Well know for it’s beer and mussels this upbeat part of Belgium is enjoying a culinary revolution led by a group of innovative young chefs. Peter Morrell tastes the future and it’s delicious
In my many trips to Flanders over the past few years I have noticed how the quality of food has been rising and rising. This is being driven by a brigade of young chefs collectively know as the Kitchen Rebels.
They are using a combination of both traditional and new ingredients and applying their own imagination to blend flavours, tastes and textures into harmonious and innovative new culinary experiences for diners. The beauty of this movement is that it is spread throughout Flanders so wherever you go good food is never far away. In the past I have eating in Antwerp at Seppe Nobels’ Graanmarkt 13, where he grows food and tends beehives on the roof, enjoyed the simple artistry of Pascal Van Couteren at Land aan de Overkant in Leuven and had a memorable meal created by Tom Vansteenkiste at Belga Queen in Ghent.
I recently attended a lunch in London to showcase the creative talents of other Kitchen Rebels making a name for themselves in Flanders. The line up included Michael Yates (who is as British as his name suggests) from the Sail & Anchor restaurant in Antwerp, Sam D’Huyvetter of Brasserie Boulevard at Sint-Martens-Latem near Ghent and the beers matching with each course were curated by young brewer Jef Janssens from the Hof ten Dormaal brewery.
We started with an aperitif of two remarkable beers made in the style of champagne, Gulden Delle and Ferme Framboos from the De Vlier brewery. Flemish people treat beer with a lot of respect and with these two it is easy to understand why. They are served in champagne flutes and sipped to fully appreciate their unique sweet and sour characteristics, they were the ideal appetite sharpeners.
The starter had been prepared by Michael Yates, it was in season blue asparagus from Mechelen, served with a hollandaise sauce made with brown butter. I actually lost my culinary virginity twice during this course, the first was to the garnish of thinly sliced earthy raw asparagus and the second to the salted and cured egg yolk grated over the dish which added an umami twist. It was all utterly delicious and was complemented by a Hof ten Dormaal beer, Troubel in Paradise.
The main course gave Sam D’Huyvetter the opportunity to present a traditional Flemish dish, Stoofvlees (beef stew) in an entirely new light. Oxtail had been braised until it was meltingly tender and the meat formed into a square. It was served with pickles and mustard cream, roast onions and a large fry. This had incredible depth of flavour. Our matched beer was called The Politician and was the only thing with that name which delivered on its promise. A delightful, aromatic and hoppy drink.
No meal is complete in Flanders without chocolate. So the final course featured the most decadent Ecuadorian dark chocolate with beer foam salty crisps and pieces of ‘broken glass’ in it. Involvement in the dessert and chocolates afterwards came from Pieter Vaes of the Cacao Project in Mechelen. The beer paired with the dessert had been aged in oak Armagnac barrels which had imparted a subtle flavour making it highly drinkable with care, it weighed in at a whopping 12% ABV.
By any measure this had been an exceptional meal and proof positive that Flanders is now a must-visit culinary hotspot.