When we visited Hertog Jan in Zedelgem a few weeks ago to interview Gert de Mangeleer and Joachim Boudens, we asked the three Michelin star Belgian chef our series of quick questions which we normally ask to get some insights into his mentors, the chefs he admires, food waste and social media among others.
Gert de Mangeleer, 37, was the youngest 3 Michelin star chef in Belgium when he received the important accolade three years ago.
We started the questions with his perspective on food waste, particularly given the fact that the restaurant has its own garden which generates 95% of the fruit and vegetables that are used in the restaurant. “I consider food waste as a gain to our business. We try to waste the least possible. In a way, it is also why we created L.E.S.S. When we buy a lamb for Hertog Jan, we can use the best pieces for the restaurant and then make sausages with the trimmings which we use in our bistro. When we created Hertog Jan, we also made sure we would be able to keep the green trimmings to put it back in the soil. This for me is extremely important. I try to waste the least possible because I am allergic to waste. When we cook for staff, we also try to find a creative way of using what we have,” Gert said.
You mentioned how travel is so important. But at the same time, now we can travel just by picking up a phone or going on social media. Are we losing creativity in a way?
Social media is extremely important for the public relations and imagine of the restaurant. When we create something, we have a tendency to put it on social media. In a way, once it’s on social media, it is like a patent, it’s mine. It is however true that when people come to the restaurant, the element of surprise is gone because they have already seen everything on social media. I see this as both good and bad. What is sure is that we have to live with it.
What is your view of the food scene now, compared to the time when there was just a guide or book with a few lines ?
For me it is quite good. Social media nowadays gives us the possibility to grow as a company. It also gives us lots of exposure. But we have had cases of people writing negative things about the restaurant without ever coming here. That is not good.
What’s your view of customers taking photos in restaurants?
Sometimes, the photos which are on social media are not taken by good photographers so the plates don’t look good but I don’t lose sleep over it. We are unable to do anything about it so we need to get used to it.
It is a strange thing because I never worked for a really influential chef so I never had someone telling me what direction to take. In the beginning it was very hard. If I had questions, I had no one to ask. So I have learnt by failing and then recovering. There were a lot of things that went wrong and it was very hard because I did not have experience. But I was strong enough to go further and try and try again. You need to work hard to improve your level. It is a challenge. Now 10 to 15 years later, I think this is a strength. There was no chef who told me what I should do. So I am not influenced and have been able to create my own style of cooking.
Chefs you admire?
Quique Dacosta, Michel Bras, Massimo Bottura, Jonnie Boer and René Redzepi. All the chefs I named and many more, are all chefs with their own style and their own stories.
Best ever meal?
It may sound like a cliché. But the best meals are on sunny Sundays when we are alone as a family, having tapas, barbecue, a nice bottle of wine. These are the best meals and the most beautiful memories.
I love the Japanese kitchen, sushi, sashimi, tempura. I think lots of our dishes are simple but when you taste them it is very powerful that it is like an explosion of flavours. It is very similar to the Japanese philosophy. Simplicity is not simple. They have lots of respect for products and vegetables and use lots of raw fish. Easy looking dishes but it only looks easy.
Favourite places to eat in Belgium?
L.E.S.S., our Bistro. We created a place that we had in mind. For me, it’s the ideal place to have dinner with friends and family.
And outside Belgium?
Quite difficult. One of my favourite places is Zuma but there are so many places like Quique Dacosta. It’s a very difficult question.