De Culinare Werkplaats is a restaurant like no other.
Part art space, part vegetarian cookery school, part exploration of what will be on our plates in the future, it’s the unique dream of Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing, a perfectly balanced duo who conjure up five and seven course tasting explorations that are approached much like how an artist might approach an exhibition or a design studio might challenge form and function.
It’s not just the food that is on display here, they are too – their passion is at the heart of this tiny, glass-fronted corner shop, as they move purposely around their gleaming white and shining steel central island kitchen, surrounded by cookery books. From here they direct culinary journeys that both elevate vegan and vegetarian cooking and challenge our obsession with meat and fish.
Let’s be clear, De Culinaire Werkplaats is like an art installation you can eat. Each pretty veggie dish confounds ideas of what plant food and looks and tastes like but that is only half the story. And that’s because there is a story behind every deconstructed dish.
The team spend weeks conjuring up cuisines, having been inspired by a different theme every couple of months. Upcoming themes for 2018 including our obsession between what’s fake and real, Vincent Van Gogh and flower power.
When we visited in December the menu was ‘Typical Dutch’ and the five course menu included nods to ‘presents, poems, Black Pete’ in a dish called P3 and the Dutch winter obsession with eating and drinking on the ice in our first pudding, called Cold and Wet.
The former consisted of beans along with black rice wrapped in a green cabbage leaf (a present). The rice a reference to Black Pete, a Christmas tradition which has divided the Netherlands for the last few years. Cold and Wet comprised a stack of shards including white chocolate and almonds all balanced on the round underside of a dinner plate like a skating rink.
Other savoury dishes included a medley of orange roasted vegetables in various purees and pieces, that referred to the Netherland’s national colour, complete with an orange liquor jelly lipstick – in an actual lipstick container.
Thanks to the informal setting, we controlled the speed of our dinner. At De Culinaire Werkplaats diners clear their own dishes (to the sink in the open plan kitchen), which is the heads up for the chefs to bring over the next course. The simple system was actually a revelation, there was no one interrupting us or pushing another course before we were ready.
Very charmingly it’s a case of keeping your own tab here. Tables can help themselves to beer, wine or cocktails and keep a running total on a bit of paper to settle at the end. The kitchen knocks up a themed cocktail per menu but part of the charmingly atmosphere is people helping themselves.
With only a handful of tables that fill the L shape space around the open plan kitchen, De Culinaire Werkplaats feels like a shop after hours combined with an intimate cooking experience. With Eric in the kitchen and Marjolein as front of house, it feels like you’re sitting in the (rather well stocked) kitchen of a chef-friend. It’s the kind of place where you can while away an evening and end up knowing everyone.
The sustainability bit
“I don’t see absence, I see space and opportunity” says Marjolein about the lack of fish and meat on the menu. A plant based diet in her and Eric’s hands is a thing of wonder; celebrating the best local and vegan produce, and inventing dishes that will convince even the steak-loving carnivore to rethink plants – and that’s the point.
All of the ingredients have to tick two boxes that include animal welfare, small-scale or organic farming, fair trade, direct trade, season, distance, and personal health.
When to go
De Culinaire Werkplaats is only open by Thursday to Sunday and booking is essential.
Where is De Culinaire Werkplaats?
Find it at The Culinary Workshop, Fannius Scholtenstraat 10 hs, 1051 Amsterdam. It’s a short walk from tram line No 10.