Quest for quality
As a passionate master butcher, Dennis van Dun knows everything about his meats, from their origins to the end product. And, as a chef who’s always looking at how to create and elevate dishes in the best possible way, Jeroen van Oijen knows all about the importance of suppliers. In their quest for quality, their paths cross often. Especially when they tap into each other’s expertise to get exactly the right ingredient!
Jeroen van Oijen & Dennis van Dun
Dennis van Dun is the first master butcher of the Netherlands and the owner of butchery Van Roessel, a royal purveyor renowned for its wide range of high-quality products. Not to mention the string of awards he’s won for his work. Chef Jeroen van Oijen is the founder of Culiversity, a creative culinary company that develops food concepts, food applications and products for chefs.
Striving for the best, together
As the foodservice industry is rapidly changing, many chefs are looking to reinvent themselves and green their menus and operations so that they can stand the test of time. Dennis and Jeroen highlight the importance of creating a network in which you can help each other to strive for the best. Jeroen: “We’re living in challenging times: a lot of chefs are looking for ways to meet the high demands of guests and become more sustainable at the same time. And they have to factor in costs at the same time. That’s why it’s so important to remember that serving quality doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive ingredients. It means you have to talk to the right people to get what fits your specific purpose.”
Dennis agrees: “As a butcher, I love to be challenged by a chef. To create what that chef needs or to find a solution they’d never have imagined, but that ticks all the boxes.” Jeroen adds: “I think it’s crucial that you make each other better. That’s how you build lasting relationships and that’s how you grow, as a chef. When I pour my heart and soul into improving my business, and a supplier just does the bare minimum, it shows to me they don’t care enough.”
A passion for good
Dennis’ family has been in the butchery business since 1878. The family is blessed with years of knowledge, transferred from generation to generation, as well as the knowledge of everyone they’ve worked with. Sharing is important, says Dennis. As it breeds awareness of what makes products special and what went into making them. That’s why everyone who enters the butcher’s shop sees a video of Dennis visiting the Duke of Berkshire pigs that are at the heart of his product. He also works with the Kempian pasture pig, a local species that he gets from Den Elshorst Puur®, a farm nearby.
Both species can roam freely, have their own mud pools and live a stress-free life, as their owners think it’s of utmost importance for both the life of the animal and the meat they provide. Dennis enthusiastically talks about meeting Ben and Thea, the local pig farmers he works with. “I felt that they shared my philosophy, working at a smaller scale, with respect for the animal and not letting anything go to waste. It’s aligned with how I want to do business, and I think it’s the best possible way to move forward towards the future. I feel honoured to be working with them, because their approach has truly enriched my life.”
Insight into origins
For Dennis, rest and respect for the animal are key. Most of the animals he works with are sourced from nearby locations, though highly specific species like Iberico Belotta or Rubia Gallega naturally come from farther afield. The origins of all his animals are listed on his website and he actively works with the farmers he buys the animals from where possible. Not only to make sure that he gets the exactly what he needs, but also because he wants to know every inch of the process!
It’s aligned with how I want to do business, and I think it’s the best possible way to move forward towards the future.
Patience is rewarded
Before high-quality meat ever sees the inside of a kitchen, a lot has to happen. First, the selected animal is slaughtered at a small-scale slaughterhouse. Then, the meat is quickly transferred to van Roessel, to be processed from head to tail. There, the meat is hung up to stretch the muscle to get rid of the stiffness and allow for enzymatic processes to take place, either in wet conditions (in a vacuum) or in a dry room with circulated air. During this period, which can take anywhere from 24 hours to 4 days, the texture of the meat changes, resulting in perfect tenderness. After this period, the carcasses are taken down to be processed, after which the meat can be aged. “You can also leave the whole carcass hanging for two weeks”, Dennis says. “However, you’ll get a thick outer layer on your meat, which you will have to cut off later. To me, that’s just not sustainable.”
How long the meat needs to be aged differs, Dennis explains in one of his cooling cells. The processes are closely controlled and can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual chefs and to guarantee the same quality over and over again. “Butchers also have to keep the costs in mind,” Dennis explains. “Longer ageing is usually better, but it’s also time-consuming, increasing costs and risk. That’s one of the main reasons why a supermarket steak is usually less tender. But it’s also the reason why I personally want to age my meats for longer.” For a chef like Jeroen, it also adds value. “I love knowing the origin of my ingredients because it gives me a story to tell. Apart from that, having a supplier who can cater to my wishes and who shares my philosophy just gives a massive boost to quality!”
The power of craftsmanship
Appreciation of craftsmanship is booming, with lots of attention for animal welfare, local provenance, the culinary BBQ trend, and eating less, higher-quality meat. For Dennis, it’s a good thing. “I think craftsmanship in our business has slightly eroded in recent years. Understandably, because it’s easier to save money on labour than on ingredients. But I feel I’m obliged to honour that craftsmanship, to honour the profession by not buying my meat from a wholesaler.” Having a network of people who are passionate about their craft is essential for anyone looking for high quality, Jeroen says. “It’s not just the craftsmanship”, he explains, “it’s also about the knowledge you’re buying.” He gives an example.
“I needed a flat iron steak, but instead I got a cut of meat from the cow’s neck, which is similar but cheaper and better suited to what I was looking to do. It was a real win-win: by taking this cut, I contribute to using the entire animal, it’s cheaper, and it has exactly the right characteristics!” Dennis smiles. “When a customer comes to me asking for a specific type of meat, I instantly become curious and ask them what they’re going to make”, he adds. “I want to cater to the needs of my customer, and I’ve learned that it’s better to share my knowledge and find out what suits them than to just give them what they want right away.”
Experimenting to create the best products
As a food technology graduate, Dennis knows a whole lot about the possibilities of his profession. And the awards he’s won for his meat, cured meat and gourmet sausages reflect his skill. “Aged meat is very popular right now,” he explains. At the production location, he shows the large room with local Brabant hams that are left to cure for six weeks, after they have been salted, slowly matured and smoked over beech wood.
“As there aren’t many businesses that make these, they find their way to other butcheries as well. It’s a beautiful product, made under closely monitored conditions.” Jeroen smiles. “It’s often said that chefs do a lot of work off the cuff, but it’s because of Dennis that I’ve realised the value of measuring every single thing”. The last room of the production facility shows exactly what Dennis’ precision has led to. There’s a massive selection of different foods from pate to scrapple, sausages with and without white skins, vacuum-sealed meats and smoked hams, all ready to enter the butchery.
Dennis even sells bone broth to his customers because he doesn’t want to waste a single thing. Jeroen: “His philosophy and approach are a great help. I know the origin, and I know that he will make sure there’s nothing wasted. That allows me to create a dish that’s honest, that guests can truly enjoy.” “For me, it works the same way,” Dennis says. “The knowledge that I can sell all my products to my buyers means I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day, because I know I’ve done my work in the most respectful way I can.” Jeroen: “That’s why I think it’s key to work together with your supplier, no matter the type of eatery you run. You’ll always need a wholesaler, that can’t be denied. But if you’re opening a corner shop that sells sandwiches with filet Americain, make sure you get that game-changing ingredient from a passionate supplier to make your sandwiches worthy of a detour. Because behind every great chef is a giant network of great suppliers.”