At one point, all she wanted to do was go to culinary school, but her parents insisted that she should do a pre-university education programme. However, where there’s a will there’s a way and after a couple of years at university, Naomi van der Haar did end up in a professional kitchen. At restaurant Zilt, which enjoyed a respectable reputation as a fish restaurant in the Kop van Zuid in the 1990s. The restaurant is no more, nor is Van der Haar’s career as a chef.

From the archives:

‘Cooking is in my blood’

It’s August 1996 and Naomi van der Haar had had enough. She gave up her History of Society studies. For three years, she had tried to temper her unbridled passion for cooking and motivate herself for her studies, but it didn’t work. “I just wanted to be in the kitchen, using my hands.”

EM 15, volume 1, April 9 1998

After starting work at Zilt in 1997, she spent around seven years working as a chef, including a year as sous-chef in renowned hotels on the Canary Islands Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. But in 2004 she left the kitchen behind her and moved to the regional training centre Zadkine. “Not because I’d had enough of cooking as such – cooking is essentially a philosophy, one of ‘eating is sharing’ – but the kitchen became too small for me. And I’d always wanted to do something with knowledge transfer.”

SS Rotterdam

The way in which she joined the Rotterdam-based training juggernaut was unusual. The school called her to ask whether she could take a trainee at Zilt. In turn, Van der Haar asked the internship coordinator whether there were any vacancies. There weren’t, but she sent an application anyway and just by chance, a job suddenly came up. It was the start of quite a long relationship between Zadkine and Van der Haar.

She took evening classes to obtain her teacher training certificate and taught classes in ‘Consumptive Techniques’. But after a year, she found that the life of a teacher was too planned and timetabled in advance. She initially switched to a job as career advisor, then set up a work-study project at the SS Rotterdam, before eventually ending up in management as team leader of the sport and culture desk.


Until she moved from Rotterdam to Amsterdam in February 2016. “For love.” It wasn’t too much of a culture shock for Van der Haar, who enjoys living in most cities. Now she is Training Manager Welfare at ROC TOP, a kind of Zadkine subsidiary in the capital, and in that capacity is responsible for shaping the curriculum in new forms appropriate to the current times and norms “I feel happy doing what I’m doing. Although you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Naomi van der Haar in her own kitchen, in 2018

Looking back at her career so far, Van der Haar, now 43, has this to say: “I have no regrets at all about giving up my studies. What’s more, I also had to re-do a year at school. That seems to be how I do things. It’s about eventually finding out what you’re good at. Then you’ll be fine. That’s what I tell my students too: that it’s not the end of the world if you have to re-do a year.”