Chef Jeroen Achtien two Michelin stars

QL Culinary02021-02-01

After more than eight years at De Librije (Zwolle, the Netherlands, 3 Michelin stars), chef Jeroen Achtien gave up the security of a Michelin star kitchen for an adventure in Switzerland. On Lake Lucerne he opened Restaurant Sens at Hotel Vitznauerhof, along with his Dutch girlfriend Sanne and a team of 11 Dutch colleagues who came in his wake. Achtien worked day and night to develop his own flavours and woo Swiss guests with his distinctive dishes. It took a little over six months for him to achieve his first major success: GaultMillau named him as the best newcomer of 2018. ‘On the way to the Gault & Millau award ceremony, I worked out that by that time, we’d already had 2,200 guests at the fine-dining restaurant Sens. People say we’re really innovative for Switzerland.’ 

Own style 
Achtien is a down-to-earth Dutchman, originally from Friesland in the north. His Swiss adventure with his girlfriend started a little more than a year ago, and it wasn’t entirely risk free. The culinary super-talent left behind hearth, home and a top job as a sous-chef. Part of the job was to provide training courses on behalf of De Librije for chefs on the Holland America Line, so the famous cruise company could serve a full De Librije dinner on board. Achtien brought the chefs up to speed with the techniques and recipes from the famous kitchen of De Librije’s chef Jonnie Boer. ‘That’s how I met the father of the previous executive chef at Vitznauerhof. He said his son was going to leave Vitznauerhof and asked if I was up for a new adventure. For a long time I didn’t even consider the idea, but eventually I got back to him. I was finally persuaded by the prospect of being able to do my own thing entirely and present my own style of cuisine, with all the responsibilities that come with it.’ 

Achtien’s fare is far from familiar in Switzerland, so he values the eventual acceptance and appreciation all the more. ‘The Swiss had to get used to our cuisine,’ he says. ‘We don’t just serve traditional Swiss dishes. We were looking for guests who were open to innovation and an associated palette of flavours. Of course, we had trouble at first, especially in creating the menu. We leaned too heavily on Swiss cuisine, but it’s not in our culinary blood. We realised it wasn’t working, and we soon decided to start telling our own story, but using quality Swiss products. This turned out to be an innovative idea. Our dish using warm Stanser Fladä, a typical Swiss unpasteurised cheese, is a good example. We serve it with celeriac juice, fermented grapes and yuzu [Japanese citrus fruit, ed.] The combination of flavours proved to be a bullseye. The same goes for the monkfish with sauerkraut, including bacon from the local smokehouse just nearby.’ 

In no time the papers and magazines were raving about Achtien and his colleagues. Everyone had the same message: ‘Go to Sens, go to Jeroen Achtien.’ Achtien’s young team is made up of a surprising mix of different nationalities, and includes a large Dutch contingent who followed Achtien over the Alps. He counts out loud and grins when he comes up with the number: ‘There are 11 of us.’ The reason for all the Dutch people is simple, Achtien explains. ‘It’s just that we needed staff. All the sous-chefs had left, and all the chefs de partie too. So I turned to social media. I posted a message on Facebook and Instagram saying that I was going on a new adventure and I was looking for people to go with me to Switzerland. I’d drawn up my own shortlist of colleagues that I wanted to take with me. It included one of my present sous-chefs Marcel Koolen, for example – I’d worked with him at De Librije. Marcel was planning to go on a round-the-world trip. Luckily I persuaded him to change his mind, and in the end, we’re now working together. He brings energy and creativity to the kitchen.’ 

Discover hotel