David Van Steenkiste spent ten years as a chef. He then started working as a herbalist at Sergio Herman's Pure C in the Netherlands. What began as being a herbalist for one top chef has grown into a business - Herbas. “I currently supply herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables to 20 Michelin star restaurants in the Netherlands and Belgium," says David.
All of David's products come from the now-closed three-star restaurant, Hertog Jan's herb garden. This eatery is in Zedelgem, Belgium. Things like Japanese chives, Huacatay, and Szechuan peppers grow in this two-hectare garden. "Star chefs could not be bothered with the usual herbs, like rosemary and thyme."
Huacatay looks similar to hemp. It is a favorite among top chefs.
David not only supplies star restaurants. He also sells to hotel, catering, and restaurant wholesalers in Belgium and the Netherlands. “Rungis in Paris will soon be added. I am currently working with a partner to set up a business. I want to open a sales location in Rungis. This partner will also take over my logistical activities. I will then be able to focus better on my products and range," says Van Steenkiste.
Local, Japanese, and cocktail herbs
“It is becoming increasingly trendy to use local products. Here, price plays a major role. Top restaurants are also price-conscious. They would rather choose a cheaper, local herb than a more expensive imported variety."
"We have also noticed a high demand for herbs that complement Japanese or Asian dishes. The demand for cocktail herbs is also increasingly considerably. Before, high-end restaurants used to only serve wine. Now, you see a lot more cocktails and mixes on the menu. Herbs are often used for these," continues David.
The herbalist has developed various herb mixes, in partnership with Hanos. These will be on wholesalers' shelves soon. "I use herbs and edible flowers in these mixes. These are all grown locally. I also dry them myself. I work with a social work group to package these products."
"I also get help from people with social limitation in my garden. About nine people come every week to help me maintain the garden," says David. He and different chefs will soon be publishing a book. It will be about these use of herbs and edible flowers.
Herbas tea mix
Brussels Sprout chips
David does not only grow and trade in herbs and edible flowers. He also experiments with freeze-drying flowers and vegetables. "In the summer, we freeze-dry flowers. We can then offer these in the winter too."
"We are working with the government. We are going to do a test run to try and introduce freeze-dried chips to children. These chips are made from Brussels Sprouts," explains Van Steenkiste.
"There is also currently a container on site. In it, we do lit herb cultivation. We plan to add four more of these containers soon. They will be used to test growing different kinds of herbs and vegetables."
“To fulfill the chefs' demands, we try to offer a large, unusual range. We also try to update it continually. I use social media a lot. I get 90% of my orders via Instagram, Facebook, and Whatsapp. I take photos of all the products I have available. The orders then stream in."
"I have noticed that Dutch chefs are more adventurous when it comes to using herbs than their Belgian counterparts. Belgians like to play it safe, while Dutch chefs like to experiment," concludes David.