Many of today’s most influential chefs have one thing in common. They have all spent time working in Ferran Adria’s kitchen. Massimo Bottura, Rene Redzepi, Grant Achatz to mention just a few of the most creative chefs around have spent time with the Spanish genius of el Bulli fame.
Most of these chefs have gone on to develop their own style, their own philosophies and their own cuisine. There is no question that being mentored by a great chef has a lasting impact on your cooking style and also your philosophy, even if you depart from that approach.
The new generation of chefs is also moving around from one restaurant to another gaining as much experience as possible benefiting from the ‘globalisation’ of haute cuisine.
Just like the previous generation developed their own style and approach to cooking, the new generation is also making good use of the experience they have gained to take completely new directions.
Chefs who were inspired by the inventiveness of Ferran Adria have gone on to create their own styles even if most of them have focused on fine dining.
The new generation seems to be more focused on serving good food in a more relaxed and casual environment away from the constraints that a fine dining experience may create. There are many reasons for this. The economic situation does not help but there is also a move towards a more casual approach to dining.
That can be said for Humphrey, a Brussels-based restaurant where Belgian chef Yannick Van Aeken has adopted what he has learnt as sous-chef of the world renowned restaurant Noma to do something completely different.
Today, gaining experience at Redzepi’s Noma Restaurant may be considered as the equivalent of passing through Adria’s kitchen in the 1990s. As Yannick himself had told Food and Wine Gazette in an interview earlier this year, coming from a restaurant like Noma may create false expectations since people expect something similar.
The restaurant is based in an iconic building of the former socialist newspaper ‘Le Peuple’ in the heart of Brussels, which also houses PIAS, one of Belgium’s largest music companies. The concept behind Humphrey is to create a Filipino cuisine with produce that Yannick finds in Belgium and with ingredients that he gets directly from the Philippines such as chillies.
After leaving Noma (he worked at this restaurant twice), Yannick was not sure what approach or style of cooking to take on board but after several trips abroad he decided to focus on Filipino cuisine.
As he himself said, he did not want to recreate the Noma experience, also because he thinks that in today’s economic climate, it is extremely difficult to create a fine dining restaurant.
While Humphrey is no fine dining restaurant, the influence and experience that he got from Noma is clearly in evidence both in the approach to cooking, in the focus on teamwork and also in the focus on sustainability and a bid to try and eliminate food waste.
The motto of the restaurant is to share food. When we visited the restaurant recently, the menu was divided into four sections, raw, vegetables, Asian inspired and meat and for every couple it is recommended that you choose between 5 to 6 dishes.
The presentation of the food is great and the flavours are clean and at the same time bold. Lime and chilli are used with abundance as you would expect from this type of cuisine.
A dish called sustainable tuna was ingenious. It was under the vegetable section of the menu and consisted of diced watermelon served with a soy sauce. The lobster ceviche and the beef tartare were both delicious.
Among the fish dishes was a fish head dish (which we avoided because we had a friend with us at table who did not eat fish) though we tried the cured mackerel dish. One of the iconic dishes of the restaurant are chicken wings with a blue cheese sauce. Maybe, the star of the evening was a pork stew which packed incredibly complex flavours. I could return back to the restaurant any time just for this dish. The veal shank was cooked perfectly and was succulent and tender.
At the restaurant, they also grow their own vegetables and herbs though as Yannick says, for the time being, they are still in experimentation phase.
This is a restaurant really worth trying. It is a welcome addition to the Brussels restaurant scene and one which we will be hearing about much more in future.
Humphrey Restaurant: St-Laurensstraat 36-38 Rue Saint-Laurent, 1000 Bruxelles , Tel: +32 472 049 580. Open for Lunch and Dinner from Monday to Friday.