It’s a sunny weekend-about-town and I know just the place to go to for the freshest, tastiest ingredients and treats which, on the rare occasions when I’m not travelling and am ‘in residence’, I like to gather together for my favourite meal of the week: the lazy Sunday brunch.
One of life’s simple pleasures and which, along with the slouchy hoodie and flip-flops that are obligatory attire on said occasion, has become a bit of a tradition at my place, generally lasting several hours accompanied by endless cups of chai tea and coffees, catching up on the weekend papers and/or friends dropping by to share in the bounty!
Bilder & De Clercq is the place I’m headed to. The first of its kind in the city located in Amsterdam West, it is a newly opened grocery store with micro-bakery and cafe. Whether on foot, biking or travelling by tram, bus or car, Bilder & De Clercq is very easy to get to. Situated on the junction of Bilderstraat and De Clercqstraat, from whence it derives its name, just 10 minutes on the way in/out of the city. Simple.
And you know what else is simple? The whole concept behind the set-up of Bilder & De Clercq. In this day and age of online shopping and emerging augmented realities, how refreshing to have a proper old-school, new concept shopping experience where you can handle and smell the ingredients and even sample the finished article, cooked in the in-store demo kitchen before you buy! Everything here has been carefully thought through; from the individually selected fresh, mostly organic ingredients sourced locally, to the range of mouth-watering menus that the ingredients directly refer to. From the overall design scheme to the open layout and visual merchandising of the space and fixtures. From the clear and beautiful lifestyle visuals and POS to the smiley, friendly staff who ever so helpfully talk me through (in perfect English – thank you, Hein!) this new way of food shopping.
And it goes something like this: you’re on your way home after a long/hard/full-on day doing what you do when suddenly and with a lurching feeling in the stomach, remember that you need to get something for dinner. And please, you tell yourself, not another unhealthy take-out or uninspiring drag around the local supermarket to end up with a ready-made packet meal!
These are no longer the only options available. Walking past the big picture windows that frame the wonderful, bright open interior of Bilder & De Clercq, you are drawn in through the automatic sliding entry door which gently ‘swooshes’ open and shut. Once inside the interior designed as a collab between the owners and Amsterdam brand agency …,Staat, all is minimal and clean lines with muted, chalky grey, eggshell blue and cream tones, rich oak and bamboo timber accents, light industrial fixtures and fittings and a wonderfully aqua-coloured ceramic tiled counter which acts as a spacial and visual link that is the cafe servery, till point and weekend demo area, in one.
Picking up a shopping basket, you are ‘led’ through the space from one product display to the next, with the promise of the delicious meals waiting to happen, depicted in the big, bold, beautiful photographs above and in the recipe cards on each table. And then to the colourful displays of the produce itself: deep pink fresh radishes, bright spring greens, hot red chillies, wonderfully smelling herb plants, fresh sides and accompaniments and much, much more.
So you find an image which makes your mouth water (no easy task when there are 14 delicious recipes to choose from each week!) and picking up the recipe card with both written and visual ‘step-by-steps’, you collect up all the ingredients required that are already gathered together for you on the display unit, making it a simple ‘see it, buy it’ process: 2 cloves of garlic, a single butter pat, a packet of the exact quantity of risotto rice, 3 sprigs of herbs, 1 small butternut squash, a crisp white wine which compliments the flavours. And viola! You have everything you need to produce a wholesome and delicious meal at home from as little as Eur 3,50, without any real effort on your part, apart of course, from having good taste!
As I write I really want to emphasise the pleasure aspect involved in this visit as I generally lose the will to live when it comes to shopping, food shopping especially. But with Bilder & De Clercq, it becomes a whole different experience.
My basket for the occasion of Sunday brunch includes freshly baked, organic walnut and apple bread, ‘farmhouse’ made raspberry jam, fresh fruit juices, free range eggs, tasty worst and local cheeses.
Whilst here, I can easily pick out supplies for Monday’s supper following the dreaded late finish in the office… and for Wednesday evening’s cook-over with friends… in fact delicious ingredients and menu ideas for every day of the week, every week of the year should I so wish!
A few days later I drop by to chat with co-founder, Diederik van Gelder who, along with business partner Rogier Leopold, launched the store in February of this year. This was after 2 years of concepting, developing and refining the brand to provide the type of product and service offer that these two exacting, ex-marketing execs would want to visit and shop in for themselves.
So committed were the partners to the idea that they gave up their City jobs, rolled up their shirt sleeves and got stuck in with every aspect of the project, even doing a stint as interns with a food supplier and distributor, so as to learn the ropes from the bottom up.
Diederik explains the relationships that Bilder & De Clercq has nurtured with local farms and producers enabling the company to identify exactly where ingredients come from (a relief in light of recent European food scandals!), mostly all from within a 15km radius. Where the retailer and suppliers have negotiated fair and reciprocal terms enabling them to order smaller, specific quantities of ingredients on a ‘sale or return’ basis. This means that there is little if no wastage (i.e. if a recipe requests 3 tomatoes or 2 eggs or 1 tablespoon of stock, then 3 tomatoes or 2 eggs or 1 tablespoon of stock is what you purchase; this instead of the usual multi-pack system for example, which inevitably means the remaining items ending up in the bin by week end or being pushed to the back of your food cupboard!) and a regular turnaround of products, keeping the company, the supplier and the customer happy and a healthy interdependency encouraged where each party ultimately contributes to the arrangement and gains long-term benefits.
The feeling is ‘local’, where the customer feels part of a foodie club, even instagram-ing, Tweeting and FB-ing images on social network sites to proudly showcase the results of their efforts, post-shopping!
But I digress somewhat. This blog is supposed to be about curated spaces and here I am waxing on about the wonderful produce, service offer, staff and shopper experience. And I easily justify it by saying that the whole set-up is carefully ‘curated’ to be beneficial for all involved in what is ultimately a ‘partnership’ between the local producer, Bilder & De Clercq and the customer. Interconnected. Interdependent.
Which is how it is.