Chef X Grower

Cultivated with knowledge, harvested with care

Prestige selects the best fruit only. Professionals rely on that. Pastry chef Maurits van der Vooren and cultivator Jan van den Elzen spar about flavour, quality and size. ‘I want to be able to steer and assess myself.’

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King of summer

‘In the kitchen, it is incredibly important that we can count on a certain standard’, Maurits van der Vooren relays to cultivator Jan van den Elzen. ‘Size, flavour, quality, aroma, packaging, freshness…I don’t want to be concerned about any of those elements. How do you ensure these things in the greenhouse?’ Van den Elzen: ‘We harvest everything by hand. That is where the selection process begins. The colour needs to be nice and red when harvested. Some companies harvest their strawberries before they have completely ripened. They still gain some colour once harvested, but they don’t gain any sugars. That is definitely reflected in the flavour. I want Prestige to have only the best, sweetest strawberries, harvested at the perfect time. The ‘zomerkoninkjes’. Most strawberries that have been harvested fresh and at the perfect time, have a crown that is positioned upright. After a couple of days, it begins to flatten again because it loses moisture, but at the time of harvesting, the leaves must be standing up straight. The only way to accomplish that is by not making any concessions and selecting for the perfect quality and ripeness with a keen eye. Because I always want to be in control of the selection process myself, I didn’t want the company to grow too much.’ Van der Vooren: ‘You have that in common with chefs. They also want to be in control of everything.’

Sugar and numbers

Van den Elzen shows a plant. ‘The first fruit bared by a plant is easy to recognize. It is always the largest one. I know exactly which strawberries are the sweetest. A plant always has 100% sugar. If I allow 25 strawberries to grow, they each contain 4% of the sugar. But if I only leave 4 strawberries, they each get 25% of the sugar. That makes for a completely different flavour. This does of course reduce the yield of the plant, but the fruits are much tastier. And from that group of fruits, I select only the best ones for Prestige.’ Van der Vooren harvests and tastes a strawberry. Van den Elzen: ‘Most of the sugar is stored in the tip. Being a chef, you already know this, of course.’ Van der Vooren nods in approval and Van den Elzen is content. ‘Prestige strawberries have to be the absolute best of my harvest, a uniform size, hand-picked at the perfect time. That top-notch quality isn’t always there, sometimes you have to wait for it. Quality cannot be pushed, it is a true gift of nature.’