Holtkamp’s croquettes are famous. Pastry chef Nico Meijles runs the business behind the renowned delicacies with his team. He also supplies cakes and cookies to the Dutch Royal Family, the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam catering establishments. Quite literally, a peek inside the kitchen of this culinary jack-of-all-trades.
Inside Nico’s office, an old stainless steel pan catches the eye. One of the handles is missing, and there are dents in it. “It was well used,” smiles Nico. “We made the first ragout in this for our croquettes. A lovely reminder of how it all began for us.”
Nico’s entrepreneurship is rooted in his youth. “I grew up on a farm in Voorhout. It was an extremely happy time until the business changed hands and our family had to move from a farm with cowsheds and a hayloft to something totally different. That made me aware of the fact that you have to make your own way in life. So, my entrepreneurial spirit was awakened in me early.”
Almost immediately after completing his training at the vocational school K.T.S. in Voorhout, Nico began working for his in-laws. Nico and his school sweetheart, Angela Holtkamp, took over the business in 2002. Cees’ croquettes had already featured on the menu of Café Luxembourg on the Spui in Amsterdam in 1990. Quite an achievement at that time. “But I wanted to keep on developing, to get better. To offer greater craftsmanship and more consistent quality. Cees, my father-in-law, was good friends with culinary journalist Johannes van Dam. We involved him very closely in the refinement of the croquettes, listening to his advice on flavour and texture. The same with top chef John Halvemaan and liqueur distiller Cees van Wees. We may have developed the most delicious croquettes ever.”
I wanted to keep on developing, to get better. To offer greater craftsmanship and more consistent quality.
The croquette kitchen in figures
With demand so high, a lot of hard work went on in the croquette kitchen. It became immediately clear that the dented pan was no longer sufficient. “In 2002, the croquette was still made entirely by hand. Step by step we mechanised the process. From 2005 onwards, we produced in a 600 m2 kitchen, equipped to the highest EC standards on hygiene. We had two large 350-litre ragout pots on the go. Seven hundred litres of stock for 1,500 kg of ragout every day.”
Focus and growth
Even though the business was flourishing, the enterprising couple decided to go their separate ways in 2013. “Combining home and business wasn’t working any more. Our dreams and ideas no longer matched. Angela wanted to keep the business small and cosy. I felt differently. I wanted to continue to develop and enable a lot of people to enjoy our pastries and croquettes.” Nico left the parent company on Vijzelgracht in the heart of Amsterdam to focus entirely on croquettes and pastries for the catering industry.
Nico is very candid about the help and advice he received from people such as Anton de Graaf and Steef Visser from Visser & Visser. “They helped me to settle all the financial and tax aspects. This meant that I could focus on developing my business. We’re here, doing well, and financially everything is organised down to the finest detail. We can conduct our business with confidence. When we look at where we’ve come from, I’m proud of the growth that we’ve achieved in such a short time. Visser & Visser is certainly a fine and stable partner to have on our side in business.”
Last year, croquette sales rose by 24%. “We will add a stockpot for the coming year. And also a special plucking machine for the meat for our slow-braised meat croquettes – a new addition to the range. The breadcrumbs for our croquettes are baked specially for us by the breadcrumbs producer De Korrel from Barneveld. However much other fellow croquette makers would want them to, this bakery makes the unique breadcrumbs just for Holtkamp for our exclusive thin and brittle crust.”
Every action on the shop floor is monitored precisely.
Every action on the shop floor is monitored precisely. “Weighing, measuring, cooking, cooling. Exact measurements for butter, flour, stock, spices, shrimps and meat. Outstanding fresh ingredients and all cooked by us. Precise cooking times. All to ensure the perfect flavour, composition and, especially, a consistent quality,” says Nico. “We pride ourselves on quality. Perfection doesn’t exist, but the road to it does.”
Incidentally, being the best does not just apply to croquettes. Nico also runs a patisserie with his team. “Around 50,000 cakes and pies and lots of butter biscuits as well as savouries and cheese biscuits fly off the shelves every year. Here too the focus is on process and pleasure; then growth takes care of itself…”
In the middle of explaining his plans for this branch of his business, he suddenly points to a life-sized advertisement for Holtkamp. “That’s my darling daughter. She wants to be a pastry chef too, and she’s full of wonderful and creative ideas. Perhaps the future of Holtkamp Patisserie… time will tell.”