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Chef Sammy D Debuts Wyers at Kimpton de Witt in Amsterdam

Chef Sammy D in Action

When Kimpton opened its first European property, the Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam, the hotel wanted to make a quick splash on the city’s dining scene. To do so, they handed the executive chef reins to chef Sammy “Sammy D” DeMarco and allowed him to impart his culinary preferences, but also his personality, onto the food being served at Wyers.

The restaurant debuted this summer after DeMarco already had his boots on the ground in Amsterdam for nearly a year prior to its opening. Not only was he helping to get things up and running and overall, but he was participating in a mix of what you could call local culinary immersion, not to mention personal acclimation time. After all, it’s not just DeMarco who made the move from the states to Amsterdam, but his three kids as well. “I put it all on the line to be here,” he says.

Chef Sammy D (Photo Credit: Rinse Vegelien)

Located right in the heart of the bustling city center area of Amsterdam and its literal boatloads of tourists, there’s no denying that the restaurant is appealing to the traveler. It’s designed to offer elevated cuisine without the weight of a stuffy, white tablecloth atmosphere. Many restaurants in the city find themselves at the far ends of the casual to “fine dining” spectrum without much wiggle room in the middle, and DeMarco is trying to close the gap with Wyers.

Dutch Negroni (Photo Credit: Jake Emen)

Grab a seat at the bar or a high-top table, or an open stool at the chef’s counter, where you’ll quite literally feel the heat from the kitchen and its wood-burning grill. Enjoy a beer, or even a beer cocktail, or try one of the bar’s classic cocktail riffs, whether it’s a house G&T variation, or their Dutch Negroni, subbing in genever for a heartier rendition.

The bar also showcases a diverse list of whiskey, including several American craft whiskeys at accessible prices. For a traveler who hasn’t been stateside for several months, seeing something such as Few Bourbon was a welcome slice of home.

Before or after dinner, you could also stop into the House Bar in the lobby of the hotel. If Wyers has made a quick culinary impression, House Bar has succeeded just as much with its craft cocktails, finding a place alongside the better cocktail bars in Amsterdam.

The Evolution of Amsterdam

DeMarco describes Wyers as an upscale casual restaurant that offers a mix of American dishes highlighted by his own influences and interpretations of local ingredients and staples. “Amsterdam is evolving,” DeMarco says, adding that he’s eager to be part of the process. “And my food will evolve as I’m here, too.”

But we have to appeal to locals, too.

He hopes the approach will end up resonating with locals as well, creating a friendly atmosphere filled with regulars, not simply a constant churn of in and out travelers. “Tourists might pay the bills,” DeMarco says, estimating between 60 and 70% of customers to potentially be tourists, “But we have to appeal to locals, too.”

For instance, the menu offers the Amsterdam staple of bitterballen, but his are made from the scratch and stuffed with a rich concoction of oxtail and bone marrow, served with house-mustard and horseradish to cut into its fried unctuousness. “Why not fuck around with these,” DeMarco asks rhetorically to anyone who cares to listen.

Wings & Bitterballen (Photo Credit: Jake Emen)

Elsewhere, DeMarco continues to offer a mix of his own cuisine and influences alongside local ingredients. He transforms lamb chops and mint jelly into a raucous modern rendition with roasted Dutch lamb and a weaving array of flavors and textures –mint-jalapeno pesto, curry oil, couscous, peas, and carrots.

I always say if wings come out too fast, don’t eat them.

On the rest of the menu, find charcuterie and cheese boards, grilled appetizers and assorted bar bites. Stay classic with an overflowing bowl of moules made with a beer and cream sauce or hanger steak and frites, or try something more adventurous, such as a sweetbread salad or DeMarco’s new take on chicken puttanesca. For the latter, he stuffs chicken breasts with smoked eel to provide a distinctive funky-saltiness to his riff.

Stuffed Chicken (left), Onion Soup (right) photos taken by Rinse Vegelien

Yet at the same time, the menu offers one of his all-time bar-friendly classics, the lollipop chicken wings. Deceptively simple but outrageously delicious, they’re chopped up and cooked to order – “I always say if wings come out too fast, don’t eat them,” DeMarco says, noting these are cooked for 8 to 10 minutes – and remain one of his signature dishes.

Over two decades ago in the East Village, DeMarco became known for his wings at his first restaurant. He rejected the accolades at first, saying, “I didn’t want to be the ‘wings chef.’” Soon though, he embraced it as well as another role he became famous for – “The chef feeding chefs.”

Even as he has gone onto accomplish quite a bit more since then, there is hardly a higher accolade than that. But at Wyers, he’s embracing the next challenge and the next phase of his career. He’s also happy to be part of what you may call a reverse commute for chefs. Traditionally, European-trained chefs have often headed stateside to run kitchens, open restaurants and explore new ventures. In his case, he’s taking his American approach to the continent. “It’s very cool to be an American chef coming here,” he says.

Wyres’ Interior (Photo Credit: Rinse Vegelien)

You’d be hardpressed to lump DeMarco into any category though. He’s doing what he does best, in the only way he knows how, and the restaurant certainly speaks to his own out-sized influence.

So what’s this place really all about? “Going global,” DeMarco says. “Cooking for the people. Having fun.”

He says he’s relishing his time in the kitchen, and actually being a “cook” rather than just a face or an absentee executive chef designing menus from thousands of miles away. But make no mistake, DeMarco is a showman, and clearly enjoys interacting with guests, and most of all, getting some time in the spotlight. So at the end of the journey, don’t be surprised if there may even be a long-awaited book in the works. “It would be cool to put something on paper,” DeMarco says. If it reads like he talks, and like his food tastes, it will certainly be one to grab from the shelves.

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Written by Jake Emen

Jake Emen is a spirits and lifestyle writer currently based in Washington, D.C. His drinks coverage has been published in Whisky Advocate, Liquor.com, Vice Munchies, Liquor.com, Tales of the Cocktail, Washington Post Express, Distiller, Roads & Kingdoms, and a range of other outlets. He also runs his own site, ManTalkFood.com, and can be followed on Twitter, @ManTalkFood.

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