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Restaurant Triptyque and the New Dutch Cuisine

Chef Niven Kunz and partner Virginie van Bronckhorst-Kunz at Restaurant Triptyque in Wateringen, Netherlands

Bikes. Canals. Clogs. Windmills. Total Football. Perhaps throw in Van Gogh and Heineken. Culinary excellence is not often associated with the Netherlands. Though Chef Niven Kunz, his wife/business partner, Virginie van Bronckhorst, and their restaurant Triptyque are determined to change that.

The two of them sat with us and provided a glimpse of their different yet harmonious viewpoints.

Describe to us what typical Dutch food is like. What are the food traditions and culture?

Kunz: Unfortunately, we don’t have a food culture like in Spain, Italy, or France. Typical Dutch food is mashed potatoes with vegetables like sauerkraut or kale and meat on the side. We are also known for our licorice. The typical Dutch food that I really love is Dutch eel! It is all very nice, but Dutch people, most of the time, do not have the same passion for food culture as some other countries do. I think the love for food is growing though.

Are there specific Dutch culinary emphases at your restaurant? And what was your thinking behind it?

Kunz: We always try to buy as much local food as we can. We use Dutch products and create dishes with pure flavors. “Het Westland” is our backyard; there are so many fresh and good local products for us to buy. Not only vegetables, but also our yellowtail fish is from Zeeland here in the Netherlands. Even the Tomasu soy sauce we buy is local. It is from Rotterdam and is really good.

Being the youngest ever Dutch chef at twenty-four-years-old to receive a Michelin star at ‘t Raethuys, you started cooking professionally early. When and how did you know you want to be in this industry?

Kunz: I started working when I was young, after school or during vacations, on the beach. I liked that very much. When I was seventeen,  I just decided that I wanted to work at de Librije, which is now one of the two three-starred Dutch Michelin restaurants. I applied for an internship and luckily the owners, Jonnie and Thèrese Boer, accepted me.

Working there motivated me a lot. So much so that I returned there to work even after leaving a year to work at De Bokkedoorns, a Michelin two-starred restaurant. Both restaurants and the chefs taught me a lot and motivated me to work hard and eventually earn my own Michelin star.

Due to Coronavirus, your previous restaurant Restaurant Niven went bankrupt at the end of March 2020. That must be a very difficult time. Was that the most challenging thing you’ve had to overcome professionally?

Kunz: It was a difficult time and decision, but it was for the best. We did not have a lot of other options. Luckily, we are blessed with very supportive family and friends who pulled us through. But I think this is a difficult time and it’s hard on everybody. We can’t complain despite the bankruptcy as everybody we love is still healthy during this pandemic. We’re very thankful for that.

Your wife Virginie is very supportive of your work. You also have a very strong team that moved with you to the new restaurant. Is that something that’s important to you and how did you build it?

Kunz: That is a very important thing to me. Virginie and I built this restaurant together along with our previous one and we are equal business partners. We have so much fun working together, we are a real team, in good and bad times, in work, and in private. We complement each other very much. I think that is very special and unique.

We are also very lucky with the team we have. We were so happy that they wanted to be a part of the new restaurant. They do such great work and are very important to us and the restaurant. We have fantastic chemistry with the whole team. Our guests are also very happy to see them in the new restaurant. We are very proud of them.

Having worked in the industry for such a long time, do you have a dream goal?

Kunz: I always have a dream to get better and have fun working. My dream is earning more than one Michelin star in the future—although one is already fantastic to have. Right now we have to wait until January to hear if we earned our Michelin star back. That would be fantastic.

In addition to your third cookbook, what else are you working on?

Kunz: My third cookbook had been postponed to 2021 because of COVID-19. But we very much look forward to working further on that project. It is going to be a table book, full of beautiful pictures of the dishes. And of course, there will also be recipes in the book for the cooking fanatics. We also want to improve our quality and make it even more special for our guests. Our team and I are working hard on perfecting our menu and service.

What is the one food that’s the most comforting and you miss most often?

Kunz: I really love Indonesian food. You can wake me up in the middle of the night for some good Indonesian food. Virginie learned it from her mother, father, and grandfather. And I learned a little Indonesian cooking from them as well. I really enjoy it when Virginie or her family cook that for me.

What do you love most about being a chef?

Kunz: Creating. I love to create with our team, whether it is for a new dish or an experience for the guest. I can put my creativity in the dishes and I do that together with my kitchen chef, Maarten Westerhout.

Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

Kunz: I get a lot of inspiration from the new products of our suppliers. It is very important for me to visit the greenhouses and be close to the source of our products. I also get a lot of inspiration from the seasons and seasonal products. Maarten and I like to work with products that are in-season. You automatically get a good variation throughout the year in dishes because of the changing products, but we also like to do this from a sustainable point of view.

Do you see any new food trends that are happening now?

Kunz: I think that replacing meat for a vegetarian or even vegan option is a big trend right now. I’ve worked with the eighty/twenty vegetables-meat rule for a long time already, but I am pleased to see that more chefs and people at home are using the same rule. It is better for the climate and eating less meat is also healthier. You can do so much with vegetables. It is a good thing that people are more conscious and aware about what they are eating and where the product comes from.

For her role, Virginie van Bronckhorst is an equal partner and inspiration herself. A medical doctor, interior designer, stylist, and entrepreneur, it is impressive how she manages to juggle all these responsibilities. We dove deeper as she shared more of her life with us.

When did you start working with Chef Kunz?

van Bronckhorst: Niven and I have been together for ten years. As the years passed by, I got more involved with the previous restaurant. I think that you can say we’ve been “working together” since 2013. When we had to let the previous restaurant go at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, we decided that we still wanted to continue our dream and business together. To make it better than it was. I believe it is good to have a goal and strive to be better. We got a fresh start in this strange and difficult time, and Triptyque was born.

What made you want to get involved in the venture?

van Bronckhorst: I always liked cooking. I grew up with fresh-cooked food. My parents and grandparents always cooked with fresh food and herbs. I liked cooking as a child and learned a lot from my parents. ‘Till this day, I like cooking with fresh ingredients a lot.

It also happens that I love going out for lunch or dinner and I really like to organize and manage. What better than combining the things I love in my work? Niven and I both love to work in and for the restaurant. We are a great team and have a clear division of roles.

He manages the kitchen and creates the dishes together with our kitchen chef, Maarten. I take care of the interior design and styling of the restaurant, as I did in our previous restaurant, as well as social media. Together we are both responsible for the overall organization and management of the restaurant.

You are a medical doctor. You do interior design as well as create the styling of the restaurant. How do you combine your job as a doctor and as an entrepreneur?

van Bronckhorst: I think the key ingredient is having fun and loving what you do. I really love my work as a doctor and also love my work as an entrepreneur. The combination and variety are great and they give me a lot of energy. Interior designing and styling is a big hobby of mine; I feel relaxed when I am searching and looking for new things and styles.

What is a typical day like for you?

van Bronckhorst: A typical day for me is to start my consultations at eight-thirty AM until about five PM. I go home, cook dinner with fresh ingredients and then go back to work for our restaurant. During the week I do this from home on my laptop; during the weekends I am always in the restaurant.