Custard a la Japonais
He made bouillon from the wood of the tree and used this as the basis for a chawanmushi, a custard prepared in the Japanese fashion, savory rather than sweet. It was presented in a small bowl, and the soft textures had a deep earthen taste with the drops of oil from the mahogany leaf and a hint of walnut for to compliment the dish with a creamy nutty flavor. I’d never had something this exquisite.
Emile van der Staak is well known in the culinary world in Nijmegen and far beyond. Known for his focus on vegetables and tastes produced by special fermentation processes. The restaurant had been closed for quite some time so that a new restaurant could be built in the monumental former orphanage at Gebroeders van Limburgplein.
In this stylish interior full of stories, you can taste his creations and actually watch the staff at the workbenches. Viewing the crates of vegetables from the Ommuurde Tuin, the small containers of flowers and herbs from the Food Forest and the concentration and dedication of the team in the kitchen heightens your expectations.
The first dish is a taco made of thinly sliced kohlrabi filled with orpine, a leaf of a succulent, and codium, a widely loved genus of marine algae with a robust taste. The savory comes from the miso of tulip leaf. The sommelier pours Spanish wild cider, that shows some hints of ripe blue cheese. The juice is made from the parings of the kohlrabi. By fermenting them and adding tarragon, it forms a perfectly crisp duo with the taco.
“Intense concentration in a relaxed atmosphere results in a well-choreographed dance.”
Eight sorts of beans
There are eight sorts of beans on my plate and the aroma is of the most delicious chicken ever served. No chicken on the plate, but rather a garum. Not made from the guts of fish like the Romans used to do, but from chicken that was fermented for a month with herbs and salt, which transformed it into an umami bomb.
The charred winter savory gives a slight tone of thyme to the dish, and, with the crust of sourdough bread, I soak up the last drops of the ‘best chicken garum ever’ from my plate.
What do we drink with this? I drink a juice with a basis of fermented zucchini. Yes, it becomes a mush if you throw salt onto it, but if you squeeze it out and wait a few days, you get a juice that, when cooked with chamomile flowers has a wonderfully sweet and crisp flavor.
The alcoholic pairing is even better. The beer, made with smoked malt, is almost as layered as a fine whisky and is a sublime match for the dish.
We are almost sitting at the countertop. Intense concentration in a relaxed atmosphere create a well-choreographed dance. The kitchen team is passionate, and the serving staff adds to this by educating and entertaining the guests with their enormous knowledge of ingredients and drinks.
The next dish shines like black patent leather. Mackerel, prepared sous-vide, is lying under a shiny layer made of garlic that has been stored for 40 days at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. Then, at exactly the right moment, the garlic is spread out and now lies shining on the mackerel with the fish sauce. Yes, made from fish guts. And what do we drink with this? A beer from the Nijmegen brewer Oersoep and a drink made of fermented beets. And once again, it’s just right.
Fresh and porcini-fueled
I eat tempeh on a small stick made of white beans from another year. Really? Tempeh is usually a bland, tough cake but this one is fresh and fueled by porcini mycelium, which makes it completely different. It was crisply fried and, to offset the wealth of savory, there’s a lovely green drop of lavas.
The dessert is made of hay, toasted very briefly and combined with ice cream, fermented carrot, and yellow silverberries. It just kept coming and I’d never had any of it before.
Emile van de Staak is a true magician who moves us with his creativity and convictions. It’s a shame he’s not a painter. Then we could save his dishes and enjoy them every day.