De Librije, when love for cooking frees you

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“I don’t want to breathe the same air of a jailer, so I gave up my freedom hour…”

 

In my freedom hour – Fabrizio De André

 

 

There’s only one thing that I love more than cooking and it is not soccer.

I bet: you are now struggling to understand what I’m talking about. “I could have thought about something less trivial” you might reckon. You’re right. Be careful: I love soccer, but not enough to put it at the top of my personal ranking.

I only love freedom more than cooking.

In the complete meaning of the word.

I’m not talking about physical restraint, not just that: I’m talking about thoughts restraints. It’s about psychological violence and a forced path that someone wants us to follow. That’s why I think that stalking is the second worst crime, after homicide, that a human being could commit. I reckon as well that art will free humanity. And cooking, as a form of art, is perfectly part of this concept. But this is another story…

I’m saying this because today I’m in jail. 

Don’t worry: I didn’t commit any crime. The only crime that I might be accused of is international trafficking of ideas.

I’m in a jail courtyard, where the prisoners used to spend their freedom hour. There’s a glass upon my head: I’m staring at the same sky that the prisoners looked at three centuries ago. Same sky but different thoughts. Quite alienating.

I’m still in Netherlands, in Zwolle. To be accurate, I’m in De Librije’s hall: it’s the three-star Michelin’s restaurant ruled by chef Jonnie Boer and his wife Thérèse. After spending three years as the head chef, in 1992 Boer recognised the asset and in 2015 he moved it inside a female jail of the 18th century, perfectly restored and adapted to food service. De Librije means “library” in Dutch: because reading and culture make people free more than anything else…

Beside the restaurant, there is a boutique where the Boer’s sell their products. Upstairs, a 5-star hotel completes the spectacular frame, with astonishing suites.   

The restaurant hall, which can be reached by passing a lounge where beverages are served, has just 20 tables. They are all very close to the walls: eating while watching each other’s eyes is a wonderful experience. 

There is a glass ceiling upon the hall, used to cover the small cloister that was once open, which has the ability to get darker during the hot sunny days and melt the snow during the cold days in winter. Mrs. Thérèse is my tour guide and tells me all the characteristics of this place. 

Just a few minutes and a nice lady appears at my table. She has a ring in her hands: she puts it on my finger and invites me to eat it. The ring is made of porcelain and on the outer part has a tartar, foie gras and caviar. You have to eat it all at once: a beautiful, interesting and tasty dish.

While I’m waiting for the entrée, I focus on the wine list: way longer than the De Leest’s one. The wine list is composed of 200 pages, while Boerma’s restaurant just had 60. I ask for a local wine: a Kus Van Thérèse, a white cabernet. Born by a Thérèse Boer’s idea, the wine shows an elderflower, green apple and asparagus flavour. Very delicate, it looks perfect for aperitifs, well combined with salads, fish and seafood too. 

The menu has four courses, paired with different wines: the Italian Rosso dei Notri of Tua Rita (a young and fresh wine, excellent for the whole meal), then a 2015 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling trocken (a very mineral white wine and very aromatic). The last wine is suggested by the chef: Boer loves Spain and its cuisine. And Spain returns his love. I’m talking about the Ximénez-Spìnola: sweet and silken on the palate, with a sour note in the end because of the years spent inside the wooden barrels, resembling the passito. Definitely pleasant.

The amuse bouche consists of several course: a waffle made of shrimp juice and fried shrimp. Then two frozen black gloves, with a split passionfruit on them, filled with salmon eggs and a mousse made of passionfruit and egg white. The amuse bouche continues with a parmesan cheese foam, different kinds of nuggets and corn wafers.

Now is the turn of the real menu: Brown crab, chicken liver e calf’s heart, Moonfish, soured pepper and eggplant, Kamper lamb, serweed and eel,  Torsted white choccolate, pistachio and blue cheese.

The interesting parts of De Librije, besides the exquisite dishes, are mainly two: every course is served with a juice, a cream or a reduction to add. Good idea: in this way the food is always kept warm.

Food is served with particular tools: for example, a wonderful small stove to cook eat and another stone stove where shrimps are kept at a proper temperature.

After my typical visit to the toilets, which are extremely simple and slightly ugly (do you remember that we are in jail?), I finally taste the dessert. Like at the De Leest, the chef will surprise us: a log filled with sweets and a legend that indicates what you’re eating.

Two more details need to be emphasised: the fact that the restaurant is completely automatized (the waiters communicate with the kitchen, divided into five parts, thanks to a tablet: menu, lack of water, dishes that have been appreciated or not), and the atelier, most of all. It is a cooking school, very expensive, that allows young chefs to learn the basis of the job straight from chef Boer. Excellent idea.   

I leave the restaurant after a chat with the brigade (composed of 29 people), then I visit the kitchen (wide but not too much) and to those parts of the jail untouched. In the end, I visit the 5-star Hotel’s suites: breath-taking.

Good job Jonnie and Thérèse, you deserve 4 beards!

 

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