Nimrod Kahn is executive chef at organic salad bar Sla, with locations in Amsterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, Rotterdam and Utrecht
From ‘salad city’ to Sla sounds like a logic step…
‘That’s right, Tel Aviv fits perfectly with the concept of Sla with its fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Although when i came to the Netherlands from Israel, twenty years ago, it didn’t look like i would end up in the kitchen. Not at Sla, or anywhere else. I started in the service of a touristic restaurant. During a wedding dinner, the chef got into an argument with the manager and walked out just before dessert. Because i didn’t liked my job, i was sent to the kitchen: ‘You go do it.’ I had never even melted chocolat before, and definitely not for eighty guests, but apparently i did well. I was given a month to prove myself. Then i became a cook.
Where have you learned the most?
‘I learned a lot at “Het Rijk van de Keizer”, a trendy community in Amsterdam-West for parties and events. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted, but on request we also made a Caribbean menu of five courses, for example. At big weddings we were often with three chefs at the same time. I was the youngest, with the least experience. That’s where i learned to improvise.’
What do you do at Sla?
‘I don’t cook anymore. I find the big story begind food and the impact of vegetables, from the environment to the customer, much more interesting. For me, food is more than just food: food is culture. The influence, all those different flavors and all those different countries; that excites me. At Sla i monitor the processes in the production kitchen, the internal delivery and the purchase of ingredients. In 2020 we started cooking centrally. During the first corona wave, we took a closer look in our working method asked ourselves: what would we like to sell in terms of delivery and take away. We also looked at out suppliers. The problem was that due to corona our manufacturers could deliver 30 percent less. There was not enough tofu, soy yogurt and palm sugar. Because fewer planes came in form South America, there were also not enough avocados; in the summer we need an average of 200 a day. Rungis came out as the best. For several reasons: before corona we always had fruit and vegetables left in the evening. That was because we had to order early in the day and we didn’t know what would be left at that time. At Rungis i can order until ten o’clock in the evening for the next day. Much is already pre-cut. Luckily, cutting 40 kilos of cauliflower, for example, is impossible for us. I order exactly what i need and the vegetables are therefore always super fresh. The quality of their stuff is also three levels highter than before. But what i’m most happy about is their service. I have never experiences this in twenty years in the hospitality industry. I place my order six days a week between eight and nine in the evening. When i forget something, i call them and a few hours later i also receive those ingredients. Nobody else does it like that!’
The menu features salads and bowls, what are your most popular ones?
Our vegan kapsalon with, among other things, romaine and lamb’s lettuce, roasted sweet potato, vegan shawarma and spicy sriracha mayonnaise. Also popular is our salad with falafel and shakshuka, but in a free interpretation. In Israel they wouldn’t want to eat the dish like this. Countries with a less developed food culture, such as The Netherlands, are much more adventurous. We also have a special with Brussels sprouts rendang: we make a basic curry, the sprouts go into the Magimix for 3,5 seconds and then everything is mixed with toasted coconut, coconut milk and water. This mix goes in the oven for twentyfive minutes, the mixture gets mixed again and then the Brussels sprouts go back in the oven for another twentyfive minutes. The secret is in our curry and the long preparation in time.’
Important question: what is the secret to your humus?
‘I have to be honest: i have never made the perfect one. In Israel humus is the ultimate fast food. Nobody makes it at home; you just buy two kilos of vegetables on the way, a large bowl of humus and you’re done. But if i do have to say something: make sure you use a lot of tahini. We import the sesame paste ourselves; from my favorite brand. I like smooth humus the most, but it’s more difficult to make. It’s almost impossible if you have to remove all the skins from twenty kilos of chickpeas every day!’
What do you miss from a food walhalla like Israel?
‘I come from a small town north of Tel Aviv. Everything is there, all year round. All kinds of citrus fruits grew in our garden; from clementines to pomelos. You took it off the tree, peeled it and ate it. It’s a huge different if, like here, you eat fruit that is more than a sweek old and often too warm. On the other hand, i love Dutch winter vegetables. Especially parsnips. I’m also looking foward to spring; to artichokes, peas, string beans and haricot verts. And strawberries! Dutch strawberries are definitely the best! There are also so many varieties of posatoes; i love puree.’