Of the many food conferences, forums, symposiums and global gatherings that have sprouted up over the past decade-plus, it’s now the turn of the Dutch. Spearheaded by Joris Lohman, Samuel Levie and chef Joris Bijdendijk of Rijks, the trio has launched the Low Food Lab, created to bring about change and show the world that some great things are happening in the Netherlands.
In January this year, the Low Food Symposium brought together chefs, farmers, scientists, and researchers, along with some of the most successful initiatives that have sprung up in the country in recent years. The idea was to offer a platform for new and promising developments and to build a platform that would allow for the industry to connect and promote food from the region. In July, the second Low Food Symposium took place at Vuurtoreneiland (the tiny lighthouse island, east of Amsterdam) and included speakers such as chef Margot Janse and UK chef and food writer Oliver Rowe, building on the message of unification and connectivity between the industry.
Now, with further support from the Dutch government and a clearer idea of how the movement can harness local talent and spread change, Lohman, Levie, and Bijdendijk have officially launched the Low Food Lab.
A needed revolution
On the 29th of November, a small group of “frontrunners” gathered to jointly create the outlines and first steps in a new culinary movement for the Netherlands. Inspired and driven by actions around the world, they met to share ideas and to discuss how a gastronomic lab and the collaborations between chefs, creatives, fisherman, farmers, food producers, hunters, foragers, brewers, distillers, and scientists can enhance food culture, sustainability, and inclusivity – now and in the future.
According to Bijdendijk, the Dutch food culture has been “suffering from a lack of self-esteem in recent years,” but he could never figure out why. With its heritage of farms and outstanding produce, why wasn’t the world talking about and celebrating the Netherlands, and why were countries such as Denmark – another small, densely populated country with a similar flat, agricultural environment – being celebrated while Holland was heralded for only Gouda and bitterballens?
Therefore, a revolution was needed. Bijdendijk says that change was not only inevitable but necessary. The Netherlands must change from a pure, inward-looking agricultural land to a country that celebrates its food culture and gastronomy on a national and international level, only then, through unification, can the world honour the food and the producers of Holland.
First of all, Netherlands is an agricultural giant, not merely in what they produce but also how they create and provide, showing what the future of farming could look like. The farming industry is bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the world’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.
Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second-largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value. More than a third of all global trade in vegetable seeds originates in the Netherlands. So why aren’t more people talking about the Dutch?
“It’s a good question,” says Lohman. “The potential for the country is huge. Connecting the right people is a difficult job, but we’re learning from similar projects abroad how best to harness talent and collaborate. It’s about speaking and listening, and above all, support.”
The potential of products
To gain an understanding of how best to operate, the founders looked to the Basque Culinary Centre, Nordic Food Lab and Edinburgh Food Studio. At the gathering last month, Diego Prado Vásquez (coordinator BCulinaryLAB), Benedict Reade (former head of the Nordic Food Lab and owner Edinburgh Food Studio), the returning Oliver Rowe along with invited international journalists met to discuss plans for the new venture. Together, the group explored the potential of new, forgotten, not yet explored and undervalued products in the Netherlands, hearing from guests along with local farmers, suppliers, and academics.
The core of the discussion at the assembly – and the very heart of the Lab’s philosophy – was sustainability and inclusion. In a world where food security and the sustainability of the food and agricultural system are two of the big themes, the founders believe that the food movement has an essential role in changing food culture. Firstly, this should take place at home and then, wider afield. To achieve this, the Lab must work as a network agent, offering opportunities to connect, to help, to guide and to advise.
The optimism of the founders is evident. By reaching out to those who will benefit directly from the project is vital. Listening to those directly involved, they’ll learn of the problems – and the successes – of farming, agriculture and the restaurant industry within the country. The Netherlands already leads much of the globe in farming production and agricultural yield, however, more can be done, and by connecting people and business, the country can flourish, establishing a line of dialogue and a bright and identifiable cuisine that can and should be rightly celebrated across the world.