#CHEFSSECRET – Erik and Juliën van Loo, Parkheuvel, Rotterdam

Located on the waterfront near the Rotterdam Euromast, Parkheuvel restaurant has been an icon in the Dutch gastronomy landscape for many years. Chef Erik van Loo earned his stripes in this two Michelin-starred restaurant, with its refined, modern French cuisine, all served up in a chic, hospitable setting. Since his son Juliën van Loo joined the business around three years ago, the cuisine has been given a more contemporary twist with elegant presentations and new influences. A bright future seems guaranteed for Parkheuvel. Together with The Best Chef headed on over to taste and talk.

Taste and experience: quality and hospitality are key

Anyone who says ‘Parkheuvel’ immediately thinks of the unique, round building in which the well-known restaurant is located. The place has a warm, traditional, chic atmosphere inside. They like to call the style of the interior ‘cosy art deco’. The trump card is the terrace, which offers a great view of the busy ships on the Maas river. Quality and comfort are core values at Parkheuvel. Hostess Anja van Loo says: “Parkheuvel is all about emotions. It is our passion. We welcome our guests to spoil them from start to finish. That means that we meet high standards every day. And that brings us endless pleasure.”

Modern, French-inspired cuisine

Quality and continuity take centre stage in Parkheuvel’s kitchen. The driving force behind this philosophy is chef Erik van Loo, who has been in charge of the restaurant for many years. As of three years ago, he is assisted by his son, chef Juliën van Loo.

As a butcher’s son, Erik van Loo grew up in South Limburg. He gained experience at home and abroad and later started his own restaurant, Restaurant Duurstede, where he also managed to acquire a Michelin star. A second star he was awarded in 2005 at De Zwethheul in Delft. In 2006, Van Loo took over Parkheuvel from Cees Helder, at the time the only three-star chef in the Netherlands. Since 2009, Parkheuvel once again has held two Michelin stars. In addition to his culinary awards, Erik van Loo is also known for his successful cookbooks: ‘Taste is Memory’, ‘Street Food’ and ‘Soups’ and ‘Sauces’. The latter book earned him a reputation as master of sauces – something he proves day after day at Parkheuvel.

Erik van Loo’s son Juliën is also a classically trained cook, after which he gained experience at starred restaurants Fred and In Den Rustwat. He then went to Sydney where he had the opportunity to cook at the Sydney Opera House. With that culinary and life experience in his pocket, Juliën van Loo returned to the Netherlands to become his father’s right-hand man in Parkheuvel’s kitchen. Every day, Juliën dedicates himself to offering the best quality by reconciling modern and classic components in a kitchen that still clearly bears the Parkheuvel signature.

The van Loo’s kitchen is authentic. “What you see is what you get”, says Erik van Loo himself. Qualitative preparations are recognizable first and foremost, with the product, taste, and texture sensations playing the main role. In this way, Parkheuvel seeks to create a cuisine that touches the senses and emotions.

In conversation with Erik and Juliën van Loo

A chef duo of two generations—that calls for a dual interview with father and son Van Loo about the beauty of the cooking profession, their unstoppable drive to do better and better, and the evolution from classic to contemporary flavours and presentations.

The Best Chef & Hungry for More (Chef’s Secret): Taking over a former three-star restaurant in Rotterdam is very ambitious. How did you get the idea to take over Parkheuvel from the iconic Cees Helder?

Erik van Loo: Well, by now about 15 years have passed since I got a call from Cees Helder. He was ready to retire as a chef and approached me to see if I was interested in taking over the business. I then contacted some of my well-known business contacts to help write a business plan. I wanted to be able to start the restaurant independently and make it my own thing, without external investors. In 2006, we managed to complete acquisition of the restaurant. In that period (before the 2008 crisis) a lot was still possible. Everything you see here, we‘ve created ourselves. Over the years we have refurbished about seven times. Two years ago we were able to buy the building, which of course offers a lot of possibilities to keep evolving, even if this requires more thorough structural interventions to the restaurant. And we have also expanded our team since our son Juliën and his partner Anouk joined the business. That too offers opportunities for the future. And I have to say that with the four of us, things go more smoothly.

Chief’s Secret: What’s your background, Juliën? Did you always know you wanted to join your parents’ company as chef?

Juliën van Loo: After my training as a chef, I worked in several fine dining restaurants, so I had that experience in gastronomy. But then there was a moment when I didn’t quite know what the future would look like. I went to Australia, where I lived for a while and had all kinds of experiences. There I also came to realise that I love being a chef and that I had a fantastic opportunity to develop that career with my family at Parkheuvel. So then I took the leap and came back to the Netherlands.

Chef’s Secret: Two generations cooking together, how do you do it?

Erik van Loo: I’m doing less and less, Julien more and more (laughs). No seriously, there’s a history and a certain style here. Of course, we’ll continue with that same style, but Juliën creates modern influences and presentations. That interaction is a big added value. We really do everything together. By the way, there aren’t that many restaurants in the Netherlands passing from father to son. And we have some great news as well: Juliën will also become a father soon, so maybe there will be another generation of chefs on the way (smiles).

Juliën van Loo: I sometimes get asked whether working with my father – who is a renowned Michelin-starred chef – causes extra pressure. But we see it as extra motivation instead. The collaboration creates positive energy.

Erik van Loo: Sometimes people might think that it’s all falling into Juliën’s lap. But that’s not the case at all. He also has to work very hard to cook at the same level as what we have built up here.

Chef’s Secret: How would you describe the cooking style at Parkheuvel?

Erik van Loo: That’s such a typical question. I would say: modern French. That means that we start from the classical base. After all, that’s how I was trained. The flavours and preparations have to be perfect. From there you can then build up your presentations and preparations. For example, I think it’s important to include something crunchy in most dishes, so that you can create a varied taste and texture sensation, more layered than in very classic preparations.

Juliën van Loo: Just like my father, I am classically trained as a chef. It’s important to master your basics. Especially because I find simplicity an important aspect in our dishes. Then everything just has to be right. But by going to Australia, I came to discover all kinds of new colours and flavours. There, you see a lot more. And we’re also building that experience into our dishes today. It works perfectly in combination with that classic basis.

Chef’s Secret: They say that Erik van Loo is lord and master of sauces and cuissons. Why is that? Do you work on that specifically?

Erik van Loo: Once, we wanted to make a series of cookbooks in which we would explain all facets of game, sauce and patisserie. In the end we didn’t get any further than the books on sauces, soups and street food. That sauces book has become very popular. Of course, as a young cook I learnt the traditional sauces system—based on the binding power of brown roux—but it was so outdated that we rethought it, as it were. And that seems to be very special. In our approach, we continue on the basis of that binding strength, with a gelatin base. This has the great advantage that it binds heat, moisture and fat. The result is a tasty sauce that is much lighter and offers more possibilities.

Chef’s Secret: What are the typical Parkheuvel signature dishes?

Erik van Loo: I immediately think of our ravioli with Bresse chicken and lobster cream, our partridge, the Wagyu tartare or the dessert with raspberries. But also during lamb season, we always have beautiful dishes with this top product on the menu. They are all classics that have evolved over the years and have been given a prominent place on the menu. Sometimes I might get tired of cooking those classics over and over again, but our guests ask for them, and in the end you’re cooking for the guest and not just for yourself.

Luckily you can also innovate with the existing dishes and that’s what we do. Continuity is key to everything we do. Many chefs are restless in the head, and you can see and taste that in their dishes. If you do everything all the time from scratch, you can’t build solid foundations. Building a beautiful dish once is not enough. It takes strength and discipline to constantly offer dishes of the highest quality, and you do that by laying decent foundations, rather than having to do something new every time.

Juliën van Loo: I totally agree with that. What we serve has to be of the same perfect quality every day. That continuity is crucial and this is what we at Parkheuvel are known for.

Chef’s Secret: How do you feel about trends in gastronomy?

Erik van Loo: When it comes to trends, it comes down to filtering out the good things. You can’t shut your eyes to new techniques, otherwise you’ll never get better. So we do follow the new developments in gastronomy, but always remain true to our own signature. If something’s good, I’m the last one to resist.

Chef’s Secret: Dutch gastronomy is booming. Why is that?

Erik van Loo: Many chefs of my generation were educated abroad and came back to the Netherlands to establish their own signature at the highest level. Our good basic education combined with external influences and the drive to do our own thing has led to great results in the Netherlands. Three factors are crucial: self-discipline, perseverance and talent.

Chef’s Secret: Where do you find the inspiration to come up with new things over and over again?

Juliën van Loo: Travel plays an important role. For example, you might see a certain technique or a product elsewhere—for example, a certain mousse on a type of biscuit—which inspires you to try things out for yourself within your own style. Furthermore, books or social media regularly give me ideas. It’s all about putting all those external impressions into your own style. And of course there’s also the inspiration that comes from your own team. A lot of young people work in our kitchen. They also have their own ideas that can be very interesting.

Erik van Loo: Inspiration is a kind of ”never-ending story” for creative minds. Whether you’re a chef or a musician. You can’t turn that process off or on. Good ideas sometimes come after a year, sometimes after a week or sometimes right away. You can’t create on command, it comes when it comes and then you do something with it.

Chef’s Secret: Are there moments in your career as a chef that have been decisive and made you the chef you are today?

Juliën van Loo: For myself that would be my experience in Australia. I left here with an open mind. I didn’t even know if I would stay a chef, I was tired of the Netherlands for a while. But from then on I started to rebuild everything, and when I got back things started to speed up here. So the evolution towards the chef I am today and the chef I will be in the future is a very gradual process. Thank goodness.

Erik van Loo: It was very different with me. I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to be a cook. My father—who was a butcher—taught me, “It doesn’t matter what you’re going to do. But make sure you’re better than the rest.” I remembered that well, so I really mapped out a career path for myself. So I wanted to work on a cruise ship when I was young. That turned out not to be so special in the end, but it was good as it was an experience I wanted to have. But even after that I wanted to improve myself—in everything I did. Since there were few top gastronomic restaurants in the Netherlands at that time, I went to Germany to work on a two-star level. It was a totally different way of working, in a different language and with lots of new influences. And experiences like that make you the cook you’re going to be later on. Everywhere you work it’s a matter of taking the good things with you. For example, there are sauces that I have been making since 1986 and that we still serve today. If a change isn’t an improvement, it’s better not to change. Of course, you do constantly add to your knowledge and experience of the past with new developments and improvements.

Chef’s Secret: What do people remember when they’ve been to Parkheuvel?

Erik van Loo: The total picture should be what they remember. Nowadays you can’t just fascinate people with a certain dish or a kind of sauce. How people are welcomed and what the atmosphere is like in the restaurant plays just as important a role. I would rather eat a slightly less impressive meal in a cosy restaurant than have a three-star dinner in a refectory. And the waiting staff must sense this perfectly. That way you can really create added value.

Chef’s Secret: What are your ambitions?

Erik van Loo: We’ve been working as hard as we can for more than 20 years. And I just like to have a nice day every day and enjoy going to work and working with great people. Every form of appreciation is great, but that’s not the motivation in itself. Every day you start with a clean slate, because that’s the only way to get better and better. I want to keep learning and improving. And that requires discipline. It’s never good enough. It can always be better. You have to have that drive in you. That’s why I sometimes compare gastronomy to sports. There are only 11 players in the national soccer team. If you want to be a part of them, you have to make sure you’re good enough.

Julien van Loo: Of course, it’s our ambition to hold on to the two stars. At the awards presentations or the announcement of rankings, it’s always an incredible feeling when you get great results. That not only impacts your personal standing, but also the business. After all, media attention ensures that your restaurant is at the forefront of peoples’ mind. In addition, we all want to grow further and become even better. But as long as we can do so within the story we’ve already built up.

Erik van Loo: Gastronomy is a sport in which judges have a big influence. You don’t win because you do something that someone else can’t do. The prizes are awarded by third parties. That’s sometimes tricky, because there’s also a human factor in it. It’s up to us to make the best of it. Every day, we’re committed to offering the very best. And every day offers new challenges and perspectives.

Signature and tasting menu

At Parkheuvel guests can choose from a menu of signature dishes, supplemented with seasonal dishes and available as a 5-, 6- or 8-course menu or à la carte. With the dishes, sommelier and host Nick Van Den Heuvel is happy to provide guests with wine pairings or a selection from the wine list. Also interesting is their collaboration with the Dutch winery St. Martinus in Vijlen, which produces a unique cuvée for restaurant Parkheuvel. To put this in the spotlight, they also came up with the concept of the ‘winemakers brunch’ at Parkheuvel, the next edition of which will take place on 6 September 2020.

We let the chefs surprise us with a selection of dishes they’ve chosen for us, consisting of a series of signature dishes in combination with new creations.

The menu starts with a series of well-curated appetizers, ideal in combination with one of the champagnes of which Parkheuvel is ambassador: Pol Roger and Krug. A creatively presented Caprese salad consists of a tomato macaron with tomato jelly, mozzarella and basil. Then there is a rouleau of carrot and Mexican hummus. Finally a taco of peas with Dutch trout and bergamot gel.

As a first dish we taste the ‘Oyster 2008 (Gillardeau 000)’ with potato rösti, Perle Imperial caviar, lime mousse, sweet and sour radish, parsley and herbs from the restaurant’s own garden.

The next creation at Parkheuvel is the crab with peach, nectarine, hazelnut and tonka. This preparation excels with its stratification, where the nuts provide a surprising bite. “With every dish we create a captivating mouthfeel, often by incorporating something crunchy in it. In this way we add an extra dimension to the dishes and avoid flat flavours,” explains Erik Van Loo.

We continue the culinary experience with a meticulously created cod dish featuring elegant mother-of-pearl tones, fresh green colours and a soft, light sauce. In terms of taste, the dish is no means be inferior to its beautiful looks, because the fish is in perfect harmony with the sweet peas, Perle Imperial caviar, herbal oil based on tarragon, parsley, chervil and dashi. With this dish, you can clearly taste that the Van Loo chefs are lord and master of the art of making sauces. For the finishing touch, they choose a classic sauce based on fish cream, similar to beurre blanc—although the Parkheuvel version feels lighter and still has a rounder taste. They obtain this sensation by using bonito tuna flakes as a base, which creates a refined smoked nuance. The cod itself is salted for 24 hours, after which it is rolled in foil to obtain the perfect shape. Finally, they leave the fish to soak for about five to six minutes with butter and the bonito. This sophisticated dish is finished off with crispy potato and algae.

We move on to the ‘foie gras 2018’, one of Parkheuvel‘s signature dishes. The foie gras is served in combination with beetroot, dark chocolate and apple. The crisp white sesame provides a crunchy touch, while the hints of cress, lime and pomegranate provide a subtle surprise. Juliën Van Loo, meanwhile, shows us photographs of this dish over time, while passionately explaining: “The classic presentation has made way for contemporary plating techniques. I was first inspired by the shape of planets, after which we refined those ideas further into the presentation you see here today. What is special is that the flavours of this dish have remained exactly the same throughout the years. So it is a good example of how we continue to evolve, also with signature dishes, where an interesting interaction between the older and the new generation ensures the best results”.

“A vegetarian dish with balls. That’s what we dare to call it ourselves”, Juliën Van Loo smiles when he serves us the next dish. In this rich vegetarian elaboration, you certainly don’t miss the meat. Chanterelles are served with mushroom cream sauce, parmesan foam, poached quail egg, Tasmanian winter truffle, chive oil, and fresh flowers and herbs from the garden.

We are fortunate to be able to taste a premiere main course. The carcass-roasted Anjou pigeon is served with rillettes, pommes dauphines, olive crumble, lavas, onion, green olives stuffed with macadamia and pommes soufflées. “On top of the dish, we finish off with a corn-based crunch, which with is a subtle nod to what the pigeon itself eats”, Julie Van Loo explains.

A fresh dessert heralds the last part of the menu. The Parkheuvel team was inspired by the colours of the Rotterdam flag. Apple is combined with meringue, Granny Smith, sheep’s yoghurt ice cream and bergamot, resulting in a proud white-green presentation.

We conclude with a popular Parkheuvel dish made of raspberries and white chocolate. Not the classic scoop of ice cream served with it, but a shake of white chocolate with yoghurt, Bacardi and buttermilk.

Finally, the Van Loo’s pamper us with an extensive range of canapes, served with a nice cup of coffee or tea.

In short

At Parkheuvel you can enjoy a modern French-inspired, rich style of cuisine in a classic and welcoming setting overlooking the water. The dishes excel thanks to the expert preparation, the layered taste and texture, and the beautiful, contemporary presentation. Here, you can enjoy extensive gastronomic pleasures that exhale true craftsmanship.

Praktische informatie

Restaurant Parkheuvel, Heuvellaan 21,  3016 GL Rotterdam, The Netherlands | +31 104360766 | info@parkheuvel.nl | www.parkheuvel.nl | Parkheuvel on Facebook | Parkheuvel on Instagram | Chef Erik van Loo on Instagram | Chef Juliën van Loo on Instagram

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