Being a restaurant critic is sometimes a dirty job… But someone has to do it. I mean, it’s not easy to say something unkind about people with good intentions. But here goes…
Instock is an idea of three Ahold trainees: a restaurant that uses the residual flows from the supermarket. No spoiled products, but oranges that shared a net with a fair specimen or broccoli with a single brown spot. You can also think of overproduction, damaged packaging, incorrectly printed labels, things that are removed from the range. In other words, great stuff that normally just gets wasted.
Ahold thought that was a great idea (Young Ahold’s Best Idea 2014) and put its weight behind it. There are now three branches: The Hague, Utrecht and Amsterdam – they are supplied daily from the Albert Heijn return center in Zaandam; day-old bread, cheese and eggs by the date are collected from local branches by cargo bike. A Food Rescue Center has been set up in Westzaan, from which fruit and vegetables rescued from 160 AH branches are sold to caterers and restaurants through a webshop. There is beeper beer and bammetjes beer made from old potatoes and bread, and Instock granola.
So a serious attempt to food waste to deal with. Noble, commendable. Altogether, these fighters have already saved more than 670 tons of food from wastage. This is where respect and encouragement come in. Those people wish you the very best. And so a nice review.
There is, of course, a big catch 22 ingrained in the Instock concept. They don’t care about the quality of the products. This requires an enthusiastic, talented chef with vision and the creative ability to make these ingredients shine with a backpack. Chefs with those qualities are not up for grabs. And they certainly don’t stand in line to cook with the old stuff from the Appie every day.
So let’s cut them some slack. We do not expect culinary delights. Just show us that it’s possible: make something simple and good with yesterday’s bread. I believe it is possible.
When the taco’s gone, tell me the taco’s gone, don’t try to sell me yesterday’s crushed brownie sandwich as a taco
Attempt one: The Hague. You don’t have to be Einstein to think that you should at least do something with an old, dry donut. Otherwise, just serve me an old, dry donut. The ‘bacon bits’ on the ‘vegan gumbo’ are literally charred flakes of aubergine. Tastes like ash. Also clever to serve a fish chowder with so little taste. All the salt miraculously ended up on the cracker next to the soup. Even though it ‘only’ costs 8.90 euros per dish, people take the trouble to come to your restaurant and you also just let them pay. At least pretend that you fucking care.
Attempt two: Amsterdam. This feels more like a restaurant; and less like a Teleac day for mentally retarded toddlers (the Hague case is full of signs with texts of the caliber: ‘I am a rescued orange, hooooiiiiii’). The service in Amsterdam is also a bit more professional (and not twelve). Unfortunately the food isn’t much better.
The menus are fixed for three months. Apparently it’s pretty easy to estimate what will remain: meat is overproduced by default (no surprise, that’s a shock) and if you sell portioned fish, you always end up with trimmings. A simple, fresh ceviche is, in theory, a rock solid choice to show that there is no reason to waste this fish. It’s not complicated: round five ingredients with lime juice, seven, pour over the fish. Should not be more. Instead, we get a deep lamentation of fish flebbers in lime water with dollops of run-out mayo.
The ecological footprint of the potatoes has been expertly made even bigger: the chips with the wet veggie burger today come in the colors burnt anthracite and carcinogenic black – they go straight into the trash. Well done guys.
Attempt three (with lead in the boots): Utrecht. Same menu, but world of difference. Nicely sour, solid ceviche – the mayo neatly in three mini-dots on the edge of the plate. Tempura clean fried. The potato chips are crispy, tasteful and surprising from the skins. And the kimchi is real kimchi (not salty cabbage porridge). Praise the Lord, so it is possible!
Oddly enough, idealism and the hospitality industry remain a difficult marriage. In The Hague and Amsterdam it seems as if the kitchen team has been pushed into the deep end with the best intentions but without swimming lessons. By working hard, they still manage to get the ‘dishes’ on the table hot and on time. But if you serve burnt things with dry eyes, then your talent and your future really lie in another profession.
In Utrecht you can safely save some karma points, without it becoming a self-flagellation march. There’s still room for improvement here too—when the taco’s gone, tell me the taco’s gone, don’t try to sell me yesterday’s crushed brownie sandwich as a taco; and take it off the bill if I say something about it. But there is someone cooking here who understands it, who apparently takes honor and satisfaction from creating something cheerful and dignified with these products. That is hopeful.