A table for two with Schilo van Coevorden
We sat down with the head chef and culinary genius behind the Conservatorium’s Taiko Restaurant, and found out about his amazing career, his favourite foods, and the inspiration for his delicious menus.
Where does your interest in food and cooking come from?
I’m doing the job my father wanted to do; in the end, he went on to be something else, but food was always very important in my family. He always wanted to be a chef but never made it himself, doing other things instead, so my parents really pushed me to succeed. They took me to all the best restaurants around the world and to the famous restaurants in France, and at an early age I went to cooking school and was groomed to be a chef.
That worked out very well! Since then you’ve worked as a chef all over the world – is there anywhere in particular you’d love to go back to one day?
The south of Spain – I worked in a place outside Marbella, and it was there that I fell in love with the Mediterranean lifestyle; the sea, the mountains, the great weather every day, and, of course, the produce.
What was it like moving to Dubai and opening a restaurant?
I went to Dubai in a different time to now. When I was there, there were maybe 2,000 restaurants, and now there are 20,000. I worked for an international hotel chain, and later a sheik, but what I loved about Dubai is the passion about food people have, and what they can grow in the desert – I love that. As a chef I always say, ‘tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are’, and with me I am what I cook. I’ve worked in Asia, and the Middle East, and Spain etc, but at the end of the day I’m a French-taught chef, but through travelling I’ve created my own cuisine.
Which culture or cuisine has had the most influence on your cooking?
I’d have to say Japanese. Japanese cooking is about beauty, about respect, the seasons, and about creating a beautiful composition of flavours and textures on a plate. That’s the Japanese way.
What eventually made you want to settle back in Amsterdam?
They caught me on a rainy day when I was in Spain. I was asked if I knew somebody who wanted to run the restaurant at this new hotel in Amsterdam. I already knew the Conservatorium was coming, and I just thought about how it was such an amazing hotel with great possibilities, so I decided to do it myself.
Do you have a favourite creation or ingredient on the Taiko menu?
I like to work with wagyu beef. Not every cow gives you such tender meat, but Japanese beef with its fat and tenderness and taste – I just love it.
What led to your choice of king crab as ingredient of the year?
I wanted to choose something I could get close by, but still Asian. These giant crabs that originally come from the Pacific made their way up to the north of Norway, and so I was able to get them live and fresh. We all know crab, but it’s often frozen, or low quality, but I was able to go to the Arctic waters and get the real thing. I saw this video of a boat in the snow on the freezing sea – kind of like The World’s Deadliest Catch – and I thought ‘this, I want to do!’
Can you give us a hint of what the next one will be?
We’re going back to basics. We’re going back to ground. There’s a little seed that grows into a tree, and the tree produces a bean. This bean is used in so many aspects of Asian cooking. It’s the most famous one.
Is there one ingredient you couldn’t live without?
Erm… Good question. Interesting question. Normally I would say salt, but really you don’t need salt – no, salt is not a good one. I would say olive oil. Olive oil is the glue of all dishes
What would you like to see happening in the Amsterdam restaurant scene in the coming years?
Amsterdam is a bit like London in the late 80s or early 90s. When I first went to England, if you went to a supermarket you could only buy HP sauce, ketchup, and peas in a tin. But if you go to any good supermarket in the UK now, you can buy ginger, you can buy lemongrass, coriander and everything. Holland is in the same process.
Travelling the world, if I was asked where I was from I would say Amsterdam, and they’d say ‘ah, great coffee shops, great museums, laid back’ etc, but nobody ever said anything about the food. The media, the chefs, the growers – it’s our job to create a legacy. In every country and every city, there’s a British pub, an Ethiopian restaurant, an Indonesian restaurant etc. My goal is that one day, in New York or in London or wherever, there will always be a Dutch restaurant.
Who does most of the cooking at home?
I’m blessed with two beautiful children, but they don’t eat. They only eat things that start with a P, like pizza and pancakes. I wish they appreciated cooking a bit more so I could teach them about food – but they’re not ready yet.
I’m sure they’ll appreciate it one day! What’s your favourite everyday dish to make?
If I cook at home I use my very expensive, limited edition Japanese knife – so if I chop an onion it’ll all be precisely the right size. And I’m not in a rush; in a restaurant you’re always in a rush, but at home if I’m slicing my onions for spaghetti or something, everything is cut to precision, and that’s what I like.
Is there something you think everyone should cook more of at home?
Everybody should cook more seasonal. Don’t buy strawberries in the winter! My advice is to always use the produce in season, because a) they are cheaper because with a good harvest there is plenty of it, and b) the quality is the best.
Experience Schilo’s contemporary Asian cuisine at Taiko Restaurant.