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Kobe Desramaults is one of the brightest young chefs in Europe, and perhaps the highest-profile Belgian. His is a story of talent mixed with heart, of drive without the panicked rush for celebrity. After a series of stages, where Desramaults learned from restaurants around the world (including Oud Sluis, with its two Michelin stars), he returned home to take over his family’s rural country inn restaurant, which was failing, in debt, and struggling to attract clientele.
Located in what might politely be described as a lovely version of “the middle of nowhere,” this wayward restaurant served French food that was cheaper than in France—and this seemed to be its major attraction, drawing border-hopping French diners for whom cheaper meant better. Rather than run to a large city to set up shop, Desramaults revamped the family establishment, turning In De Wulf into a major culinary destination. With elaborate, multi-course, locally-sourced tasting menus, In De Wulf is one such restaurant—a place of gustatory pilgrimage. A benefit of the miniature size of Belgium is that you don’t have to drive all that far from major cities like Ghent in order to enjoy In De Wulf. You can also visit Desramaults’ new, Ghent-based restaurant, De Vitrine (in a converted butcher shop, and with a slightly macabre logo of the front end of a cow grafted onto the front end of a pig), to sample the young chef’s second establishment.
Fine Dining Lovers spoke to chef Desramaults about cooking with beer, his career and being dubbed a “rock'n'roll chef”.
Where were you trained in cooking and what was the most useful single lesson you learned while training?
I started working as a kitchen apprentice at the age of 18, working in Oud Sluis taught me that extremely hard work is the only foundation to become a good chef.
If you were going to live outside of Belgium, where would you go that would be inspirational and exciting for you and your cooking?
I can honestly not imagine myself living anywhere but in this tiny village of Dranouter, where I was born and raised. I love to travel around the globe, but no place has the magic for me that Dranouter does.
You and some friends have been dubbed “rock-n-roll chefs” by the Belgian media. What aspects of more traditional, French-style “fine dining” do you like and what do you dislike and try to distance yourself from?
I do not like the label of being a rock-n-roll chef. Our ideas, looks and projects might be rock-n-roll to the audience, and that’s cool, but to run a professional kitchen demands discipline, organization, and devotion. On the other hand, I dislike certain rules and dogmas in the kitchen that sometimes seem medieval. Nowadays, the best way to run a creative restaurant is through team effort and progressive thinking: only then is there evolution. There is a thin line between freedom of spirit and rock-n-roll. Marco Pierre White was the first chef to be called “rock-n-roll,” but he was on top of his game, and he showed the outside world how rough a kitchen can be.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Flanders and a single favorite dish?
My best buddy, Jason Blanckaert and his wife, Famke, run JEF restaurant in Ghent. I love his free spirit and style of cooking. My favorite dish there is Roasted bone marrow with snails.
What are some Belgian beers that you’d recommend as “must-drinks”?
My favorite pils is Redor, from Brasserie Dupont. In the old days, every brewery had its own pilsener with its own character. Redor is one of those. Nowadays, pils is made to fit the flavor profile of as many people as possible, and we tend to lose an important part of tradition. But I'm a Geuze lover, and my favourite is Geuze Tilquin. Some of Belgium’s finest brewers are De Struise Brouwers. They make a dark ale called Pannepot that is fantastic.
What would you recommend to an amateur cook who wants to incorporate beer in cooking, but is not sure where to start?
First you need to know which flavor you want to incorporate in the dish, as there is so many different styles of beer: sour, hoppy, malty, bitter, sweet… If you would do a long braise of beef, I suggest you start off with a dark spiced ale. Make sure to reduce the braising liquid, so all those wonderful beer flavors pop out.
How do the food and experience of your two restaurants, Vitrine in Ghent and De Wulf in the country, differ?
The philosophy is the same, we work only with seasonal, organic, local produce. The differences: In De Wulf, guests travel to the countryside to have a meal of about 20 small courses, a tasting of our beautiful surroundings. We have 16 chefs cooking for 40 guests. The dinner takes 4 hours. My idea for De Vitrine is to have a restaurant adapted to the city. The place is a bit more crowded, the plates a bit bigger (our tasting menu has 5 dishes). I give my chefs, Eric Robertson and Gabriel Derossi (both are Canadian), who have worked with me for several years at De Wulf, the liberty to express their own ideas. I tell them which produce is most interesting on the farm, and give them guidelines, and they take it from there.
All pictures © Piet De Kersgieter