More Café recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and to mark the occasion, managing partner and chef Wouter Lap invited his good friend, the award-winning chef Marco Poldervaart, to Dubai to create some new dishes for the More menu. James Brennan caught up with the Dutch master, and asked him about big portions, hats and why he likes to cuddle fish.
So, you’ve been busy creating some new dishes for More café – tell us about them.
They were dishes from ‘the mixed box’. In such a multi-cultural society as it is in Dubai, you have to prepare dishes everyone likes to eat. I have made an appetiser of cannelloni with Australian mud crab, yellow fin tuna sashimi with soya caviar and king prawn salad with light cucumber foam. As a main course, I’ve introduced black sea bream filet on a potato mash, with squid salsa, hachee of mussels and mussel jus. And for dessert, there’s wentelteefje (eggy bread), gingered speculaas (short crust biscuit) ice cream, Dutch apple tart and traditional vanilla-sauce.
You’re good friends with Wouter Lap – why does he make the portions at More so big? Has he got an insatiable appetite?
Ha, ha – as you can see Wouter is a ‘big’ man. In Dutch we say he is a reus (giant) and maybe Wouter has thought out and portioned every dish to his own needs… No, just kidding. I really think the concept is based on the name ‘More’; you get ‘more’ than you pay for – more in volume, more in quality, more in presentation etc…I just think that he wants to give his guests their money’s worth. Everything is very tasteful.
You were in Dubai recently – how does the restaurant scene here compare to Amsterdam?
I didn’t see a lot of restaurants while I was there so I cannot say a lot about the quality of the food or kitchens. But in Dubai you find many hotel-restaurants. In Amsterdam you have restaurants everywhere in very different locations and qualities.
And who has the best nightlife?
That is also something that I have not experienced during my visit. I have three kids so I did not go out much. But I think that the Amsterdam nightlife is more alive. Amsterdam is very famous for this.
You’re part of the Dutch national cooking team – which nations’ chefs are the most difficult opponents?
The national teams of Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, America, Germany and Singapore are very strong. These countries also have bigger budgets to practice with. The Dutch national team has a budget of about 20,000 euros; the others have about one million euros. That is a big difference.
How do you deal with the Germans?
If you mean in competition? They are all good chefs in Germany, you have to respect that. I stay open for knowledge from the Germans, the Americans etc. You can learn from everyone. Every country has it’s own strong points.
You’ve got the ‘gouden koksmuts’. That sounds rather painful…
It is a big chef’s hat of ‘gold’ and it weights about 12 kg. In the beginning it was very difficult to wear it but now I am used to it (ha, ha). The golden koksmuts is the most prestigious prize to win when you are in competition in Holland. A lot of famous chefs have won this prize in their career. So I am very proud that I have won it. I don’t have a very big restaurant, so it is an honour to have it standing in my restaurant to show to my guests.
You claim to have your ‘own personal touch’ when it comes to cooking. Tell us what that entails.
My own personal touch, I think, is my creativity and my never-ending interest in new things and new techniques. Things like fish, prawns and lobster are my favourites. I am always searching for a balance in different tastes; the right amount and combination of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. That gives a dish a certain tension and keeps it interesting and spectacular.
Would you ever consider opening up a restaurant here in Dubai?
I never say no! But only opening in the wintertime because the summer is too hot for me. So from May until September I’d be in Holland, and October to March I’d be in Dubai – in April I’d be on holiday. Perhaps a nice small restaurant with 30-40 places?
Finally, why are you cuddling up to a big fish in your publicity picture?
My favourite ingredient is fish, very fresh fish. With fish you can show your guests how fresh it is, with meat that is much more difficult. And also it is not that easy to cuddle a cow on a picture.