Two Chefs : Soul Food
Wednesday 07 March 2018
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Based out in the south of Amsterdam, Two Chefs is a relatively a large, super-modern brewery; its gleaming Chinese-made custom brewhouse sits on tall stilts, while the administrative offices are up on a mezzanine level, giving the whole setup a bright, almost vertiginous feel. The eponymous chefs themselves, founders Sanne and Martijn, are waiting upstairs to welcome us, and we make ourselves comfortable among the ping-pong table, air-hockey and vintage arcade machines.
The laid-back surroundings are exactly when we might have expected from Two Chefs, who we first met at last year’s Craft Beer Rising Festival, where Sanne and Martijn rocked the brewers’ after-party with an impromptu techno DJ set in one of the side rooms. This work hard/play hard culture is very important to the tight-knit team of 14.
“We have two core values: quality and fun,”
explains Sanne. “The quality I hope speaks for itself, but it’s important to balance the long hours it takes to achieve that with a fun and happy environment. As well as the games you see around, we provide lunch for the entire team every day, where everyone comes together around this big table to eat, chat and reconnect.”
Two Chefs wasn’t always like this though; like so many breweries, it started out with two friends at a career crossroads, developing a passion for home brewing. Both Sanne and Martijn had previously worked in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant, before going on to other professions, but had never lost their interest in flavour and constructing recipes.
Martijn explains: “We were both looking for a hobby that would give us joy besides our work, so we started brewing. We saw the similarity with cooking; this is something we kneww already as a passion and professionally. So it started on a small scale, 25 litres, making recipes every week, then we decided to make one big batch at another brewery.”
The pair called on Anders brewery in Belgium, where head brewer Nicolas Volders worked with them to scale up the recipe for their first beer – a relatively light, floral IPA called Green Bullet – to a full 1000-litre commercial batch. In June 2013, Sanne and Martijn hit the pavement, taking their creation to bars and bottleshops across Amsterdam and, despite some resistance to hoppy beer, it did very well and Anders was soon producing a 1000-litre batch every month.
Green Bullet was followed in 2014 by Dirty Katrina Russian imperial stout, and in August that year, focus shifted onto building the brand around those two beers. A year later, in mid-2015, they decided it was time to start looking for a brewery of their own, and to bring some of their production in-house.
“Of course, starting your own brewery is a whole different ballgame, and getting knowledge of the machinery takes time. As soon as we’d ordered the kit, we instantly decided it couldn't be us leading the brewing, because we'd not studied for it; we know how the process works, but not every detail of what happens inside a pump. So we were very lucky with our brew manager – he came from Brewdog and was really able to take up that challenge.”
Having doubled in size each year since its founding, I’m curious to hear what the future holds for Two Chefs, whether it can maintain its current trajectory and – crucially – whether the same party atmosphere still prevails.
“You’re asking if we’re slowing down?” laughs Martijn. “Not yet, no. Actually it gets more fun every week and every month. On the beer side, we’re constantly improving our own processes, so that's very satisfying. You also get more people in, and it's fun to work with a lot of people. Running a small brewery can be quite lonely!
“The last few years have been crazy just keeping up with demand, so this year we're trying to consolidate a bit; we want to make a lot of improvements in the brewery, get things running smoothly, add some tanks. We’ll see how it goes.”
One major development on the horizon is the Spring 2018 opening of Sanne and Martijn’s new Amsterdam restaurant; a high-end affair that will place beer squarely at the heart of the experience.
“We want to show people that beer really has parity with wine when it comes to food pairing,” continues Martijn. “The restaurants that feature beer at the moment tend to focus on fatty comfort food, but we’re really targeting the fine dining end of the market… There’s definitely room in Amsterdam for another high-end restaurant, and I think people here are ready to enjoy great beer in that kind of setting.”
The brewery tour complete, it’s time for lunch, and staff from across the offices and brewery floor assemble around the large kitchen table, as Sanne stands at the large gas stove, preparing spekpannekoek – traditional Dutch savoury pancakes. We polish these delicious treats off, wish lashings of syrup and a glass of chilli brown ale, straight from the tank. Full and happy, we must finally say our goodbyes to the whole team at Two Chefs, and reluctantly make our way back to the airport, and home.
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