Talking with locals is a way to learn about a new place, enlarge your network and make new friends. Locals want to show the best of their country, that has to offer.
We met Gert-Jan Hageman, a chef and a farmer, who converted Amsterdam’s municipal park greenhouse into a restaurant. Meeting up was a way to learn about Amsterdam, history of the place and the founder of the restaurant.
How do you see Amsterdam?
A very nice international multi-cultural city, we have good food. Nice shops, nice people, nice restaurants, quality city, easy to travel, easy to reach, perfect destination, for a nice holiday, that’s how we see Amsterdam.
Although I am not born here, I am really proud of it. Sometime when I go to the city myself, I say ‘Jeez’, it’s beautiful, it’s nice with the canal, I really love it.’ So much to see on such a small surface, nice history, beautiful museum, famous pictures, I can say you can’t miss Amsterdam.
You are a chef and a farmer. How did you started?
First I was a chef, it didn’t work for me at school, and I was kicked off when I was 16 years old. And I start to work out at the restaurant business. And that worked well, and I worked in better, better and better restaurants and finally I became chef in a restaurant here in Amsterdam and have a Michelin star for my work as a head chef. This was in 1993. In the same year I met my wife. We are still married. After 2 years she advised me very strongly to take a sabbatical leave because she noticed that I was getting very grumpy, gray and not nice anymore, and a little bit fat, so it seems that Michelin star didn’t make me too happy. And I took her advice, quit my job at the hate of my career or the peak of your career. Dropped my knifes and started cooking and started serving again, multi – cycling again. And being outside, than fishing. I like all these things a lot. And after a few years I met an old friend and he seems to have a small vegetable garden, just outside Amsterdam. He invited me to his garden and I was very inspired because of the fresh vegetables and he offered me to harvest over there during the week for my young family and it inspired me a lot on a beautiful May morning, thinking in 1997. Still in my sabbatical leave, I was in his garden and I was struck by the idea like epiphany to have my own restaurant in a greenhouse to grow my own vegetables. Actually what you see here, was my struck of lightning and I went home. And I talked to my wife. Listen I got an epiphany, and she said well why not make a business plan. Have a very good wife. And that’s how we did, and only a few weeks later after I got my idea, I got a phone call from the Amsterdam council. They said we heard of your idea and until this day I do not know how. They said ‘There is a greenhouse and we are going to demolish it within two weeks and if it is something for you perhaps you never know. In the same month I had my idea.
So what the matter, since 1926, all the bushes and trees for all the city parks in Amsterdam where grown in here, that now is a park, this place was a nursery. and in 1997 they decided to quit, it wasn’t commercial anymore and to demolish the building and the area and make a nice park out of it. This park.
And then there was me with the dream of a restaurant in a greenhouse. Well listen go to the greenhouse and so we did and we found the old green house, very old and almost demolish but we managed to agree with the council and then we need to find some money because it became very expensive and only as a three years we knew how to do it. We started building and I think August 2000. And we open January 2001. So now we are here for the 17th year. And lucky for us because we started with lots and lots of doubtful debts, debts without debts. So it was really very scary but lucky for us it was busy right away and by now 50,000 guests a year and with 186 nationalities. We know it exactly by now today they make reservation by email. We started without Internet, it’s funny idea started without Internet, it wasn’t there 2001. But now is there and the world became very, very small for us. Travel is easy by now, 186 nationalities every year coming to us for a nice dinner. So it is very nice over here.
What is the traditional food of here?
Wooow Traditional food, Dutch food is like every country has their typical things. In the early days you had to work hard in Holland. Everybody was poor so you had, beans and potatoes, it was all mashed, very rough farm food, by now it is very sophisticated, I think internationally we are doing very well at least in Amsterdam. And especially we do a lot of vegetables of course, we do fish and meat, poultry, oyster, you name it and we do it. But our main ingredient is vegetable. And the vegetables we grow ourselves.
We have a nursery in the Beemster area, let say 20Km out of Amsterdam, and beautiful of all heritage. There we have a garden 6 thousand square metres and there we grow most of our vegetables and our neighbors grows apples and pears, cherries and others grow grapes, potatoes for us, and that’s how we get our stuff. We harvest every morning. And we meet our farmers, we bring it to the kitchen than make a menu out of it. And all of the day is all gone because it is busy, it’s always fully booked and the next day we start all over again. So beautiful prepared vegetables with first choice meat, etc, and very fresh. That’s the basic of De Kas, we know where it’s all coming from.
What’s you favorite dish to eat and to cook?
Uuuwwww that’s a difficult one, because I like almost everything. Well the most simple thing is a good piece of bread and with the best cheese you could find and that’s great for me you know. Well most of the vegetables are roasted with nice olive oil. It’s difficult to give an exact answer because I like so much that I couldn’t make a choice I think. Things with potatoes perhaps and lots and lots of vegetables.
This week we have our first spring potatoes and I would almost say that nobody in Holland has such early potatoes and we shall say we are very proud and it’s very funny although we have simple food and you can buy it cheap. It’s so much fun to pick up your own potatoes and then see it served in a restaurant in the evening. It’s very rewarding, very nice.