The best chefs are not always found in five-star restaurants; if you’re lucky, you’ll find one at a Restaurant Day Amsterdam pop-up called Sensations, and her name will be Aline Dillinger.
Sensations made a stunning debut at the February 2013 edition of Restaurant Day Amsterdam, and Aline handled the pressure of her own debut as a chef with the grace of a professional. Together with her friends Oana and Ilinca, and their partners Andrey and Guido, they served around 38 four-course dinners and won rave reviews for their from-scratch, fresh, and sometimes secret recipes. The ambiance of Sensations was relaxed, and the smells that greeted guests at the door raised expectations for what was to come. The opulent colours decorating the room and tables contributed to a warm, welcoming feeling and paralleled the rich colours which appeared on the plates.
Aline is French but draws much of her inspiration from Asian cuisine, and prior to moving to the Netherlands, spent three years living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. When asked about this period of her life Aline explained, “This is the time that I became a vegetarian, and with so many new influences, my cooking style changed drastically. I started to experiment with French and Asian fusion, with my own vegetarian twist.” After moving to the Netherlands and not always feeling satisfied when dining out, Aline was even more determined to cook at home. This is when she really developed her talent; constantly searching for, reading, and experimenting with new recipe combinations, ingredients and flavours.
On trips to her hometown of Niedernai, France, Aline’s mom is always eager to sample her daughter’s delectable dishes, even though the cuisine of the Alsatian region is delicious in its own right. In fact, Aline’s advice for anyone travelling to Alsace it that the best way to savour the flavours of the region is to enjoy Alsatian cuisine in the home of a local. Given that this isn’t always possible, the next best thing is to dine at small countryside restaurants; there you can also find authentic choucroute, tarte flambée and a crisp Riesling.
In addition to being a food lover’s paradise, Alsace also offers many things to keep you busy in between meals. The capital of the region, Strasbourg, has a stunning gothic cathedral and a charming Petite-France district, located on the Grande Île, the historic centre of the city. This district was the tanning-house and slaughterhouse area of Strasbourg in the Middle Ages, but is now filled with delightful brown and white half-timbered houses and baroque sandstone buildings.
If you want to explore outside of Strasbourg, then it’s best to have a car in order to hit the Route des Vins d’Alsace, the wine route of Alsace. It’s more than 170 kilometres long and passes through around 100 towns and villages, so take as many days as you need, or make your own route. One town worth stopping in is definitely Dambach-la-Ville; it’s a great starting point for an afternoon walk through the vineyards, topped off with a visit and tasting at the Ruhlmann winery.
Enjoying a meal isn’t just about the food; it’s the way the food looks on your plate. It’s the quality of the ingredients, the balance of taste, and the overall atmosphere of your surroundings.
It’s no wonder that with such a strong culinary upbringing, Aline is such an excellent cook. At the moment she’s experimenting with vanilla salt; flavouring salt with a vanilla pod and using the aromatic and tasty result in salad dressings and carrot ginger soup, among other creations. When asked to finish the sentence ‘Enjoying a meal isn’t just about the food…’ Aline replied, “It’s the way the food looks on your plate. It’s the quality of the ingredients, the balance of taste, and the overall atmosphere of your surroundings.” All elements she’s no doubt working to perfect.
Even when on holiday, Aline is thinking about cooking. She likes to visit food markets to see what products are available, buy spices, take cooking classes, look at menus for inspiration, and of course, eat. Her ideal food-related destination is Japan; it’s a different way of cooking with different ingredients than she’s using now, and the best quality can only be found there. Her culture-related destination would be Bhutan; it’s the happiest country in Asia, filled with beautiful landscapes and rich biodiversity.
Together with the whole Sensations team, Aline hopes to make a return to the Sensations kitchen at the next edition of Restaurant Day Amsterdam on May 18th 2013. Restaurant Day takes place every three months and as word of Sensations’ success spreads, there’s no doubt that every seat in the house will be filled.
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