Martijn Kajuiter at Michelin-starred The Cliff House Hotel

The  Staff Canteen

In association with

  Martijn Kajuiter is a big man – 6 feet 8 inches – with an equally large personality. After plying his trade in some of Europe’s top restaurants, the 38-year-old chef is now running the kitchen at Michelin-starred The Cliff House Hotel in County Waterford, Ireland. His love of cooking is in his DNA, he says, but he also wants to be out of the kitchen by roughly the age of 40. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how he intends to resolve this dilemma, and why everyone in his kitchen is saying “let’s go disco”.  Martijn, your CV reads like a list of the greatest restaurants in Europe. Could you briefly go over your career to date? As a child my parents had a café and I was always around the hospitality industry. I was infected with the DNA of it and a strong love for hospitality and I just loved to cook so when I finished school I went to work in a small hotel where I learned the basics. I worked at many of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Holland including Vermeer and Les Quatre Canetons under Wynand Vogel, before moving to London because it was the nineties and it was really happening there. I worked at La Tante Claire under Mr Koffmann, then Restaurant Marco Pierre White at the Hyde Park Hotel and I closed my three years in the UK at The Waterside Inn with Michel Roux. I went back to Holland and after a couple of years I became head chef at Gert Jan Hageman’s new opening in Amsterdam called Restaurant De Kas. I did that for seven years and after that I decided it was time to move on and the opportunity came up in Ireland so I decided to take it. And now you’re at The Cliff House Hotel. How are you finding it? It’s a nice clean slate. I had a bit of time to look around and come up with a plan and the first thing I did was to start up my own garden and nurseries, working with people with special needs from the nearby St Raphael’s Centre, who help us grow our herbs and vegetables. We opened in May 2008 and it’s been a roller coaster since then. It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years ago. We must be doing something right because although the ‘Celtic tiger’ has died off, we’ve still made a big jump forward. What’s the philosophy behind what you’re doing at The Cliff House? Well first of all a kitchen needs to have an identity and it needs to have a sense of location so I try to create menus that are as maximum as possible Irish. When I first came here I even had a rule about no red wine and no olive oil but that does make life very difficult for yourself. We cook what is freshest and most in season, as local as possible with a bit of flair and imagination, and we have that social element – working with the local society and helping out with some local charities. We have the foraging element as well although we don’t really shout about it much. And what are the star products and ingredients from your part of the world in County Waterford? The vegetables in general are great, then there’s the sea coast – the rock samphire, the dulse, the kelp, the sea spinach. There’s beautiful lamb, the beef is fantastic. There’s game and venison locally so you could almost be self-sufficient here. We have ducks, we have dairy farms. This side of Ireland is like your supermarket. You can go and get anything you want. There’s a local man I call ‘Strawberry Willy’ who sells me strawberries You’ve said elsewhere that you want to be out of the kitchen by roughly the age of 40. What’s the reason behind that? I can only say what works for me, but I think it’s important to move on at some point otherwise, before you know it, you’re a cranky, frustrated old man who isn’t fit and able anymore. Also I promised my wife that I would give my time back. She’s been very patient. I’ve got two children and there’s a third on the way and I need to make time for that especially because I’m living in Ireland and my wife is in Holland. Your second book is out, called ‘Let’s Go Disco’ which was a finalist in the Gourmand Awards 2012. Where does the name come from? It’s my catchphrase to get my staff going and motivated. We couldn’t find a title for the book. Everything was just sounding wrong and I didn’t want some naff title like ‘Cooking on the Edge’ or ‘I’ve Got a Passion for Food’. Then one day the owner of the hotel and the general manager said: “Look Martijn, every chef in the hotel and all the staff are saying ‘let’s go disco’ because of you.” So that just seemed like the best title because it sums me up and it’s just a bit different from all the other cookbook titles. And does that catchphrase sum up your attitude to the way you run a kitchen and treat your staff – a positive, inclusive approach? What you see is what you get with me. If I’m angry, I’m angry; if I’m happy, I’m happy. I’m a chef who talks to his staff and I don’t run my kitchen out of fear but I do give the impression that we want to win. Do I shout sometimes? Yes I do. Can I help myself? No.  But at the end of the day most of what we try to do here is based on positivity and working with people. I’m still a working chef and I run my own section because I love it and because I think that’s the place I ought to be. Cheffing is just what I do. I can’t say my motivation comes from this thing or that thing. The drive just comes from within me. Like I said before, it’s in my DNA.
In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th April 2013

Martijn Kajuiter at Michelin-starred The Cliff House Hotel