Back to basic, true to life Wednesday 25 January 2023
Bursting with energy, Hans van Wolde bursts through one of the barn doors of his restaurant Brut172, based in the small town of Reijmerstok in the south of the Netherlands. Jumping from one topic to the next, he chatters on about his philosophy, his plans and the team that gives this two-Michelin-star restaurant its unique character. At Brut, the old-school ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality has made way for a mindset that’s all about understanding life and showing that you deserve to play around.
Hans van Wolde
He gained culinary fame with his first restaurant Beluga, but since the documentary capturing the conversion of an old farmhouse into his new restaurant Brut172, Hans van Wolde has become a household name in the Netherlands. Together with his team, he has made his dream come true: going back to basics and giving shape to what really matters in life.
A little recap
In 2018, Hans sold his two-star restaurant Beluga in order to embark on a new adventure. Inspired by Swedish restaurant Fäviken, he decided to go back to a simpler concept. ‘Brut’ means raw and unembellished, which is reflected in the dishes and the restaurant itself. The project certainly came with its fair share of setbacks: when the restaurant had finally overcome all the financial, technical, and regulatory challenges, it was forced to close due to the pandemic. Hans kept his team close until the reopening and the next year, in 2021, Brut172 was awarded two Michelin stars. The team uses local ingredients, either sourced regionally or from their own garden, and the design of the restaurant relies on just five pure materials: fabric, steel, wood, concrete, and glass. It’s transparent and honest, while evoking a warm and welcoming atmosphere that goes well with the people working at Brut, who go above and beyond for their guests.
Back to basics
It’s something you currently hear a lot, Hans admits, “but I often wonder if people actually do go back to basics.” He glances at his garden, at the back of the estate. “For me, the basis is where something starts, as close by as possible.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that Hans grows everything himself, nor does it mean he sources none of his ingredients from abroad. “That would be insane: I’m a chef, not a farmer. That’s why local to me also means working with people in the area.” He goes into his various partnerships with people who specialise in particular ingredients. You have to give back, too, Hans says with a smile. “If someone specialises in making the softest, creamiest, tastiest butter, and I get to work with them to create a product we both love, why wouldn’t I let them do it? If your passion shows, I’ll happily give you the world.”
“If your passion shows, I’ll happily give you the world.”
Sixty-forty and the importance of listening
Brut172 serves food in a 60/40 ratio: sixty percent vegetables and forty percent fish and meat. “I don’t think everyone needs to become a vegetarian, but I do think this ratio helps. Vegetables make up the majority of the menu, and the rest consists of high-quality organic products.” The 60/40 ratio goes beyond the food alone, Hans explains. “When people go to a restaurant, the overall experience accounts for about sixty percent. The food? Only forty. Really! Ask people about what they ate, and they’ll tell you about how much fun the waiter was.”
These examples show you what’s important, Hans says. “I always tell everyone: keep your eyes and ears open to what your guests want, to what your staff wants. What’s on their mind? What are they talking about? Listening is the key to finding out what makes your company successful.” That means listening to yourself too, Hans continues. “I ‘ve spent a lot of time to figure out what I actually, truly wanted and I want to encourage young chefs to do the same. I want them to tap into their inner creativity and guide them to develop their own approach.”
“I feel the need to help my team find their inner fanatic. Because that’s what will help you advance in life.”
Coaching the younger generation
Guests of Brut speak highly of the team, Hans says. “I think they feel the warmth and the commitment of the team, as well as their gratefulness.” However, he stresses that it doesn’t come for free. “This generation doesn’t want to work too many hours, loves going on holiday five times a year, and wants to eat out twice a week, too. And honestly, I don’t blame them! I even encourage them. That’s why at Brut, you work three and a half days a week. On those days, you give it your all. If I see you put in a shift, if you show me that you want to be part of this family, I’ll wholeheartedly welcome you.” He pauses for a second. “You know, sometimes, the older generation calls the younger generation lazy. I don’t think they are. They grew up in a different time, in a different world. But I do feel the need to help them find their inner fanatic. Because that’s what will help you advance in life.” Helping others to succeed is a great feeling, Hans says excitedly. “That third star?” He laughs. “They’re doing the cooking. I’m just their coach.”
The insights Hans has gained and is now putting into practice at Brut arguably aren’t all that innovative. However, they pave the road for the future. For his restaurant, but mainly for the new generation. “I’m not a great messenger”, Hans smiles. “But I do know what’s important”. He goes on to list multiple lessons. For one: It’s never about you. Hans reiterates the importance of asking people to do what they love and paying them for it. “I really love to connect people, and I think it’s essential to keeping doing that in the future. We’re getting a greenhouse at Brut and I’d love to invite elderly people to join the project and connect through food.” “Secondly”, he adds, “that sixty-forty balance.” He emphasises the importance of locally sourced food, as it also contributes to creating a unique identity. “If more chefs did that, I think it would be very beneficial not only to gastronomy, but to all of us.” And, last but not least: “Follow your intuition! With all the pressure of online reviews, of everyone always having an opinion, it can be hard to do, but I really believe you shouldn’t think too much about life.” He smiles mischievously. “You should live it, instead.”