Behind every restaurant success or every artisan there is great produce but there is also the human element which is exceptionally important. This was the underlying message of the first ever W Food Festival congress that took place in the historic citadel of Namur.
The festival, organised by Generation W, a collective of chefs and artisans from the Belgian region of Wallonia had been dreaming of organising such a festival for the past two years. That dream culminated in a successful weekend where people could meet the chefs and artisans of Generation W on the grounds of the Citadel.
On Monday 3 July, it was the turn of professionals in the field to attend a congress which brought to the fore the importance of management, of bringing the best out of people, of communicating and of letting go if you want to grow your business.
Filip Claeys, the first speaker at the event, chef of Restaurant De Jonkman and founder of North Sea Chefs spoke about the need to educate customers but also people along the value chain. He created North Sea Chefs as a way to raise awareness on fish that would have normally been rejected. “People did not want to eat a certain type of fish so the fishermen threw them back at sea. Today, the situation has improved which is not only good for customers and sustainability but also for fishermen.”
David Martin, chef of La Paix and restauranteur said it was important to discover new talents and to help them to grow. He gave the example of chef Karen Torosyan who has grown in stature and has left his imprint on Bozar Brasserie in Brussels. “What is important is to invest not in the decor but rather in the quality of people.”
Bo Bech, restauranteur and chef of successful Danish restaurant Geist spoke of the importance of communication and also that of letting go and trusting your staff. “I realised at one point that I needed to let go because people would get upset if after 14 consecutive days at work I would miss a service because I had to.” He spoke of the importance of establishing communication channels and of empowering staff. “I realised that I had created a good system when 4 people left us and we had an increase in turnover.”
Benalal Akrame, chef of Restaurant Akrame and creator of the concept Atelier Vivanda, spoke of his vision for the Atelier Vivanda concept and said that he wanted to create a brand that was recognisable and that would be able to be recreated outside of France. Today, the restaurant has branches in Paris, Hong Kong, Manila and Baku. “I am always thinking and looking at what is set to happen on the scene,” he said.
Bernard Lahousse of website Foodpairing explained that while collaboration between humans is essential, chefs also needed to make use of technology to create new food pairings. Through the use of algorithms and computing, they have been able to create data points with ingredients that have been broken down into aroma molecules.
Steven Desair, founder of Eatmosphere, is on a mission to raise awareness about food waste in Brussels and Belgium in particular. He has set up a pop-up restaurant during the weekend to showcase and make use of ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away. “Today over one third of what is produced is thrown away even if 10 to 15% of people are hungry in Belgium. By 2050, we will have enough food to feed people so we will need to produce more and more,” he said. He has published a book to raise awareness about how to use food such as vegetables which might otherwise be thrown away.
San Degeimbre, chef of restaurant L’Air du Temps spoke of Perma-management or the importance of learning from nature. He spoke of the importance of the garden to his restaurant but added that like with trying to understand nature and to observe what is happening in the garden, it was also important to observe people in the team. “Plants will show you that they need water for example. But when someone tells you I am fine, it can mean many things and sometimes it means exactly the opposite.”
David Sinapian, of the Groupe Anne-Sophie Pic and president of Les Grandes Tables du Monde spoke how his wife (the chef) and he had to take over her father’s restaurant when he passed away. “It was not easy at the start but today we have grown the business by focusing on human resources. Today, we no longer look for expertise in the kitchen but rather for soft-skills. We look for people who are autonomous, dynamic, are good at team-work, flexible and have the ability to invent themselves. We no longer recruit because we have a vacancy but we are constantly recruiting people because we believe we will find them a place in the team if they fulfill our criteria.”
Frederic Kaiser, director of Restaurant Epicure Le Bristol spoke of the importance of the front of house in a restaurant experience. “There used to be the idea of servers being distant from their clients in Paris but things have change. People want proximity and want a great experience,” he said.
Maria Canabal, a food journalist and founder of Parabere Forum which aims to raise awareness about the importance of recruiting women in the food industry and inviting them to congresses said that there is a problem of gender balance and also a huge pay gap which is the second highest at 28%. “It is proven that gender diverse teams are 40% more innovative so it also makes business sense,” she said.
Claudia Sofia Von, a public relations expert said that story telling is essential when it comes to promoting a restaurant and one needed to be creative to find the right angle to tell the story.
Philippe Leman from Pilgrim Support spoke about the difference between being a leader and being a manager and stressed on the importance of leading people towards a common objective and vision.
The chefs that form part of Generation W are Sanghoon Degeimbre, Ludovic Vanackere, Jean-Baptiste and Christophe Thomaes, Pierre Résimont, Clément Petitjean, Maxime Collard, Christophe Pauly, Mario Elias, Eric and Tristan Martin, Laury Zioui, Thomas Troupin, Philippe Fauchet, Olivier Bourguignon, Fabrizzio Chirico, Martin Volkaerts, Carl Gillain, Julien Lahire, Benoit Neusy, Didier Galet, Philippe Meyers, Stephane Diffels and Jean-Philippe Watteyne.
You will be able to read in more detail about the very interesting presentations that were delivered during the W Food Festival congress.