Maxime Colin, 27, is full of passion for top quality ingredients and you can see it in his face when he proudly displays a piece of Kobe beef. He speaks passionately about what makes Kobe beef so special, explaining the attention to detail the Japanese give to raising the cattle for what is considered the best meat you can buy.
We met Maxime in the kitchen of Villa Lorraine which serves as the kitchen for both La Villa and La Brasserie. The Villa Lorraine, on the edge of the Bois de la Cambre in Brussels, houses two restaurants owned by Serge Litvine who purchased the restaurants in 2010 and is working to make it shine again.
Villa Lorraine is a Brussels and Belgian institution having been the first restaurant outside France to get the coveted 3 Michelin stars in 1972.
Maxime Colin has been head chef there since August 2014 and retained the 1 Michelin star that had been previously awarded to La Villa under Alain Bianchin in November 2013. He explained the philosophy behind his cuisine and also that of Villa Lorraine.
“Our focus is to use the best possible ingredients when they are in season. You will not find produce that is not in season. We try to buy local where possible but then look for the best ingredients we can find elsewhere. So for example, we get sole from the Belgian coast, little shrimps from Bruges and white asparagus from Malines. But, we will not use tomatoes from Belgium because we can find better elsewhere. So to keep with the same theme, at the moment we are using green tomatoes from Sicily but we are not using red tomatoes because they are not yet in season and not flavourful.”
The menu at the restaurant changes according to the season and Maxime explains that once the new menu is in place, they start to plan the new menu for the next season. “It normally takes us around 2 months to finalise our menu for the next season.”
Maxime tells us that some produce may not last till the end of the season so there are variations to the menu during the season. “We are in constant communication with our suppliers so we know what is coming next or what is about to go out of season. For example, we will not use any red fruits like strawberries until the end of June or beginning of July because they do not have the desired sweetness at the moment.”
He is also obsessed with getting the best out of the produce without any particular seasoning. “We try to keep seasoning to a minimum in most of our dishes. We work with reductions to season the dishes. We try to use the ‘natural’ soup of every element so that we do not have to add anything that is not necessary.”
The obsession with ingredients leads them to source ingredients from different places in the world. “Kobe beef comes from Wagyu but it is not the same when it is grown in Australia, New Zealand or Spain. It does not come cheap but for a meat lover, it is the best. We get our chicken from Bresse while all the fish we serve in the restaurant are line caught. We get our langoustines daily from a little island in Denmark. They are the best we can find.
“These langoustines are rather big, nearly the size of a lobster, making them very special.”
The young chef of Villa Lorraine tells us that they have two separate sections in the kitchen, one which serves the Brasserie and the other which focuses on their ‘gastronomic’ restaurant. “We still use the same techniques when preparing and cooking food but for the brasserie we use ingredients that are less ‘noble’ though we would never compromise on the quality even for the brasserie,” said Maxime.
Food waste is taken very seriously at Villa Lorraine. “Our philosophy is to waste nothing. We try to get to the end of Saturday with no waste in the kitchen. Just to use the langoustine as an example, we will use parts of the langoustine which are not served in the main dish in an amuse bouche. And the rest will be used to make a stock that can be used elsewhere.
We are there on a Tuesday morning when the chefs in the kitchen are busy preparing the ‘mise en place’ for the start of the week. “We aim to end Saturday with no waste whatsoever,” Maxime said. “To do this, we are constantly discussing with our front of house to make sure. If we know we are serving a number of people on a Saturday we will discuss and look at what we have left and try to encourage the front of house to guide customers to choose certain dishes.”
Their obsession with fresh produce and no waste means that you might go and find certain dishes are not available because the produce has been used.
The restaurant has three signature dishes, a sole dish that has been a Villa Lorraine classic, the pigeon with a black olive tapenade and a langoustine served seasoned with caviar and a mosaic of celeriac.
Maxime Colin is a young passionate chef who started cooking at the young age of 13. He has worked in many Belgian restaurants such as le Bistro du Mail, Le vieux Boitsfort, Michel D, Le Chateau du Lac and La Salicorne. He then worked for 3 years at Jalao before moving to work in patisserie at the Chalet de la Forêt before taking over as chef at Vintage. In 2012, he started work as chef of La Brasserie at Villa Lorraine and then became the sous-chef of the gastronomic restaurant before taking over the role of chef for Villa Lorraine in August 2014.
La Villa is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 12 noon and 2pm and 7pm and 10pm.
La Brasserie is open from Monday to Saturday between 12 noon and 2.30pm and 7pm and 10.30pm.
Address: Avenue du Vivier d’Oie 75, Brussels.