Battling — and Bottling — Potential Food Waste

When a Dutch department store went bankrupt this spring, tons of tomatoes ordered for the retailer were in danger of going to waste — until RAI Amsterdam Convention Center's chefs stepped in.

rai_ketchup_chefsThe culinary team at the RAI Amsterdam Convention Center feeds 1.5 million visitors per year, and they prepare those meals from a complex of tunnels and cellars underneath the building. So the name they’ve given themselves — the Basement Chefs — seems to fit, especially when you consider their creative and “underground” approach to potential food waste.
This spring, when Dutch department store chain Vroom & Dreesman (V&D) went bankrupt, tons of produce intended for the retailer’s on-site restaurants suddenly had nowhere to go. The Basement Chefs received a phone call from a city farm, Stadskwekerij Osdorp, tipping them off to the food, and asked if the RAI team wanted to help keep it from going to waste.
They certainly did. Together with culinary consultant Walter Abma (an advisor to the farm), they hatched a plan for the tomatoes: An RAI-branded ketchup. “We ended up developing our own product line, together with Abma, that also includes basil olive oil and red-apple vinegar,” said Rientz Mulder, executive chef of RAI Amsterdam. “All have been made with local ingredients and using recipes that reflect the RAI’s Dutch roots.”
Visitors can taste and purchase the condiments at RAI Amsterdam — but unfortunately, the products can’t be shipped out of the country. In the meantime, the chefs plan to continue to innovate and partner with local producers as part of sustainable catering efforts they’ve called “Heart-warming Amsterdam.”
“They call themselves the Basement Chefs with good reason,” said Abma. “They have a no-nonsense attitude and give everything their own spin.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.