Peter Goossens, chef of Hof Van Cleve is the most internationally recognised Belgian chef having been in the 50 World’s Best restaurants for many years. He has held three Michelin stars since 2005 and has received 19.5 out of 20 in the Gault Millau guide since 2004. After our long interview with him, here is the second part in a question and answer format.
Who are the rising stars of Belgium?
There are many great chefs in Belgium. Just at Hof Van Cleve we have trained so many chefs. We recently tried to compile a list and counted over 200 chefs that have worked at the restaurant. My sous chef Marteen Bouckaert will be opening a restaurant at the beginning of next year. Then there is Michael Vrijmoed and Tim Boury just to mention a few names. Over 70 chefs who worked at Hof Van Cleve are cooking in their own kitchens (at different levels).
What’s your view of guides and lists of best restaurants?
Lists are very important because they help you to become internationally known. They’re also good for social media. Of course, the reference points remain Michelin and Gault Millau. But everything helps and foodies get to know you through guides and lists. 20 years ago, things were completely different. Social media did not exist. You have to remember however that lists change annually, you can go up or down the lists because otherwise they would become boring.
What do you think of people taking photos in restaurants?
I have no problem with this. Customers can do whatever they want as long as they do not annoy other customers. I don’t think it is appropriate to use a flash in a restaurant. The question I ask myself is what happens to all the photos taken? Where do they go? I get the feeling that there are many millions of photos which are stored on servers and which have never been printed or used.
Are we ready for prepaid meals in restaurants? It seems to be the new trend.
I don’t think this will become mainstream yet. The industry used to have a problem with no shows but now that most people make reservations via internet, we have a clause and customers accept that if they do not turn up they will be charged 150 euro per person. For large groups, we always ask for a deposit.
What’s your view of bloggers?
The first question you need to ask is who are the bloggers, what experience do they have. There are some who are excellent. It is the same with journalists. There are good ones, then there are others who try to profit from the system but this happens in every field.
The issue of food waste has become very topical in recent years. What is your view on this?
I take this issue very seriously. I detest when we have to throw something away. We are a team of over 25 here and we eat together at lunch and dinner so we are always cooking for our customers or for our team. I don’t want to throw anything away.
Taking care of food waste is also important because we need to protect the planet. We are more and more people living on earth and there is still a lot of poverty. We need to find a system, even with supermarkets, so that nothing gets thrown away and those in need can be helped. Of course, there will always be those who abuse the system but then there are those who really have nothing, who are sick, who cannot work. We need to do something to help these people.
At Hof Van Cleve, we try to use everything. For the remains, we have farmers who come and take what’s left to feed animals. And we keep the vegetable remains so that it is used to make compost.
A chef who inspires you?
It’s a difficult question. There are so many different personalities. But a chef I still like today is Alain Ducasse. Hats off to him.
Best meal ever?
I have many exceptional memories. But one memory I have is of being young and going on holiday with friends. We had little money but we stopped to eat at Troisgros. It was memorable. An exceptional meal.
Is there something you don’t eat?
I don’t like red cabbage. I hate it when it is cooked. It is the only thing I do not eat. I am not a fan of choucroute either. I prefer it when it is fermented like kimchi but still it is not my favourite.
Do you cook at home?
Yes, every weekend for my wife and family.
Your favourite dish?
It depends on the seasons. In winter we eat differently from summer. In spring, I love asparagus cooked in different ways either with a vinegarette, in a salad or the Flemish way with eggs. I love to eat game in winter. During winter, I love slow cooking, a roast chicken or even the traditional Belgian meal of steak and fries.
Do you have a signature dish?
There are two dishes that have been on the menu for more than 20 years. One is the pigeon with potato mousseline and black truffle and a sauce banyuls with sage. The other is grilled turbot with a lobster béarnaise
What equipment in a professional kitchen should be in a home kitchen?
I think there is room for a good grill which has different levels so that you have full control of the heat. In the restaurant, we have a Green Egg but I think this would be very useful.
Places to eat in Belgium?
It is a difficult question. It depends on the time and what you feel like. I love gastronomic restaurants but I also love to go to a nice bistro with my friends for a traditional t-bone steak.
I love all types of cuisines. Japanese, Vietnamien, Italian, Spanish, French. I particularly love the cuisine of the south with grilling, excellent olive oil, tomatoes and courgettes.
Who do you consider to be your mentors?
When I started cooking, the reference point was France. All the rest, including Spain was non-existant. I trained in Paris. I’ve cooked at at Lenôtre, Pré Catelan, Robuchon, Pavillon d’Elysée. I’ve also trained with Paul Blanc and at Saint Tropez (Byblos). This was the ‘grand cuisine with its grand regle’. If you did not follow the rules you were kicked out. Things have changed considerably nowadays. If we do today what was done 30 years ago, we would be in prison.
Read our full interview with Peter Goossens here.