Dutch masterchef Angélique Schmeinck works in and above the clouds / Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck
Interview with Angélique Schmeinck

Up, up and away in my beautiful dining balloon

When Angélique Schmeinck cooks, the Michelin-starred chef from Holland thinks in meters rather than oven temperatures. That is because she cooks her signature dishes way up above the clouds inside a hot air balloon – probably the biggest oven in the world. It is part of her hot air balloon restaurant CuliAir Skydining, floating high up in the skies above Holland – and sometimes the Alps. Ms. Schmeinck also takes credit for making Dutch cuisine more creative. She invented culinary mind mapping.

In a moment, the meal will be hoisted into the dome of the balloon where the temperature is 90 degrees / Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck

European Food Journal: Ms. Schmeinck, you are a Dutch master chef, and you own the hot air balloon restaurant CuliAir Skydining. This is a very special and unique culinary journey high above the Netherlands.

Angélique Schmeinck: Yes, and it’s also the adventure and excitement of being in the air. With a hot air balloon, you can go up 3 km high, sometimes even above the clouds. So imagine being in the basket of a balloon with a wonderful glass of champagne, a nice sea bass or lobster on your plate. You are going through the clouds – and above the clouds, the sun is shining.

European Food Journal: That really sounds fantastic. Did you fulfill a personal dream with balloon dining?

Angélique Schmeinck: Sure. I started with CuliAir Skydining in 2003.

European Food Journal: How did you hit on that idea?

Angélique Schmeinck: Well, it’s as simple as it is logical. The art of imagination as well as the courage to fantasize are both important in creating things like that. For me as a chef, it was important to realize that the balloon is a very large hot air oven. Since the hot air rises, I had to ask myself what would happen if I hung up all kinds of food inside the balloon.

European Food Journal: What temperature can we expect to find there?

Angélique Schmeinck: The average temperature is about 90°C, which is close to that of an ordinary kitchen oven. At this temperature, slow cooking is possible. It actually takes more time until everything is done, but all the juice remains inside the fish or chicken. The protein doesn’t dry out as is the case when food is heated at higher temperatures.

European Food Journal: Tell us a bit about the cooking show during the flight.

Angélique Schmeinck: We use the hot air in the balloon for cooking. Therefore, the balloon is equipped with a control system. Iron baskets carrying the dishes like fish, chicken or mussels are pulled up to a height of approximately 45 m, just below the dome of the balloon. The temperature is about 90°C there. When the dishes are done, they come down with the help of the control system and I pick them up. Then I start my live cooking show on a table that projects outside the basket where I add vegetables and sauces to the dishes.

Hot air balloon restaurant with mountain view / Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck

European Food Journal: That sounds rather dangerous.

Angélique Schmeinck: It’s not. The balloon was built in England to be very safe. It is kitted out with the best possible technical equipment for balloon cooking.

European Food Journal: When do you know the food is cooked?

Angélique Schmeinck: We did a lot of experiments to get find the answer to just that question. On board, we also have sensors. They allow us to determine the temperatures at all different heights. Thus, as regards the cooking, I have to think in meters.

Dining for the adventurous: Strong spices and flavours / Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck

European Food Journal: How would you describe the dining experience?

Angélique Schmeinck: It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We go ballooning in Holland and sometimes in Austria, too. For example, in winter we go ballooning above the Alps in a 3.5 hour trip on which I serve glühwein and winter dishes.

European Food Journal: When you are ballooning in Holland, what do you see when you look down?

Angélique Schmeinck: We often fly over the province of Gelderland, located in the heart Holland. There are windmills, meadows, rivers and beautiful landscapes to see.

European Food Journal: Do you serve Dutch cuisine on board?

Angélique Schmeinck: I always use seasonal and regional products from our country such as green or white asparagus, organic chickens which had a “happy outdoor life” and mushrooms from the woods. Also, we source our seafood from the Dutch coast, where wild sea bass is one of the native species.

European Food Journal: What about the recipes?

Angélique Schmeinck: I have my own style of cooking, which means combining regional products with the art of lateral thinking. It’s all about the essence of tastes and flavours. Our guests are having a big adventure; their senses are wide open. Therefore, I serve dishes with a great depth of character, which balance with the taste of adventure.

Creative ideas are what set Dutch cuisine apart / Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck
 

European Food Journal: Does that mean you wouldn’t serve the Dutch national dish stamppot during the flight just because it would not be adventurous enough?

Angélique Schmeinck: That’s true, but there are exceptions. In winter time, I probably would cook stamppot, of course a very special one with spices and concentrated flavours so that it would become a really exciting dish.

European Food Journal: How do guests react to the dining experience high in skies?

Angélique Schmeinck: They are all flabbergasted.

European Food Journal: Speaking of the food culture in the Netherlands: Is your balloon restaurant part of this culture?

Angélique Schmeinck: I would instead say that CuliAir Skydining is part of the creative thinking for which our country is famous.

Schmeinck’s own special contribution to Dutch dining culture: Culinary Mind Mapping

European Food Journal: Can the balloon restaurant also be understood as a way of escaping the cliché that the Netherlands is a mere cheese country?

Angélique Schmeinck: This cliché is absurd. We have long been well known for our creativity, for our high ranking when it comes to Michelin stars. There are many new young chefs who know the art of cooking creatively and healthily. And, yes, it’s true that stamppot can even be served in a restaurant with three Michelin stars as long as it is prepared with the best potatoes, vegetables and cooking techniques. Then it can have a place in your memory as a meaningful dish. As you can see, tourists need to go a little bit further to discover the mentality of Dutch cuisine.

European Food Journal: By the way, what do you see as your own contribution to the culinary landscape of the Netherlands?

Angélique Schmeinck: I invented the so-called culinary mind map to help creativity take a giant leap forward in Dutch cuisine. I wrote a book about it called “Flavour Friends”. Just for a short explanation of flavour friends, please name a vegetable from your home country.

European Food Journal: Sauerkraut.

Angélique Schmeinck: All right, here we go. What matches best with sauerkraut? As an answer you can perhaps come up with seven ingredients because your short-term memory can only remember seven things. You may say: “I put some cream in it, add different spices or fruits.”

Copyright: Sky Dining and Masterchef Angélique Schmeinck

European Food Journal: In comparison, what can be achieved with the culinary mind map?

Angélique Schmeinck:Just to stay with our example, I put the word sauerkraut at the center of the culinary mind map. All around it, I put down about 175 best food relationships for sauerkraut. Without this mind map, you wouldn’t be able to think of such a great number of best friends for sauerkraut. In my book I developed this kind of culinary mind map for 82 different vegetables.

European Food Journal: What are your own very best friends for sauerkraut?

Angélique Schmeinck: I would recommend potatoes. Sauerkraut with oysters, walnuts and potatoes is also one of my favourites. You have the saltiness of the oyster, the creamy texture of the potatoes, a nice fish flavour and the crunch of the walnuts.

European Food Journal: Is there anything else that would help someone discover his or her own creativity?

Angélique Schmeinck: It’s always worth taking your time to find the right answer about what is missing from a dish. So don’t think too hard to find the answer immediately. Just remember what Albert Einstein did: When he couldn’t find the solution to a problem at once, he just lay down on a sofa and trusted his creative mind with the hope that the answer would pop up before his eyes at some stage. And that is usually what happened. Two days or a week later, he found the right answer. What a far more relaxing way to find creative solutions!

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European Food

Food Special 2016

In this issue: Futura Robotica S.r.l. - End-line technology at its best / Erik Thun AB - Dine at the captain’s table / Spendrups Bryggeri AB - Drinks at the heart of the occasion / Skanem AS - Smart labelling solutions

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