From the sea to the land of opportunities: Dutch chef Paul Oppenkamp, owner of the restaurant The Artist

Dutch chef Paul Oppenkamp, who is the Chef and Owner of restaurant The Artist in Bucharest, talked to Originally from Hoorn and having graduated the School of Culinary Arts in Heeruwgowaard, Oppenkamp moved to Romania in 2012 together with his Romanian wife.

For how long have you been living/working in Romania? What brought you here in the first place?

I met my wife, who is from Bucharest, in 2005 and since then we have visited Romania every year. In 2012 we decided to move to Bucharest and open our own restaurant.

What do you do here in Romania?

I am the Chef / Owner of Restaurant The Artist. The concept was built in trends with one of the worldwide culinary movement towards modern cuisine. Quality ingredients, prepared with modern cooking techniques is our approach, while creating an interaction with our guests at the table. I experienced local cuisines from all around the world in my 11-year career at sea. At a basic level, food is vital in our lives, but there is the high level in form of art that brings satisfaction and value to dining in a restaurant. It’s the highest risk you accept when differentiating so much from the market, but it turns out, the community is looking for a change.

Where else in the world have you worked/lived or just traveled? For what projects?

My career started in Holland, and it has taken me to London, Tahiti and various cruise lines such as SilverSea and Regent Seven Seas. My last position was as executive chef on board the largest private mega yacht The World. I managed a team of 60 over 7 restaurants. This was also the greatest developmental experience for me, as I was constantly being challenged to create new dishes, driven by the high demands of well-traveled and culinary experts.

What is your favorite place in Romania and why? When and how did you discover it?

My favorite place is in the garden of my Romanian grandmother, she lives close to Buzau, whenever we want to escape the city, that’s the place to go, fresh air, fresh food from the garden, a great experience each time we visit.

What don’t you like in Romania? What would you change about it?

Strictly from a professional standpoint, I wish there was more availability of products / ingredients for our kitchen and restaurant. There has been an improvement over the years and we are lucky to be assisted by some dedicated people that continuously make the effort to source the products we ask for, but of course, there has to be a demand on the market to maintain constantly the availability in season.

How do you spend your free time in Romania? What would you recommend to others?

My free time is on Mondays when the restaurant is closed. Being almost a year since we opened, we maintain our focus on the business, it’s important to evolve, to continue adding value to what we do. So I can only say that for the moment, I haven’t done much other than research for what we want to achieve here. From the past years’ visits, I can say that the city, Bucharest, has a lot to offer, it is a city of evolution while keeping the values of its past. And Romania has treasures not yet found and its land has value waiting to explore. If you love wine, I recommend a tour of wineries; it is unbelievable the quality Romania provides on the wine market. And best of all, most of the premium wines made here, you can only drink on Romanian soil.

What do you think is your biggest accomplishment in life so far? Give us a few details please.

I started my career when I was 14 years old, purely because of passion for the culinary arts; I went to the Culinary Art School for four years and worked my way up from a dishwasher to become executive chef by the age of 24. Working in the kitchen is a constant process of improvements and achievements. Based on the choices I made, from creating menus for royal families, well-traveled clientele, presidents and many others while working for The World has given me the strength for my biggest opportunity ever; opening my own restaurant.

What are you passionate about? How often do you get to pursue your passion in Romania?

My biggest passion is my job, what I get to do in the hospitality industry, creating a customized product to offer in our restaurant. It is about the food, but it is more about the whole experience for my guests from the beginning to the end of their dining experience with us. This concept is built on creativity, it constantly requires sourcing and so my focus and passion remains in this field and I pursue it in Romania every day. I considered myself lucky to perform in the area I am passionate about.

What are the main pieces of advice you’d give foreigners who plan to come to Romania?

Make sure you don’t miss the many things the country has to offer, from seaside, to mountains, to a great nightlife in Bucharest, the excellent local wines, cuisine and its history.

How would you describe Romanian cuisine?

Most important very tasty and surprising, the great thing about it is that it changes with the seasons and the availability of products, ensuring that you will always enjoy a freshly cooked meal.

What is your favorite Romanian food?

My absolute favorite is Ciorba de Perisoare, furthermore I like Ardei Umplut, Salate de Boeuf and I have a weak spot for some freshly grilled Mici from the BBQ.

Interview by Corina Chirileasa,

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