Garnish is out, plate flavour is in. TUCO members got to grips with the new global obsession with microgreens on the latest Study Tour to Rotterdam.

Markthal marketWe are always looking for ways to add flavour to our dishes, but why do we always start with salt and pepper? The TUCO Study Tour to Koppert Cress in the Netherlands aimed to show members why ‘plate flavour’ is the most important innovation around, with microgreens offering endless flavours and complementing our search for wellness. It was a packed schedule, with two full days of visits to suppliers and the ‘Cressperience’, the innovation day was offered by Koppert Cress, from its HQ in the Netherlands.

But don’t think this was all about eating cress. The Koppert Cress business had a lot to teach delegates, with a forward-thinking restaurant concept that gives huge consideration to the wellbeing of its staff.

No trip to the Netherlands could be complete without visiting Markthal, the beautiful market in Rotterdam, built in 2014 as an on-trend hub of local and international produce with Instagrammable architecture, not to mention an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.

For many delegates on the tour, this was their first experience of meeting the suppliers who work at the start of the supply chain, which really opened their eyes to the journey ingredients take from field to wholesaler, to the kitchen back door.

This insight continued with a visit to Nature’s Pride, the company best known for their ready to eat avocados and mangoes, and to Tomatoworld, which has 80 different tomato varieties and innovative healthy snacking concept, Tommies Tomatoes.

To say that Koppert Cress supplies microgreens would be an understatement. To them, cress is flavour. ‘Architecture aromatique’ is their tag line, and to prove their point, TUCO members were treated to 15 tasting dishes using different varieties of microgreens to create different dishes, from savoury to sweet, to wheatgrass shots and specialist ingredients.

Koppert Cress chefsThe Koppert Cress chefs aimed to show, explains Jane Eve, head of contracts at TUCO who led the tour, that “Microgreens should be incorporated into a dish rather than used as decoration on the top”. The two development chefs used the latest cooking techniques to show how these small plants can change your perception of flavour, fragrance, feel or presentation.

Delegates were given a tour of the facility and the state-of-the-art greenhouse – the most efficient greenhouse in the world – and learned about the process from seed to dispatch area, where the greens are distributed on the same day they leave the greenhouse to the Dutch traders and wholesalers, located no more than 40km away.

Members even had the chance to influence new product development, something Koppert Cress is always working on. On the day of their visit there were six different microgreens in development and samples were handed round for delegates to taste and comment on the flavour and event suggest a name for the products.

The study tour to Koppert Cress offered more than learning about adding depth of flavour with microgreens. Delegates got to see a revolutionary restaurant concepts within Koppert Cress HQ that gives new meaning to health and wellbeing. Koppert Cress owner Rob Baan understands that every member of his staff must be happy and healthy in order to do their job to the best of their ability. This is clearly shown around the building, with an open plan office and booth for staff to take private calls. Even their desks can be raised to allow them to work from standing to aid digestion after lunch.

delegates on tour“The thinking is that all offices must provide a safe working environment but to go one step further and fuel staff properly to get the best out of them,” explains Jane.

Out of this idea was born Rob and Bob Fair Food, a staff restaurant that promotes healthy eating. Not only do menus aim to incorporate 80% vegetables and 20% eat or fish – the Dutch cuisine principle – but if staff choose the healthy dishes on the menu then they can eat for free.

There is no salt of sugar in any of the dishes and there are growing pods of microherbs on each table with little scissors for customers to flavour their own dishes; an alternative to salt and pepper. There are two soup options and four different types of water – containing fruit or herbs – that offer to either detox or energise, and all soft drinks are banned.

To add to this, the company set a goal in 2017 for all staff to lose more than 500kg through using the company restaurant.

The dining area is open plan, contemporary and cosy, with plants growing all around (supplied by gardeners local to the area), offering a very different experience to the typically industrious workplace of a food manufacturer.

Such is the interest in the healthy eating concept that the Rob and Bob concept is now being offered to other businesses.

Koppert Cress presentation

Koppert Cress food

"The greatest trip I have ever been on, and possibly one of the most amazing trips that I have experienced. This trip was so informative in both business and cultural knowledge, the connections that Paul had really made the trip what it was and Jane did an amazing job being the liaison for the group. I would go on this trip over and over again."

– Delegate from Royal Holloway University

"A good networking experience. It was exceptionally nice to see Jack one of our old students being part of the Koppert Cress Innovation and Development team taking part in the tasting menu delivery."

- Delegate from University College Birmingham

"I learned that these micro cresses can be a lot more than garnish. They are plate flavours. I would use these cresses on plated dinners and fine dining hospitalities."

- Delegate from Royal Holloway University