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International Chef Exchange: Rotterdam comes to Brighton

A chef from the Netherlands joined the team from Isaac At for a collaborative dinner showcasing local Dutch and English produce and cuisine. Nick Mosley reveals more.

Michael van Belle from Aloha Restaurant in Rotterdam partnered with Isaac Bartlett-Copeland of Isaac At in Gloucester Street, Brighton, for an event hosted by the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival. Both chefs share a passion for hyper-local food and created a one-off menu on Tuesday night that celebrated quality ingredients grown and produced as close to their respective restaurants as possible.

Each chef prepared three dishes including braised and pickled butternut squash, smoked haddock with a cream of sea buckthorn and potato gnocchi, and ‘Dutch Dumplings’ of kohlrabi and Dutch cheese in kimchi stock.

“We are attempting to redefine Dutch cuisine”, said chef Michael. “How do we respect the 170 international cultures found in Rotterdam, whilst also respecting our planet and surroundings by sourcing locally? This is what the dumpling dish was all about: an international dish, but made with Dutch-grown ingredients.”

“My team and I have learnt so much from Micheal and his team from the perspective of both the kitchen and front of house”, said Isaac. “We have been so inspired by their sustainability ethics and drive to look at the bigger picture, and back at ourselves and the way we do things.”

“The experience was really awesome – to hang out with different chefs with a different cooking style with a huge drive and passion for food”, continued Isaac. “Once we got talking we quickly discovered that despite we had different backgrounds and experiences, we were quite similar and had so much in common.”

The chefs had to contend with several unexpected dramas including a suitcase of pre-prepared ingredients going missing at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, accidentally getting locked out of the restaurant, and a power-cut during the dinner itself.

“Excluding the power-cut half way through service, I enjoyed working with chefs that have a different point of reference on plating and menu design, and also finding a balance between how both sides saw the service”, said Isaac. “Once everything clicked, it was easier than some of our other services because it was like having a dream team working together.”

International Chef Exchange is an initiative created and delivered by the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival. It has run for six years and has showcased the city and surrounding Sussex in diverse countries ranging from Canada to Sweden. The project aims to promote Sussex as a gastronomic tourism destination, create opportunities to showcase local producers on an international platform, and allow chefs to share best practice in the culinary arts.

This was Michael’s first visit to Brighton and Hove, and he enjoyed two days exploring the city before the dinner including visits to The Chilli Pickle, The Salt Room and Merkaba at My Brighton hotel.

“It’s a very quirky city”, he said. “The food scene feels like a consistent Michelin Bib Gourmand level. There is a lot of attention is paid to presentation, with good street food and a lot of international influences”.

The team from Aloha were also impressed by the quality of produce and wines made on the doorstep of the city.

“Through working with Isaac, I gained a fantastic insight in Sussex produce: diverse, rich, good quality and very good wine”, said Michael.

The meal also included a Dutch wine from the Limburg region surrounding Maastricht.

“Our guests were very positive about the Apostel Hoeve Riesling: light, dry and mineral with barely a hint of sugar”.

Isaac will be heading to Rotterdam early next year to participate in the return leg of the chef exchange.

“We’re looking forward to even more teamwork”, said Michael of the forthcoming event in the Netherlands. “We’ve got to know each other now and we get along amazingly. For this week’s meal we didn’t know each other so whether our dishes worked out together was a bit of a crossed-fingers moment. But for the return we have the opportunity to think about everything as a team. I’m very excited about it. It shows what can happen when you’re open-minded, curious and willing to work together and share”.


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