Fans of computer games would give anything for his surname, but ROBERT LEVELS has a completely different passion: cooking at the highest possible level. at is what the 49-year-old has been doing for almost thirty years. He was the right hand of top chefs like Toine Hermsen and Hans van Wolde. Since last summer, he has been the head chef at LE BISTROT.
But his role as head chef at Domaine La Butte aux Bois is not a first for Robert Levels. Five years ago, at Bilderberg Castle Vaalsbroek, he was named executive chef of In de Oude Watermolen (restaurant and bistro) and De Kruidentuin (events hall). “There, I learned a lot about management and organisation”, he emphasises. “That experience now comes in handy. I’m not only the chef at Le Bistrot, I am also responsible for banqueting, the lunches served at the spa and the hotel guests’ break- fast. As a result, my job entails a lot of variety. I wouldn’t want it any other way. To manage a team and join in their hard work, that’s my new passion. I can see myself working here for many years to come. La Butte is a family business. You can feel that. Chain hotels are often more impersonal.”
Robert Levels trained as a chef in Sittard. Once he had completed this studies, he worked at L’Auberge in Weert, with Toine Hermsen and Hans van Wolde (of Beluga) in Maastricht and at Landgoed Altembrouck in ‘s-Gravenvoeren. “I learned a lot there. In between I spent fourteen months backpacking in Asia and Australia. That period taught me a lot. Taking a step back fuels your inspiration.” Fast-forward to today, and at Domaine La Butte aux Bois he says he learns a lot from Ralf Berendsen every day. “We talk continuously and taste each other’s dishes. That’s a must if you want to sail the same course. Of course there must be a gap between La Source and Le Bistrot, but it mustn’t be a canyon. Whoever comes to La Butte has certain expectations that have to be met on every level. Ralf and I both aim for a high-quality cuisine with a classic base and con- temporary touches.”
Perfection… It’s a word that Robert Levels uses as often as Ralf Berendsen. “Of course, a guest at a two-star establishment has certain expectations. His fried egg at breakfast also has to be perfect. Le Bistrot, the spa, La Source, the hotel, the gym… Everything should be top-notch quality here. Only then can you offer a good pro- duct. What is within my powers – Le Bistrot, banqueting, breakfast, lunches at the spa – I want to take to a higher level. Of course, a chef doesn’t cook for the culinary guides in the first place, but together with my team I have one very concrete goal: to increase our rating in Gault&Millau. Now we have 12 out of 20. We aim to change that. Upwards of course. (laughs) That shared ambition motivates us every day to provide our guests with the best possible service.”