Friday, November 9, 2012

Martijn Kajuiter: Welcome To My Kitchen

Martijn Kajuiter, head chef at The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford this week became the only chef in Europe to receive the top ‘Rising Chef’ trophy for his work from Relais & Châteaux. It has been a remarkable year for the Michelin star chef and his team having recently published their cookbook ‘Let’s Go Disco’. The Dutch rising chef chats to me about the disco in the kitchen, his great team of Irish chefs and his plans to be out of the kitchen by 40.

“At a young age I was tainted with the good food virus, my parents had a small restaurant and a few cafés so I grew up surrounded with food, not very fancy food, but freshly prepared simple food”.

At 17, Martijn embarked on his culinary career under the wings of Dutch master chef Wynand Vogel, before moving to London in his early twenties to learn from top Michelin star chefs including; Pierre Koffmann and Marco Pierre White. It was in September 2007 when Martijn really became his own, taking on one of his biggest challenges of his career by joining The Cliff House hotel as head chef. Since then he has earned the restaurant their first Michelin star in 2010 and placing the Cliff House firmly on the culinary map internationally.

“The Cliff House was a great challenge as I was given a clean slate and all the freedom to create what I thought was best - so creating an identity and a soul was essential. It was perfect for me to get started, and I think we have been successful. We opened the cliff in May 2008 and now, a few years later, we are still going strong and are still moving forward - room for complacency is not there, everyday is full throttle and I like to do that with a strong Irish team with a good Dutch twist” explains Martijn.

Hours before service, when it is time for the chefs to knuckle down and get the job done, Martijn chants “Let’s Go Disco” to his team which has become the mantra in the kitchen as well as the title for their new cookbook. The team of chefs have come together to take the reader into the kitchen of ‘The House’, to showcase their working relationships and what is needed for a kitchen to operate at such a high level. It draws attention to just how important every member of The Cliff House staff is, from the kitchen porter right up to Martijn.

“It is about our little bubble we live in, a slice of what we do and what drives us. It is a good and realistic look behind the scenes of a restaurant which is trying to make a difference without ego tripping - a book that reflects The House Restaurant ‘now’,” explains Chef Martijn.

The recipes for some of The House restaurant’s signature dishes have naturally developed and changed over the years since the restaurant opened in 2008, as well as subtly changing during the days and weeks of each growing season the essence of which is captured in ‘Let’s Go Disco’.

The recipes are laid out in a straightforward way, with every element explained to show just how Michelin starred food gets to the table; the craft and commitment needed to do that, and with absolutely no compromise. No compromising on the level of detail. No compromising on the work required. No compromise on the expectation of absolute perfection synonymous with 'The House' restaurant.

Only now, after over twenty years working in some of the world’s finest kitchens has Martijn become sure in his cooking. “I think that for each person this kind of understanding comes at a different stage of their life but for me it has come now”. It is with this reassurance in mind that Martijn is looking to the future contemplating stepping aside in a few years and making room for up-and-coming talented new chefs.

“Once upon a time a Great Chef said  that cooking is physically for young but in terms of taste and balance for the older, and I agree, there is a time that it has been enough, since I am 18 years old I have been saying that if I am around by my 40th I am out of the kitchen".  

"If I do that then I have 25 years of cooking behind me, it is then time to do something else, and make way for other chefs to step up, always good to offer future perspective”.

Let’s Go Disco is priced at €45 available online from here, from both the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Waterford, and from the Cliff Townhouse on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green.

Martijn Kajuiter shares his recipe for Ballynatray Pheasant here: Ballynatray Pheasant.

Images: Aspect Photography.