The picturesque Restaurant de Treeswijkhoeve in the Dutch town of Waalre sits in a fairytale location bordered by forest, fields and lakes. However, it was a horror story that led its head chef Dick Middelweerd to review its menu.
Dick Middelweerd is a celebrity chef in the Netherlands, popping up on television, and even as the face of an exclusive line of olive oil for supermarket chain Albert Heijn.
In 2009 Middelweerd had a heart attack, the consequences, as he freely admits, of a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle. He was overweight, and over-worked, but his recovery inspired a new direction in his cooking.
Restaurant de Treeswijkhoeve, which Middelweerd and his wife Anna-Laura took over from Anna’s parents in 2000, was already on the map with its Michelin star cuisine.
Now the restaurant has gained a reputation for offering inspired but healthy dishes thanks to Middelweerd’s talent for reducing the fat, salt and sugar of dishes without taking away any of the flavour. And his guests have given their seal of approval, with many driving from all over the country, and even from Belgium, to dine at the restaurant.
“They [diners] are much more interested in healthy eating,” says Middelweerd. “We are very influenced by the nature surrounding us, our restaurant is located on a 100-year-old farm in a rural setting, [so] seasonality is the basis for our cooking. We try as much as possible to buy from farmers in our area.
“We have a lot of contact with them, and they ask what our wishes are so they can tailor what they grow for us.”
Middelweerd certainly has a lot to be inspired by, Waalre is known as Groenfontein, the Green Fountain, due to the municipality’s policy of encouraging a diverse selection of trees to grow around the town.
It also happens to be home to several millionaires, which makes for a happy relationship between the Restaurant de Treeswijkhoeve and Krug Champagne, with the establishment becoming an ambassador for the brand in 2014.
Alongside his home surroundings, Middelweerd says he uses social media such as Instagram as a source of creativity, as well as his trips overseas, especially to the east coast of the US where he cites California as an influence.
Dutch foodie destination
Middelweerd was one of a handful of chefs at the forefront of the city’s culinary renaissance, which he still watches with delight, as more new and innovative restaurants open. “The change has been huge, the pace of the city has become very different, more tourism,” he adds. Concepts change at high speed as does the popularity too.”
With Amsterdam a mere 45-minute flight over the North Sea from many UK airports, it’s not surprising that for the British it’s the second most popular city destination for a weekend break.
As Middelweerd has shown, the city may have its attractions, but it is not the only location in the Netherlands where wonderful food can be found. For a country where half the land is given over to agriculture, it is not surprising that there is a booming foodie culture that Restaurant de Treeswijkhoeve is certainly part of.
For Middelweerd it’s not just the produce grown in and around Waalre that he celebrates in his cooking, but also the bounty that comes out of the country’s many farms and greenhouses. “We [the Dutch] are [especially] good at growing asparagus, strawberries, and cherries,” he says. “At the restaurant we are constantly looking for new things, we are constantly changing, seeking more taste, so we retain our passion for cooking.”
Following his health scare, Middelweerd has cut back on his hours, but not his ambition with the chef co-authoring a new recipe book with musician Guus Meeuwis, to be released in October this year.
Meeuwis is a regular collaborator with Middelweerd, with the pair becoming involved with many side projects including a pop-up restaurant in Tilburg, which was open for five days last year with the profits going to the charity Muziekids, an organisation that takes music into children’s hospitals.
For now, Middelweerd is preparing for a much-anticipated event, the restaurant’s grand summer grill to take place on September 4. With such popularity is he ever tempted to open a sister restaurant in Amsterdam?
“No, we’re fine, we already have enough work to do,” he says with a smile.