the refined, playful art of cooking perfectly. Using dark colours, brass gold and copper accents, wooden tables and marble accents, the interior design at Daalder is stylish, cosy and chic. Candles and design lighting create the right atmosphere.
This year they added another project to their portfolio by taking over Lokaal Edel in Amsterdam, where they’ll launch a new restaurant after the summer.
Dennis is more than ‘just a very good chef’, he’s as much an inspirer and entrepreneur. Besides being the chef and co-owner of Daalder he is the culinary inspiration and organizer of the food department of the well known event company De Artiesten at the Tobacco Theater in Amsterdam. And he has also made his appearance in the TV program The Chef’s Line 2019 with master chef Margot Jansen and Jacob Jan Boerma*** and he has recently completed the recordings for the TV show De Nieuwe Garde 2019.
The Chef’s Secret of Dennis Huwaë
In the world of gastronomy his name and his talent have already been acknowledged via several awards, like the first place in the National Competition for trainee chefs (2002 ) and Talented Chef of the Year (2018). That he hasn’t received that first Michelin star yet comes as a surprise, especially after tasting the food that clearly shows that Dennis is worthy of that Michelin level.
According to Dennis a great team is the key to success. So when we ask Dennis for a portrait picture, he insists we take a shot of the whole team. It shows how fond he is of his colleagues, and how much he respects his team.
Impressed by how calm, friendly and accessible, yet powerful and creative Dennis comes across, we take the time for a chat to learn more about his passions, ambitions and challenges.
Chef’s Secret (The Best Chef & Hungry for More): We must say we’re quite stunned by your calm, yet resolute and creative management and cooking style. No stiff elegant fine dining, not the ordinary plating, no shouting in the kitchen… Isn’t it difficult to lead a team and a restaurant in a non-conventional way?
Dennis Huwaë: I don’t think my style is unconventional. It reflects my personality and it’s the result of what I’ve learned throughout my career. A good chef isn’t necessarily a good manager. Nevertheless, being a good team lead is just as important, as you can’t do everything on your own. You need a good team that you can rely on. Nowadays it’s quite difficult to find good staff. I strongly believe that if you can engage people and make them part of your story, they will give the best they have, and you can accomplish much more as a team. In my kitchen there will be no yelling, although I can pull rank when I need to.
Chef’s Secret: Before you became co-owner at Daalder you had been working on a two star level for years. Why did you make the choice to start your own business, without Michelin stars?
Dennis Huwaë: My business partner had been managing Daalder for 12 years already and he had asked me at least 5 or 6 times if I wasn’t interested in joining him. And the last time he asked, I felt I was ready to start my own business. I was ready to develop myself further, both creatively and businesswise, and in Daalder I saw the perfect opportunity to dig deeper to find my own identity. Daalder became my own personal laboratory, where I can experiment and challenge myself and my team to reach for the stars. In that sense nothing has changed for me. I still work with my team in close relationship that is characterized by intensity, authenticity and friendship. The only difference is that I’m not defending any Michelin stars. I only have the challenge to attain one. Not that achieving a star is a purpose in itself. I will just continue to do what I have always done: cook with passion for my guests, so we can create the perfect dishes, the perfect atmosphere and the perfect guest’s experience.
Chef’s Secret: Can you tell us more about the concept at Daalder?
Dennis Huwaë: We wanted to create the ideal setting for a great night out with excellent food. Fine dining doesn’t need to be stiff or formal. I don’t think wearing a suit will make your dining experience better. People should come to Daalder because they want to have great food and because it’s fun and relaxed. Last year we fully refurbished the restaurant. We kept the name, the spirit and the identity of Daalder, but we simply made it nicer and a bit more contemporary.
Chef’s Secret: How would you describe your own cooking style?
Dennis Huwaë: That’s a difficult question. Maybe you should answer it yourself after you’ve tasted the food. I think you need to taste my cuisine in order to be able to describe it. I don’t think about rules or limitations when I’m cooking, so I can bring onto the plate what I have in mind, without any boundaries. I don’t think you need to start from traditional cooking, although it’s of course important to master your techniques.
Chef’s Secret: What’s your most important source of inspiration?
Dennis Huwaë: Being inspired is just something that happens. I don’t know where it comes from, where, when or why I’ll feel inspired. The most important condition is to be relaxed. If you’re in that state of mind, the inspiration will follow. And of course product sourcing is key. The beauty of the ingredients inspires me immensely. In order to find that perfect combination of ingredients I cook with pure products and let them speak for themselves. For me creating a dish is a quest for the perfect combination of ingredients, that complement and amplify each other. When creating a new dish I walk the extra mile to search for the inner beauty of every ingredient, to bring out the best in each. Let nature do its work. Choose beautiful products and treat them with love and respect. Eventually it all comes down to the love for the product and the amount of time you are willing to invest in the creation of your dishes.
Chef’s Secret: You’ve chosen to have a strong connection between the kitchen and the bar and the guests when the restaurant was refurbished, why is that?
Dennis Huwaë: As this place used to be a bar, we wanted to keep that identity and that laid back feel when we turned it into a fine dining restaurant. I really like to have a certain interaction with the guests. And by integrating that bar concept in the interior design, it’s something that automatically happens. I also like to sit at the bar to enjoy a drink, and that’s exactly the feel we want to recreate in our restaurant.
Chef’s Secret: Besides being the chef of Daalder restaurant, you’re also working on other projects like consulting, TV work and new restaurants. Do you consider yourself more an entrepreneur than a chef?
Dennis Huwaë: I consider myself to be a chef and an entrepreneur, and I don’t believe both roles need to be each other’s opposite. When it comes to TV work, I only engage myself in productions that match my style and character. I find it very important that I can always be myself. In fact, I only try to do things I really like, as that will also be the projects that give you a real energy boost.
Chef’s Secret: What do you consider the most difficult part of your job?
Dennis Huwaë: It’s no secret that it can be challenging to find a healthy work-life balance in the restaurant industry. But it’s something I have learned to value more and more. I have a family and it’s all about giving them a certain place in my busy life and that takes some good management skills. Now that we’ve decided to close the restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I know that I can spend time with my family on these days. And for our staff the days off, as well as regular holidays, are also absolutely necessary to have enough time to do pleasant things outside their work. We ask so much effort from them during the five days a week our restaurant is open. So it’s important to have a healthy work-life balance to be inspired and fully focused when you’re at work.
Chef’s Secret: What if you wouldn’t be a chef? Any other callings?
Dennis Huwaë: I’ve been working in the kitchen since I was 15 years old, so I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. But who knows, when things might have been different… I guess I would have wanted to be a singer or a performer then. I have huge respect for what they do. How amazing wouldn’t it be to be able to sing beautifully and to be in the spotlights? But I can’t, and I’m happy to be a chef.
Chef’s Secret: What about awards… In 2018 you got the title of Talented Chef of the Year of Gault&Millau, what’s next? How important is the recognition of Michelin, Gault&Millau or The Best Chef Awards to you?
Dennis Huwaë: It’s important, it’s as simple as that. Just like kids who are extremely happy when they get their swimming certificate, chefs are flattered when they get a recognition in the famous culinary listings. We work extremely hard every day and of course it’s satisfactory when people appreciate what you do. And it’s a boost for the team.
Chef’s Secret: What dreams and ambitions do you have for the future?
Dennis Huwaë: We’ve chosen a clear direction with a certain philosophy here at Daalder, and that’s what we want to continue in the future. I’m looking forward to develop our concept and to optimize it, together with the whole team. Therefore I consider consistency and continuity very important. Our team needs to get the space to grow personally and professionally. That way we can offer consistent quality and creative innovations. It’s important not to rush anything. If our team is happy, our quality will be at best and that’s what the guests will taste and experience, so they want to return. Stability and calm are important conditions to take things to the next level.
At the table
After the interview Dennis quickly checks if every detail in the restaurant is perfect. The lighting, the way the glasses and napkins are put on the table, the position of the chairs… It all needs to be right. Things might be relaxed at Daalder, but everything needs be just as much perfect.
Guests at Daalder can choose between a five or seven course meal, or opt for the Daalder menu, offering the full experience from A to Z. There’s also a vegetarian menu.
We start off with homemade kombucha, made of green and black tea, cassis and pink pepper. This complex, refined drink cleans the palette. It’s served together with the first bite: nigiri, made of crispy meringue, salmon and ponzu.
We continue with the second appetizer consisting of three small bites:
A spoon with a blackberry cracker, tuna and radish.
Fish and chips, Daalder style.
Foam of cachaça rum with a sorbet of lychee and lime.
Off to the first dish of the menu, which is cobia fish with ajo blanco (a cold Spanish soup made of almond and garlic), tofu and green apple.
Next there’s egg, asparagus, morels and parmesan cheese.
Followed by langoustine, broccoli, onion, green nori and caviar.
The last fish dish is turbot, white asparagus, mustard and tarragon.
Today’s meat preparation is made of lamb, black garlic and paprika.
A refreshing and flavourful dessert is served first: raspberry, coconut, calamansi and basil.
Last but not least, a Dutch classic: “Stroopwafel”.
We end the meal with coffee and tea, accompanied by some little sweets.
In the meanwhile we keep thinking on how to answer Dennis’ challenge to describe his cooking style ourselves after we had sampled the dishes. And we must admit it’s not so easy to define. Although we’d say his relaxed, yet meticulous attitude is definitely reflected in the dishes. Precise and playful plating, together with powerful and refined tastes are key in Dennis’ cuisine.
Fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere, enjoying top quality products with powerful tastes in a creative presentation, all in the nice area of the Jordaan in Amsterdam, that’s what Dennis Huwaë’s restaurant Daalder is all about. A young chef with so much talent, respect for his team and a nose for business, is definitely to be watched. We expect even more culinary magic to happen here in the (near) future.
Restaurant Daalder, Lindengracht 90, 1015KK Amsterdam, The Netherlands | +31 20 624 8864 | firstname.lastname@example.org | daalderamsterdam.nl | facebook.com/Daalder.restaurant | instagram.com/rest_daalder/ | instagram.com/dennis_huwae/