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September 17, 2015

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‘Crazy’ chef whose recipes make perfect sense

Chef Sidney Schutte says he is known as the “crazy” chef in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Compared to the other more “French classic” chefs in the city, he likes to be creative and sometimes a little bit more, well crazy.

The executive chef of Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, showed Shanghai guests his culinary creativity last week at the Pelham’s of Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund.

The menu Schutte designed for his Shanghai trip did prove some of his “craziness.” One of the canapes, which looked like a very small and thin piece of black cracker, left everyone at the table looking puzzled. The tasty little salty cracker, as explained later by the chef, is made of shredded black garlic and baked into a crispy little finger food. One of the six courses he presented is pork neck, sea urchin, roasted bell pepper, ginger-vinegar sauce and watermelon, covered by a sheet of carabinero shrimp meat.

The ingredients all have their own unique tastes — the pork is juicy and chewy, the sea urchin fresh with a little sweetness and the watermelon really fruity — but together they offer something harmonious and special.

The dessert, avocado sorbet, which is also Schutte’s personal favorite, looked just like a slice of avocado. But actually the green part is the sorbet, and the avocado “shell” is made of chocolate — much to the surprise of diners who after trying to avoid the shell, suddenly discover it has a sweet taste.

Schutte brought 50 kilograms of preserved ingredients from Amsterdam for this creative menu, including pickled tulip bulbs, a Netherlands specialty. Those ingredients became the most important part of his special for- three-nights-only offer to Shanghai guests.

Chef Schutte started his culinary career at the age of 17. In 1999, aged 22, he was appointed sous chef by Jonnie Boer, acclaimed chef and owner of De Librije restaurant in Zwolle, the Netherlands. That same year, De Librije was awarded with a second Michelin star. Three years later and with Schutte’s support, De Librije earned its third Michelin star. After serving 10 years at the restaurant, Schutte decided to widen his horizons and started to work as sous chef at Michelin two-star restaurant Amber in The Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong.

In 2013 he returned to Amsterdam and stated his work as executive chef at Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam in the soon-to-open Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam back then. Under Schutte’s leadership, Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam enjoyed almost immediate acclaim. Just seven months after opening in early 2014, the Michelin Guide awarded it two stars.

His experience in Hong Kong definitely added some Asian touches to his culinary concept, says Schutte. He loves to use more Asian-style ingredients, such as fresh fruits and seafood, plus Asian sauces like yuzu cream and Hong Kong XO sauce.

The work at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam means Schutte is not only responsible for the Librije’s Zusje restaurant, but also Goldfinch Brasserie, a second restaurant this year, room service orders, banqueting and so on.

Although he works from 9am to midnight in the kitchen, Schutte still manages to keep creating new recipes.

“Sometimes it takes a day to develop a new dish, but sometimes it will take a few weeks to make sure the technique is perfect,” explained the chef during his visit in Shanghai.

He took time out to answer some questions from Shanghai Daily.

Q: What’s your secret in achieving two Michelin stars at Librije’s Zusje in just seven months?

A: To be honest, there isn’t a big secret. It’s passion, devotion, and hard work — a lot of hard work from the entire team!

Q: What’s the signature mark of your culinary concepts?

A: I love to create new dishes as this keeps me motivated, although I never change dishes or menus just for the sake of it. I have some dishes which have been on the menu since day one. Some of these dishes have Asian influences, as I’m a fan of the bold flavors and diversity of Asian cuisine.

Q: Did you learn anything special from Chinese-style cooking in Hong Kong?

A: Although I worked in a Michelin star kitchen which was French oriented, I was also lucky to learn how to make authentic Chinese dishes such as spicy crab, Peking duck and crispy pork. Our canteen’s Cantonese chefs taught me the Chinese cooking techniques. My years in Hong Kong have inspired me to think outside of the box every day. It enhanced my palate and skills. Therefore, I feel I’m often using less obvious combinations.

Q: What’s the best part about being a chef at a world-class restaurant? And what’s the biggest challenge?

A: The best part is that although guests have never been to our restaurant before, they opt for the tasting menu as they want to try my creations. They trust my cooking and that of my team; this is a big compliment for me.

The biggest challenge in this business is to find good staff. More and more restaurants are opening and they are all looking for dedicated chefs and members for their service team. As a result, finding the right people for the job becomes challenging.

Q: Is there anything different about working at the Waldorf and working at other restaurants?

A: One of the great advantages of working at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is the international platform and the great support that we get from the management. They also strive for the best and will always support me and my team to achieve this.

Q: How do you feel about the Chinese team at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund?

A: They are a very good team and they are very eager to learn. They write down every cooking tip I say.

Q: What’s your next plan? Anything special in mind?

A: Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam has just opened a brasserie, the Goldfinch Brasserie, and it is important that the brasserie team and I focus on this to make it a success. As we are the new kid on the block, we get a lot of invitations for international guest chef events. But I feel it is too early to be away often or for a long period from my team and guests. I think a chef needs to be in his kitchen — that’s also what I like doing the most!


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