“MY DREAM IS THAT PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER WILL COME TO THE NETHERLANDS FOR ITS CULINARY LANDSCAPE”
Masterchef Joris Bijdendijk has fast made a name for himself in the gastronomic world. As executive chef of RIJKS®* and Wils* restaurants – both boasting a Michelin star – and of Wils Bakery Café – awarded a Bib Gourmand – he is helping Amsterdam to scale the ranks of the world culinary scene. With the original RIJKS® - located at Museumplein - under renovation, the old CIRCL premises at Gustav Mahlerplein was transformed into a RIJKS® POP UP restaurant until November 11th. Joris generously made time in the midst of shuttling between his three Amsterdam Zuid locations to share his story and passion for gastronomy with us.
Joris, you’ve temporarily been a chef in Zuidas. How do you like it here? And has this location influenced your menu in any way?
“It fits to a T. I know this area well, as it happens, having set up the kitchen of CIRCL back when it first opened. It’s a brilliant location. It has expanded a lot in recent years. Beforehand, we did some research into what the target group here is looking for. This being Zuidas, there are many more offices than in the city centre. Demand for lunch is bigger, so we’ve responded to that with a ‘power lunch’, guaranteeing people can be in and out within one hour. And there’s a vending wall with tasty RIJKS® snacks to go with drinks, so you can relax on our terrace with a glass of fine wine and some great finger food after work hours. We are using this location to showcase as well as test out the new RIJKS®. It’s like a little black box offering a sneak preview of our new restaurant.”
What led you to choose CIRCL in Zuidas for the pop-up?
“My idea, starting out, was that I’d just cook somewhere else for two weeks, but as things got progressively more serious and lengthier and the renovation plans more involved, the period we needed to bridge became rather long. In fact, this was the only place we seriously wanted to go for. Location is super important, and we are well-situated here. I already knew the area well and what else is here. With RIJKS® POP UP, we opened a whole new restaurant. And we were taking a chance with that. We’ll only be here for a short time, just under three months. Right now, we’re wholly focused on the new RIJKS®. We needed some time to find our feet, but are running at full steam now and that’s a fantastic thing to witness.”
Where did your passion for food and cooking originally start?
“I am an Amsterdammer through and through. But, growing up, our family spent weekends on a self-sufficient farm in the Belgian Ardennes. So, my parents had busy jobs in Amsterdam during the week and then on Friday afternoons my brothers and I would pile into the station wagon and head south to work on the farm, with its own veg garden, orchard and drinking water from rainwater. I fell in love with this line of work because of those weekends. I experienced firsthand how important ingredients are. I did my first work placement in a butcher’s shop, followed by a dish-washing job when I was fifteen which gave me a terrific impression of the chefs’ team. That was when I decided I wanted to become a chef myself. This was twenty-five years ago, and I’m still very happy with my choice. My parents always supported me, but were also very clear that I needed to be serious about it. Nowadays, they both love dropping by my restaurants to dish out advice.”
What lesson has stuck with you the most in your career?
“I am truly lucky that my work is still my passion. The main lesson, for me, was to take it seriously and make a plan. Realizing there will be times when you have to make some sacrifices in hopes they will pay off later. And also, that not every day is going to be fun. If you throw in the towel or change tack at the first setback, you’ll never really get good at anything.”
With two Michelin stars and one Bib Gourmand under your belt, are there any particular goals you are working towards now?
“Running my own place one day would be very nice. My wife is French, so maybe we’ll head to the sunny south to start a lovely restaurant on the beach. Still, Amsterdam is in my blood, and I am happy right where I am. I have restaurants at amazing locations and am nowhere near ready to stop with those.”
What do you prefer to cook when you’re at home with family?
“My two boys of seven and eight are very much involved. My youngest says he wants to be a chef, like me, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, haha. I’m happy to let them help out with chopping and cooking, because I believe strongly in learning by doing. And also to carry on cooking at home – I’m totally fine with that. We have fun going out for groceries together.”
As one of the founders of the Low Food foundation, you are committed to raising the bar on Dutch gastronomy and sustainability. Why is this important to you? “Our aims are training, research and networking. The foundation has several academies and I myself teach in the gardens of the Rijksmuseum. I want to continue with this as it is a way, I can show kids how easily you can create great meals from the garden. My dream is that one day, people from all over will want to come to the Netherlands because of its culinary landscape. If you want to build a food culture, you need to get as many people as possible involved in food and cooking. You have to start at a young age to get that motivation going. But, with Low Food, we’re obviously aiming for something bigger. Only recently we hosted our first festival, oriented mainly towards professionals, and now we are hoping to expand further.”
Can you give us a sneak preview of the new and improved RIJKS®?
“People could taste a real sneak preview at RIJKS® POP UP, which was brilliant. The new RIJKS® is opening in mid-November and will be a buzzing restaurant. The team consist of a group of professionals who love the work they do in a down-to-earth way. Our big focus is on all the wonderful things we can serve in the Low Countries. RIJKS® has always been good, but sometimes you have the chance to shake it all up and redefine yourself. We want to take new strides in data-driven sustainability, so we’ll be measuring everything we do. I think that guests who dine with us will have a wonderful and hopefully festive experience. Our team makes sure every person has felt welcomed and a part of the evening’s experience.”