Food for Thought: JWT Amsterdam Chef Robbie Postma’s Culinary Creativity

When hunger strikes during an intense brainstorm or looming deadline, staffers at J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam don’t need to hit the vending machine for a bag of chips. Robbie Postma, the agency’s food creative (that’s agency speak for in-house chef), has already whipped up a satisfying, delicious and healthy option.

The classically trained chef dreams up a daily changing menu that fuels the JWT team, and is even known to whip up surprising and innovative edibles for client presentations. His open kitchen, located in the middle of the agency, maintains a connection between food and new ideas.

“Food gives me freedom. I feed on its endless possibilities. To me, food is the ultimate instrument to express my creativity,” explains the chef, who documents his dishes on Instagram and recently collaborated with photographer Robert Harrison for the series “MENU.” spoke to Postma about how he cooks up creativity.  

What is the role of a “food creative” in advertising?

I started working at J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam five years ago. At that point the company had just moved to their new location at the Leidseplein, which is in the middle of the city center. The temptation for staff to go outside for lunch, with mainly unhealthy food to choose from, was bigger here than when the company was in a more industrial area with a traditional cafeteria. JWT Amsterdam wanted to stimulate the staff to eat healthy and together as a team.

Because the open kitchen is located in the middle of the agency, I became more of a colleague then a caterer. Being surrounded by creative work and all the different clients was a big stimulus for my creative senses. That’s when I started creating brand-inspired dishes to surprise clients. That, together with the fact that I haven’t made the same dish twice for the past five years, gave me the title “food creative.”

Describe your unique approach to food as an expression of creativity.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been searching to do things in my own way and food has so many options. I can combine flavors and make new ones. I can serve one dish in countless ways or change the structure of products to make something new. The possibilities are infinite. I was classically schooled (French), which gives me the freedom to give my own interpretation of being a chef. You need to know your basics to start experimenting.

Tell us about some of the concepts you’ve prepared for client presentations.

One of my personal favorites is a dish a made during a pitch for our client SPA, a Dutch/Belgium mineral water brand (yes, we won the business). SPA water comes from the Belgium Ardennes where rainwater gets naturally filtered through several layers in the earth before getting bottled. For the meeting, I recreated the process into an edible version of how rainwater is filtered through the earth’s layers over 50 years: moss was represented by pistachio sponge cake, caramel brownie was turf, gel of rosewater represented rain. As the creative idea was to focus on the natural source, this was a perfect match. 

For a Microsoft Cloud meeting I created a pate du fruit with a cloud of lime (also strawberry, kiwi, blue Curacao banana, mango). 

For a meeting with a low-cost airline, I created planes made from edible paper and green tea. Cheap yet tasteful.

For a Heineken meeting, I created cakes made from beer’s main ingredients, hops and barley, alongside some sweet beer foam.

For a BMW meeting about the new i3, I decided to do a battery made from white chocolate and blueberries served on carbon (the main material of the i3). Before eating, the guest was asked to put the battery to their tounge. It was sprinkled with Sichuan buttons, which create a numb feeling on the tongue just as a real battery would. 

You also have experience at NOMA, one of the most innovative restaurants in the world. How has that informed your approach to food?

In 2015, I took some time off and set off to Copenhagen to do an internship at NOMA. Being surrounded by people working so hard on their shared passion was truly an experience of a lifetime. There are a few big things I took home with me from this journey.

One was the importance of knowing the process behind a product. A good example is when Chef René Redzepi explained to us that one single bee has to make 1,000 flights to create one teaspoon of honey. Realizing this makes you appreciate that honey so much more—in terms of enjoying the taste, but also in handling the honey as a chef. 

Then there is attention to detail. Everything is thought through at NOMA. Behind every step in the restaurant process there is a “why” and “what does it do.” And it’s not a gimmick; everything is designed to create an unforgettable experience for the guest, making them feel welcome being one of the most important things. 

What is the role of food and taste within a typical day at the agency?

What happens often is that people are very hungry and eat a lot more during their lunch break, sometimes of the less healthy food, than they actually want. At J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, I created a different approach. Every day I make a different dish for about 100 people. It’s easier for them not to have to think about what they are going to have for lunch. People have different tastes, so if today’s lunch is your favorite there is a chance your colleague will like tomorrow’s dish better.

A weekly menu consists of about 80 percent vegetables. Of course, we’ll have some comfort food every now and then, but my food is mainly healthy and lightly digestible. At 8 o’clock in the morning, the early birds get rewarded by a small breakfast item like yogurt or a poached egg on toast. The brain needs about 20 minutes to receive a signal from the gut that food has entered the body and you start to feel satiated. Liquids get absorbed quicker then solid food. That’s why at 12 o’clock I serve a fresh juice to start your digestive system. When lunch is served at 12:30, you will eat less than you would normally because you already have this satisfied feeling. This isn’t from a financial perspective. Because you eat less, your sugar level will be more stable throughout the day so you’ll have more energy and won’t get that after-lunch dip. And that stimulates creativity.

At 4 o’clock, we’ll have a snack like a cup of soup, a fresh pastry or some raw veggies with a nice dip. A little energy boost for the end of the day. Any food that is left from lunch will go into a doggy bag for those working late or those who do not often cook at home. 

What have been some of the more memorable reactions to your menus?

The most rewarding reactions are when my colleagues say they’ve lost weight or feel more energetic because of my lunches. Some people eat food at lunch that they’ve never tried before in their life. It’s so good to give people a new experience like that. For the past five years I’ve never made the same dish twice. That comes out to about 1,300 dishes.

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