15 Feb In Den Doofpot, bringing the fine dining experience to Leiden
Sharman Media has been at In Den Doofpot, the restaurant that has catapulted the city of Leiden into the foodie scene.
This fine place has been on the Michelin radar for a while and it’s a new entry in the list of the 100 best restaurants in the Netherlands, taking the 86th position.
We talked with chef Patrick Brugman, an ambitious searcher who will never stop until he’s reached perfection; and Auke Alkema, his assistant and also a member of the waiting staff. What struck me about Auke is his very developed commercial mind in spite of his young age; as a matter of fact, he’s currently studying business and economics, which seems to fit him like a glove.
Elena: Why do you think In Den Doofpot has reached number 86 in this prestigious list?
Patrick: We are constantly aiming for perfection and on a permanent search of ways to offer a truly special culinary experience to customers. We don’t copy other restaurants, we just do what we feel like it and I think that’s what makes us a different option. We are offering our own interpretation of fine dining and we are very proud to be in this list because it’s the first restaurant in Leiden that has ever been there.
Auke: In order to be in the top 100 you have to cook exceptionally well and you need to be noticed. We have brought the fine dining concept to Leiden and it feels great to deviate the attention a little bit from other more popular places like Amsterdam and Rotterdam where foodies used to look.
Elena: Patrick, how would you define your cooking style?
Patrick: You know, I never liked labels, I don’t like to say I cook French or Italian, I just choose fresh ingredients with a few spices and herbs and I use my creativity to experiment and try new combinations, flavours, textures, shapes and colours. I do what I feel at each moment and then observe the reactions in order to decide what we are going to include in every new menu.
We change the menu once a month, so I’m constantly trying and testing, which I just love to do. There are dishes that will come back with every season, but the combination and effect would be different since I will add a new twist. I’m always trying to create the perfect dish and I’m never happy, I always want more, I guess I’m on a constant search of perfection and that helps to make every dish a different experience. I’m a young chef and I really want to reach the top. For me it’s never good enough.
Elena: You must be tough as a manager! Should I ask your colleagues at the kitchen? (Laughs)
Patrick: (Laughs) No, I’m not tough but I admit that I’m very demanding because I want all of them to give their best. I’m a good communicator and I don’t mind taking time to explain how to do things, I’m also a good listener and I welcome feedback when it makes sense. Because I like to try new things I like to listen to others in order to expand my horizon.
Elena: Do you follow the trends in the kitchen?
Patrick: Well, you always look around to see what’s happening, what’s new etc, but we rather do things our own way since we enjoy very much offering new and unique experiences.
Elena: How important do you think marketing is in the success of a restaurant?
Auke: Not even the best marketing campaign will work if customers don’t like what they see, what they taste and how they feel when they come to the restaurant. At the end the best marketing is what customers say about us and how they like to come back and bring other people with them. They talk about us and recommend us. But of course if people don’t know we exist they won’t come in the first place, so we need to do some marketing as well.
Elena: Out of curiosity, what do you feel about apps like TripAdvisor? I heard from other chefs and restaurant owners that they hate them because sometimes people leave unfair and stupid comments that can do a lot of harm.
Patrick: I love TripAdvisor, at the end it’s real people giving their opinion, expressing their feelings. They give their view about the total experience, the food, the atmosphere, the service. Some might leave unfair comments but the norm is that people just express how they have experienced your restaurant. The vast majority of our clientele are business people and real foodies who like to enjoy fine dining and new culinary experiences. Only a few come from TripAdvisor anyways.
Elena: I heard that Michelin has been several times in the restaurant. How does it feel?
Patrick: We know they have been here because they have heard about us of course.
Elena: Are you now focused on getting a star?
Patrick: Obviously it’s something great to have because it would bring the restaurant even more into light, but I’m not obsessed about it. I’m more focused in be my best every day, experimenting and developing new ways to reach that place where I really want my kitchen to be.
Auke: Talking about experimenting, we are launching in March a new concept, culinary round trips in Leiden. Our guests will enjoy a very special experience, it consists in trying interesting dishes from four different locations while sailing across the canals in Leiden. The plan is to try a different dish from every location, the tours will start and finish at IDD but the culinary experience takes place inside the boat.
We have purchased for this purpose an electric boat since we want to do our part in taking care of the environment and electric vehicles are the smartest option for all. The boat has a capacity for 30 people and it can be reserved for a minimum of 2 people.
Elena: That sounds wicked, I like the idea very much.
Auke: We like to experience new things and bring our cooking to even more people. Like last summer we went to Ibiza and cooked for 250 people at an organic farm located in a beautiful spot of the island. We brought our products by truck and prepared everything in 3 days. It was a fantastic experience.
We also have a cute Citroen HY from 1969 that we use as a culinary truck to cook in people’s houses for parties and events. We adapt the menu to the preferences of the customers and the nature of the event, it can be for a wedding or a birthday party, for instance.
We sometimes go to festivals, for these events the menu will be more simple and obviously the prices will also be different. But we prefer when we cook for private events because then we can really offer an exceptional culinary experience.
Patrick: We love to do these different things because we get to know people and share ideas, and of course because we also have lots of fun and come out of the kitchen a bit.
Elena: How do you see the future of the hospitality business?
Patrick: It’s definitely changing a lot, now high-level restaurants have a more relaxed atmosphere. In the past fine dining was always surrounded by a kind of snobby and stiff aura, but this is fortunately changing. You can now go to restaurants with an amazing culinary level where you can be relaxed and not feeling any more out of place like it could happen in the past. People just want to sit, lay back and enjoy excellent food, superb wines, listen to nice music and just have a great time; this is how a culinary experience should be.
Auke: I also think that sustainability is playing a very important role in the future of hospitality. We are investing in sustainability because we believe it’s the way to move forward, and that’s why we are using only organic disposables and offering tap water in our food truck. We have also invested a lot in our electric boat for the culinary round trips. In this sense we are ahead of the curve because we are not waiting until everybody implements these measures, we are implementing them now, before it’s too late for our planet; we hope others will follow.
Patrick: Elena, we would like you to try something so you can have a bit of a contact with our kitchen. This first dish is North Sea crab with gel of roses and seaweed. Please try it.
Elena: Oh, thank you very much! This Sea crab sauce reminds me a thick soup my dad used to prepare for special occasions. The taste is similar but then when mixing it with the other ingredients the flavour changes. I like the combination, it’s delicious.
Auke: This other dish is an ode to IDD on Tour made from blood orange, lemon and vanilla. We’d made a wink to Citroën playing with the word Citroen, which means lemon in Dutch.
Elena: It’s delicious, really subtle, perfect for someone like me that doesn’t like sweets so much.
Patrick: Last summer we went to Thailand to experiment and try new dishes so we could get ideas for our kitchen. We try to travel as much as we can to get some inspiration. We also try a different restaurant every month to be open to new ideas, of course we would like to go more often but it’s not always possible.
Elena: How do you manage to be in so many places at the same time? (laughs)
Auke: I think he is great preparing and stablishing the fundamentals of the kitchen so he can trust his team to do a great job and go somewhere else to work his magic. Because he makes magic.
Patrick: (Laughs) Now, it seems I’m a magician. I think it’s important to come out sometimes of the kitchen, meet people to talk with and get ideas and inspiration from their reactions. I work with a very good team of people and I know I can trust them to do a great job even when I’m not there.
If you want to try Patrick’s and his team’ magic, book a table at IDD, but do it in advance because they are fully booked most of the time!