At Bistronomie Vidiveni in the city of Zwolle (Netherlands), Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance chef Josua Oechies is doing a lot of good. Not only is he committed to working with products from “local heroes”, he also gives them the credit they deserve.
Josua started his journey 23 years ago, working his way up to kitchens of famed Dutch restaurants Kaatje bij de Sluis and de Librije. He was introduced to the value of local products and decided to retain that bit of wisdom when he started running his own kitchen. Before even knowing what Slow Food was, he was using Presidia products from the local specialty shop of Slow Food member Harry Schonewille. So, when he finally did learn about the work of Slow Food, joining the Chefs’ Alliance was a no-brainer. What did change was his way of really looking to nature for new ideas—like using the stems from the kale he saw when driving his kids to school. He ferments them and uses the juice to form a delicious, horseradish-like dressing for the kale leaves, where the mustardy juice harkens to a classic Dutch flavor combination.
Enjoying the conviviality of Slow Food is one of Josua’s favorite things, especially when it comes to events like—when he cooked alongside some other Alliance chefs at the Chef’s Revolution—a Dutch culinary festival held at his old learning ground, De Librije. What a great place to showcase Slow Food and the value of our traditional products, amidst some of the most renowned Dutch restaurants, all serving dishes to a diverse audience. Here he showcased a pastrami from the local Lakenvelder beef, with some fermented local pumpkin, a clear example of his clean style, where seasons guide the dishes – “you should eat a local winter, when you come to eat at my restaurant.”
And regarding his menu, the producers play a major role. “I want to cook with what is available. For instance, nobody thinks about fresh basil when cooking Dutch food. But my farmer has a lot of it, so I say ‘bring it on’, I’m excited to see what we can do with it.” Plus, he emphasizes the value of producers’ knowledge. “We chefs are a little bit of everything; baker, butcher, etc. But those producers spend their lives doing one thing and really know all about it. So, more than looking to other chefs, I look to producers for new inspiration and ideas.”
The value of producers is the most important message Josua tries to convey to as many people as possible. That means catering to a wide audience, making sure the portions are recognizable and big enough, as the Dutch prefer to have a proper meal in the evening. “I want everyone to leave here fulfilled, not yearning for a snack because they don’t feel satisfied”—quickly adding— “And that to us is as important for the plumber, as it is for the mayor”. And as all of them take a look through his “Local Heroes” flyer, they leave fulfilled but hopefully also appreciative of all those involved in producing the food, especially those outside of the restaurant.
By Claire Ryan
Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance