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Belgium - a real mix of people, cultures, sights, sounds and tastes. In the heart of the country, Brussels, people from the North and South converse, mainly in French, sometimes in Dutch with food from each compass point of the country on offer throughout the capital.
It’s home to the European Union, the central meeting point for 28 countries of Europe and last week, it acted as the central meeting point for some of Belgium’s best chefs as the food festival Culinaria came to town.
In a huge industrial warehouse near the Northern Quarter of the city, over 30 of the country’s top chefs were on hand cooking up their best dishes from the North, South, East and West. A gang of chefs, mainly young, showing visitors exactly why in 2014 and 2015 Michelin showered the country with stars.
The theme of the event was The Belgium Effect with chefs interpreting this idea on the plate. For me, the Belgium Effect was the sheer diversity on offer, the mix of styles, techniques, ingredients and presentations - the convivial, relaxed and open way in which all this came together, never clashing, presented as one but with an evident individualism to each dish. Thick white asparagus fired on the grill standing strong next to slowly cooked meat dripping in juices, wonderfully delicate Flemish goat’s cheese next-door to salsify desserts.
That was the Belgium Effect for me, but what about the chefs? We asked a group of them what the Belgium Effect is for them and make sure you click above to see the gallery of their dishes.
SANG HOON DEGEIMBRE chef at L'Air du Temps
“Belgium is a crossroad of totally different cultures, I’m Korean born but I’m totally Belgium, here in this group you have some Italian, some Spanish, you have a lot of people from everywhere. The Belgium Effect for me is everybody has something to say, in a different way but we take care about the advice of other people.”
GERT DE MANGELEER chef at Hertog Jan
"In my case it's a regional effect, we have our own farm and we cultivate about 98% of our own fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs by ourselves. Then we try to combine them with regional products. And to take all these products and give this an international feel because we are all travelling a lot - this is the Belgium Effect."
ALEX JOSEPH chef at Rouge Tomate
"I think the Belgium Effect is really just having all the influences of a country that has a long history of being very international, in Brussels you get all these influences and having all three great ingredients from the Sea, this great terroir of beautiful products and land."
AXEL COLONNA-CESARI chef at Centpourcent
"For me it’s the position of Belgium in the world. We’re a small country and we do so many things well. What’s very important is that Belgium people want quality, in design, in food, we are very good at football this year, we try to have a high level in everything that we do and I think that’s a very important quality of the Belgium people, they are very proud, want to be the best and want to prove themselves and have good products. Maybe five or ten years ago we looked too much at other countries and now with all the products we are trying to do the best."
BENOIT DEWITTE chef at Bernard & Benoit Dewitte
"For me the Belgium Effect is to travel a lot and cook a lot abroad so to bring some of Belgium outside and to bring some of that influence back in. We are very central in Belgium and we can travel abroad the world and take influences, we have a good range of great products, work with local producers - this is all the Belgium Effect."
BROES TAVERNIER chef at ’t Vijfde Seizoen
"For me it’s because we are Belgium and we have to be more chauvinistic we have some of the best products and we have to be more proud of this. We don't need to take products from anywhere else, we have the North Sea, this great land but the Belgium Effect is to be more proud of what we do."
VILHJALMUR SIGURDARSON chef at Souvenir
"Being a non Belgium I see it from an outsider's eyes, you need to understand that Belgium is a country which is full of little idiosyncrasies, it’s a partition country. For me, being an outsider, I think the Belgium Effect is that Belgium is a country that, whether they admit it or not, they do embrace diversity. It’s a country that’s situated in a very interesting location, it’s situated between a lot of world powers, back in the older a days it was called the cockpit of Europe because all the wars ended up being fought in Belgium. So they’re susceptible to all these outside influences, they take it all in, put it in a little shaker, shake it all up and they have a lift;e mixture of it all."
JULIEN BURLAT chef at Dôme
"It’s a style of life, the Belgians enjoy life differently they love food, travelling, wine. I sell lots of biological wine and they are very interested in that, they are very open. It’s a small country but they want to experience all these new things."
KOBE DESRAMAULTS chef at In De Wulf
"What’s important is that there’s a big diversification in Belgian restaurants, you have a lot of very different styles, there’s not really a Flemish way or a Belgian way that you can say because I think Belgium has always been influenced, you can trace that back through history. You have identity but also diversification."