Vito Reekers is chef de cuisine of Restaurant Karel 5 in Utrecht
Your mother made one of the first vegetarian children’s cookbooks in the Netherlands. You must have something special with vegetables!
“Haha, that’s true. The name of the book is The Laughing Cow: because he didn’t get eaten. But that’s a long time ago. I was, i think, about 8 years old. Together with my sisters the recipes were tested. But one did that rather than the other. I quickly found my way to the kitchen. Whether there are a lot of vegetarian dishes on our menu because of my past? Not when i just started at Karel 5, but now there are a lot. Lots of people ask for it and my mother is also happy with it…”
Which dish got stuck in your head from home?
“My mom and dad have their own vegetable garden. The best part was looking at how it grew and bloomed and what was already ripe. Around those vegetables, a meal was devised. There was a standard ritual: my father came home at a quarter to six and then he picked and washed the lettuce. That was his part. About 80 to 90 percent of what we ate at night, came from the vegetable garden. And we also had our own chickens, so fresh eggs.”
I see a nice dish with passion fruit…
“It’s a dessert of passion fruit and cucumber with aloe vera ice cream and a fresh emulsion of dille, presented in a chocolate ball, ‘like a passion fruit’. I can’t deny that i love passion fruit. We also have an oyster tasting outside the menu. One of them is with celery and passion fruit. Beautiful fresh, exotic en that little crackling of the seeds is so nice.”
You work a lot with fruit!
“I don’t like a lot of sweetness in setting up a menu, but i do like a little processing here and there. For example sour mango in combination with ripe mango. At the moment we have a dish with langoustine, celery, vadouvan, papaya and sour mango. The langoustines are raw crushed and seasoned with a bit of lemon. From the heads we make oil for the dressing. Red mullet and cockle are combined with watermelon; which lends itself well to savory preparations. The watermelon is cut brunoise and reduced with shallot, garlic and tomato sauce till it’s a compote. The full taste of the watermelon with the savory of the garlic, shallot, salt and then combined with parmesan and 0live seeds is incredible.”
What do you look forward to in May?
“This is a fun season, everything is starting. We serve asparagus with ramson, sea aster leaves, morel and some special cheese. The asparagus peeled and roasted, to give it a more full flavor and a tasty bite. The first legumes are there, beans, peas and also edible flowers… That makes me happy. But salty vegetables also make me smile.”
You make butter with salty vegetables and algae?
“Made from farmers butter and some yogurt; for the freshness. We leave the butter outside of the fridge for four days; which gives a bit of acidity. This way the butter gets something farmers like. We use the leakage fluid, the whey, as a sauce. The butter itself is seasoned with salt and lightly beaten. Finally, we put in the sea bananas and algae.”
Why do you like to work with Rungis?
“I know Rungis through my time in the Okura. The range and the assortment is so specialized; no other supplier can deliver that. Depending on the season and the menu, we also have contact with De Moestuin in Galgenwaard. I like to work with local producers, this way we can help each other. In the courtyard of Karel 5 we grow our own herbs. At the terrace of the bistro are also pear trees, quinches and mirabelles. We once harvested 250 kilos of pears. The Conference pears were processed into dishes and syrups. The overripe pears we used for a eau de vie, which we made with a local distillery. We divided the yield of 11 bottles. Which we unfortunately run out of…”