Voor het Engelstalige magazine HelloAmsterdam.com interviewde ik Peter Lute. Lees hier het volledige interview.
Superstar chef Peter Lute
‘You should never reach your peak to early’.
At only 21, Peter Lute was already sous chef at a one-starred Michelin restaurant. Instead of chasing more stars, however, Peter opted for a different path. One that has led to an undisputed Lute empire: Restaurant de Kruidfabriek, the Explore venue, and restaurant Soundbites located above Ziggo Dome (one of Amsterdam’s largest concert locations). Recently, Peter and his wife opened their newest addition: restaurant ARC, situated in Amsterdam’s five-star Pestana Hotel.
The way to the top
While most chefs develop an interest for the culinary through their upbringing, this does not hold true for Peter. Though the choice to become a chef was a surprising one, it actually seemed pretty sensible for someone who liked to work with his hands and create things of beauty. At the age of 15, Peter started his career at the Sint Hubertus culinary trade school in Amsterdam. His skills and knowledge meant that the young man had an advantage over his schoolmates, thus he was able to complete his theory training in one year instead of two.
‘Peter Lute is a charismatic and extremely modest chef who shuns all trends and follows his own course.’
Dikker & Thijs
At 16 years of age, Peter gained his practical experience while apprenticing as chef at the prestigious Dikker & Thijs on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht. At the time, it was a culinary institution and breeding ground where names such as Cees Helder (the country’s first three-starred chef) learned the tricks of the trade. Peter was very much impressed by what he saw there, working with utter dedication for a period of two years. When his girlfriend Marieke (now his wife) moved to The Hague for her studies, Peter decided to follow her. There, he rounded off his final year at the iconic Hotel des Indes, a luxury establishment often frequented by the royal family and other celebrities.
Until the age of 30, Peter worked at various restaurants, remaining at each for a maximum of two years. His objective was to gain as much experience as possible at myriad locations in order to learn a variety of logistic processes and business operations. Ultimately, he was employed as sous chef at starred establishments such as Auberge de Kievit* in Wassenaar and the two-starred Michelin restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam.
It was then that Peter came to a turning point in his career and decided to start his own restaurant. He quit his job at Vermeer and, together with his wife, embarked on a search for the perfect location. Many were considered, but finally they chose a run-down gunpowder factory on the picturesque Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, under the city’s curtain of smoke.
The couple sold their house and with the funds acquired, and some help from their family and an investor, they started what would be a three-year construction project. The restaurant had to be large enough to accommodate hundreds of covers, yet not be stiff. They didn’t have to think long about a name: LUTE. Restaurant Lute opened its doors in 2002 and was successful from day one with between 120 to 170 covers per day.
After 14 years, they followed a different route, changing the name to De Kruidfabriek. Not only was the entire decor (including crockery, cutlery and glassware) completely renewed, but the menu was also drastically reworked. This resulted in a bright establishment with the added bonus of extra seats. The menu now features some twenty dishes ranging from 10 to 22 euros. The surprise chef’s menus, however, have remained.
I believe Lute was the first restaurant in Amsterdam that employed a designer.
I wanted a restaurant that fit my personality. Even early on I had an interest in architecture, design and branding. That’s how I came in contact with architects Winy Maas and Eline Strijkers. They are at the very top in the architecture world. I was just starting out when I contacted them, but they were very happy to be approached by a small client. They have really met me halfway. The result was a large, industrially designed restaurant that afforded me international recognition, not only in publications in the restaurant sector, but also in those on architecture.
‘I like to see people enjoying themselves. For me, that’s a nugget of emotion’
With Lute, you managed to establish a stable, beautiful and timeless restaurant. ‘Never change a winning formula’ they say. So why the metamorphosis?
You need to have courage in order to welcome change. The world is evolving, but so are guests and the style of eating out. Instead of just floating along, I want to embrace that change.
And then came Explore in Muiden, a marvellous venue, which is also located in a former gunpowder factory.
We were approached for a location in Antwerp, where we had hosted a pop-up restaurant. That suited us perfectly well, but we weren’t quite keen on setting up business in Belgium. Sergio Herman and Nick Bril (Dutch starred chefs) are now at that location with The Jane**. We then went in search of a location a little closer to home and ultimately ended up in Muiden. I knew the owner, so we quickly came to an agreement. We host exceptional events at Explore, but there’s still room for growth. It is not only an events venue, but it can also be used as a restaurant.
‘In a way, you can say that I’m vain. That’s inevitable if you’re on television.’
Despite your busy schedule, you still decided to take part in television programmes. Among other things, you were co-presenter and jury member for three seasons of the Dutch Masterchef. How did that go and what do you remember most?
That actually went pretty well for me. Luckily, I’m pretty good at talking and communicating (laughs). And in a way, you can say that I’m vain. That’s inevitable if you’re on television. I’ve co-presented with people such as Ainsley Harriott, known from the BBC cooking programme Ready Steady Cook. I’ve learned a lot from him. Presenting is something that must be done from the heart. The energy he gave me was quite a treat! I really hope that I’ll be able to bring that across in my new cooking show, Superstar Chef, which will air soon, as well as in other television projects.
‘I don’t allow myself to be guided by Michelin, but it would be an awesome recognition if we were awarded a star.’
Soundbites is a restaurant situated in a concert venue. Usually, that means lacklustre menus and desolate spaces where you want to be in and out as quick as possible. But when I saw the menu with its à la carte dishes, I was pleasantly surprised. How is that working?
That’s working out quite well (laughs heartily). There was an opportunity there, waiting me for to take it or leave it. We had hosted all the V.I.P. dinners there and I figured if we were going to do something new, it should be à la carte. Otherwise it would lead me in an unpleasant direction. I also cannot expect the right energy from a team if they’re only allowed to serve a single menu. The result is that we currently cater to approximately three to four hundred guests within the space of two-and-a-half hours. They are pretty straightforward dishes, yet of superb quality. Apparently, that was something which was very much needed.
The pinnacle of your career is undoubtedly restaurant ARC at the stunning and newly opened five-star Pestana Hotel on the Amstel. I had a fantastic lunch there. You haven’t left anything to fate. Every detail has been meticulously considered. Do you have Michelin star ambitions?
With ARC we are taking the next step. The hotel’s dynamism affords us a lot of energy and fresh opportunities. The buzz felt at the bar, the un-Dutch terrace, the international mix of guests, the beautiful light that comes through, the use of materials, perfectly executed by Studio Linse, which also designed the Rijks* among others. We are cooking at an exceptionally high level there, but I’m following my own path. I am who I am, and I do as I please. I don’t allow myself to be guided by Michelin, but it would be an awesome recognition and huge kick if we were awarded a star. But that also applies to the new direction that De Kruidfabriek has taken. That accessibility fits with the new style of restaurants. I think that also sends a message to Michelin. In any case, we certainly have the ambition.
Behind every strong man, there’s a strong woman. That may come across a bit cliché, but it seems the cooperation with your wife Marieke is essential.
That’s very much true! Put quite simply: we don’t have a social life or a private life. This is our life and we don’t make things too complicated. This is what we’ve chosen, and together you must be united. The other side of that is that you also have to be critical towards each other, which certainly holds true for us. It can get quite heated at times. We run an amazing company and that is only possible if you respect and challenge each other (laughs).
‘I still want to establish something really awesome sometime, which may not be so economically sensible, but that doesn’t faze me in the least.’
Where do you prefer to go out to dinner in Amsterdam and what is most important for you during a night out?
Restaurant Rijks* is definitely my favourite because I like the big city, international vibe. The style is beautiful, the kitchen is refined, and everything comes together exceptionally well there. I have a bit of an issue with small restaurants because they’re constantly hovering over you. I’d rather eat at large restaurants. Restaurant Dauphine is another example of a large establishment with excellent brasserie dishes. That’s another place I like to visit. The Duchess* is also pretty awesome, stylish and international, just like Mr. Porter at the top of the W hotel. That establishment has quite some sex appeal to it.
You are now 48 and have a pretty impressive career behind you. Shouldn’t you actually be taking it a little easier?
Taking it easy is for old folks (laughs). As long as positive energy is flowing through your body and you’re coming up with good ideas, I think you have to continue doing what you like. And I have plenty of ideas to keep going for quite a while. If I took it easy, I would get bored. And that would make me a very unpleasant man. Quite simply, this is my life: creating and making people happy. We are busy ensuring growth and setting a solid foundation. From there, we can pursue exciting and somewhat crazy endeavours.
What do you mean by that?
Simply put, to establish something really awesome sometime, which may not be so economically sensible, but that doesn’t faze me in the least!