Jan-Willem Kuijt, Roots Smokehouse: “smoking salmon is science”

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“What is smoking? It’s actually drying. To start with, it’s a method of conserving. Fresh salmon filets have ten days’ shelf life. Smoking extends that. Here, at our smokehouse, smoking is drying the fillets. We don’t add water, we extract fluid from the salmon,” says Jan-Willem Kuijt, owner of Roots Smokehouse, located in the Dutch town of Ysselsteyn.

“With Roots we want to go back to the basis of the taste of smoked salmon,” he continues. “Why do you smoke? It’s a way to add flavor to a product: you bring out the taste, by using smoke. Salmon, salt and smoke, that’s all you need. And the right technique.”

Jan van As Group

Roots Smokehouse only started in January 2015, but Jan-Willem Kuijt has a long and comprehensive background in the fish industry. He worked for twenty years at Dutch herring processor Ouwehand in the Dutch seaside town of Katwijk. After this, he switched jobs and went to work at the Jan van As Group, which consists of fish wholesaler Jan van As and Zalmhuis (salmon house) Steur. Kuijt was directing Zalmhuis Steur for fifteen years, until he left to work as a consultant.

“At Zalmhuis Steur I learned all there is to know about salmon and salmon smoking,” Kuijt says. “The founder of the smokehouse, Jan Steur, who had already been retired for several years, taught me his vision of salmon smoking. He used to say: ‘salmon smoking is science’. He looked at the smoking process from his technical background as a physicist. I apply this knowledge in my own smokehouse.”

Completely installed smokehouse

During his interim management job at a smokehouse in the south of the Netherlands, Kuijt saw an opportunity to start his own enterprise when the owner decided to sell the company.

“There it was: a completely kitted-out smokehouse, with two smokers and all the other necessary equipment; that made it possible. I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted to get back into the salmon business and I had a large network of customers who kept asking when I was going to start for myself.”

The beginning wasn’t easy, despite all his contacts and experience. “We changed the production system, taught the workers about our system and had to find new customers.”

Nine months later, his son, Jan-Willem junior, joined the company.

“I was working in our hometown, Katwijk, as manager for one of the shops belonging to the Schuitemaker Vis fish company, ” says Jan-Willem Kuijt junior.

“I had worked there since I was 17, so I wanted to finish that job properly.”

Kuijt junior says he loves working with fish. “I grew up close to the sea, fish and fisheries have always been part of my life. And then this opportunity came along, to start a company with my father that I will take over in the future.”

Salmon is a wonderful product, he adds.

“We started this smokehouse, to make a beautiful product. That’s the most important. Roots is an artisanal quality smokehouse working with modern techniques.”

High-quality niche products

Roots buys its fillets from the best producers. The fillets arrive at night at the smokehouse and are processed the next day, Jan Willem Kuijt junior explains. “First we salt them; the salting and smoking time depends on size, type and time of the year. Lots of external factors influence the smoking process. The measuring instruments continuously adapt the smoking time, which can vary from eight to twelve hours.”

Roots usually sells directly to wholesalers, senior adds.

“Approximately 70 percent ends up at restaurants, hotels and catering, the other 30 percent at fishmongers. For each type of market, there is quality available in Holland. Our customers like to sell a high-quality product. Our aim is to cover the top segment.”

Signature

Both father and son still live in their hometown, Katwijk. As in most Dutch fishing towns, the inhabitants are very attached to their birthplace.

“We rent the house right next to our smokehouse here in Ysselsteyn, so we stay here during the week, but the weekends we spend at home, in Katwijk.”

Jan-Willem Kuijt senior and junior.

That is a 2.5-hour drive, but there is no doubt for either of them: Katwijk is their home.

“Katwijk is close to the sea, it has a special atmosphere, and everything I love I can do there,” Jan Willem Kuijt junior explains. “Fishing, kite surfing.. and of course my family and friends are there.”

During the week they are in Ysselsteyn, in the southern part of the Netherlands, and enjoy every working day, says Kuijt senior.

“This is so much fun! I should have done this ten years earlier. Every day I love it more.”

Father and son try to continuously improve their company. “We take pride in our product and transfer that to our staff as well. We always keep our business philosophy in mind: quality first and only salmon, salt and smoke. That’s our signature!”