Serving a range of local and international top-level dishes from the creative minds of 2 Star chef Stefan van Sprang, and his team, Aan de Poel is a real gastronomic hidden gem. Located on the shore of Lake De Poel in Amstelveen, the restaurant offers stunning views over the water, which when accompanied by the changing seasonal backdrop, offers a feast for both the eyes and palate.
Stefan’s signature recipes are characterized by his respect for seasonal products and subtle flavour nuances, as well as a menu that changes every three weeks. Accompanying the award-winning cuisine is Maitre-sommelier Robbert Veuger’s harmonious wine arrangement, which perfectly blends the dishes and wines together.
Before starting their own restaurant, Sprang and Veuger worked together at restaurant Ron Blaauw but soon realised that they were ready to go it alone. With their leap of faith having paid off, Aan de Poel now boasts the coveted two Michelin starred award, which they have retained since 2013.
FOUR speaks to the dynamic Dutchman to find out more about where his passion for cooking began, and where he finds inspiration for his culinary creations…
“My father used to own an artisan shop selling burnt nuts, which is when I first developed an interest in flavours. I used to pick out the pecan nuts from his mix, and he would get angry with me because I screwed up the balance. My mother was a good chef as well and I was always involved in cooking, so I have been developing a sense of flavour and taste since I was a kid. I was also told that I was quite good at it, so hearing that as a kid makes you even more enthusiastic!
I continued following the path of culinary arts and now I am the proud head chef of Aan de Poel, which really represents where I am gastronomically at this point in my life.
My style of cooking is internationally focused. People sometimes say that it’s citrus-orientated, as I like light and fresh flavours and textures without using too many carbohydrates. I get my inspiration from Southern Europe, but like to think I’ve developed my own style.
Aan de Poel has an open-style kitchen, and we have always thought of it as a sort of theatre. The total experience has to be like visiting the theatre, with different ‘acts’ along the way. From the beginning, we have always wanted to suck guests into the Aan de Poel experience and create a culinary journey that they can travel through. We think a 6-course menu achi eves this because guests like variety, and with the various courses we can really showcase our best creations and produce regarding fish, meats, vegetables and poultry.
This menu format has remained more or less the same from the beginning and perhaps this is why we have done so well so far. We received our first Michelin star within our first year of opening, which was an absolute surprise. So, naturally when we received our 2nd star, we were absolutely overwhelmed. I was at home, not even at the Michelin event when I received a call from the director of Michelin. Our first star was a surprise to receive within such a short period, but it’s safe to say we expected the 2nd even less. We weren’t thinking about that at all.
From there we have really developed into a full-grown restaurant. We have worked hard to develop our flavour, techniques and atmosphere that make Aan de Poel unique at this level. From day 1 we changed our menu every month with new dishes, to keep things new and exciting, not only for our guests but also for our staff. We always tried to make everyone feel at home in the restaurant because we hate the stiff environments created by some restaurants. We want you to feel relaxed and in your place at Aan de Poel.
I really think of Aan de Poel as a theatre, but my cooking style might be the other way around as is usual with cooks. I develop my dishes by asking, what would the guest like to eat? The most important thing is to read your guests, and try to find out what they like, and cook it. My ultimate goal is not only to see everybody happy, but also to see everybody return. This is, of course, challenging creatively but is also a key factor of the success of our restaurant.
We have managed to maintain our stars since 2013, so in order to keep things fresh and seasonal we continue to present a new menu every 3 to 4 weeks, with special menus for holidays like Christmas and Valentines Day. All of the 6 dishes are new, or new interpretations of Aan de Poel ‘classics’, which I think this is quite unique at this level – it certainly demands a lot of creativity from my team and I to develop and try new things every day. We also have an excellent wine list created by Robbert Veuger, boasting the classic regions as well as the undiscovered vineyards.
Of course, I take trends and seasonal produce into account, you have to these days, and seasonal products are at their best in certain months of weeks. However, in terms of produce, the constant change in menu is not a problem. Being located just outside of Amsterdam, we have access to a wealth of fresh produce ranging from seafood, meat to vegetables. We try to work with as many local products as possible, but also get our inspiration abroad. Our vegetable supplier is located very close to us and we have a great partnership with them. We also grow our own herbs and flowers right on our terrace, between the guests and the water.
It’s also very convenient as it is so close to the airport, yet it’s really an oasis of tranquility with high quality food and a relaxed atmosphere. At Aan de Poel we’d like you to feel at home instead of creating a stiff environment. The restaurant itself is built up of dark colours and we boast a huge terrace, which has amazing views in the summer. During service, the chefs join our servers in the restaurant to serve a vinaigrette or sauce at the table. Dishes getting explained by the chefs who made them result in great interaction between my staff and the guests.
This is one of the key transitions I see happening with fine dining. The barriers are being broken down further and further between chef and guests because people like to hear the story and be part of the ‘act’. Fine dining will never cease to exist, and it will always be in multiple shapes and at different levels, but like everything it needs to evolve in order to survive
Equally, the produce we use will never cease to exist if we handle them correctly and don’t screw up our planet. There is a younger generation very interested in food and interested in eating healthy, which is why fine dining will never plummet. There will always be people willing to spend money on a dining experience.
My biggest goal for the future is keeping the restaurant fully booked for another year. This means keep on developing flavours, expanding my signature classics, and keep on passing on the knowledge that the team has developed, not only in Aan de Poel but also within the Netherlands and also internationally.”
Images © Maurice Fransen