“It is essential to understand nature before you can start to understand your kitchen,” says San Degeimbre, chef of Belgian restaurant L’ Air du Temps. “A plant will give you lots of hints about what you can do in the kitchen. Observing plants and nature not only inspires you but also communicates with you. Through observation you can notice that a plant or vegetable needs water. But when we speak with humans, observation is all the more essential because communication alone is not sufficient. Someone can tell you that they are very well when it might mean exactly the opposite. Understanding and observing are therefore essential,” he said.
Drawing inspiration from perma-culture he spoke about what he called perma management or taking inspiration from nature to find ways to solve problems and find ways to manage people. He was speaking at the first W Food Festival event organised the Generation W, the collective of chefs from the French speaking Belgian region of Wallonia which he founded.
This month, San and his team are celebrating 20 years since the restaurant opened. The Korean born chef of L’Air du Temps said that being a chef and a restaurant owner means that you are not just cooking but you are also the head of a business, an entrepreneur, a researcher and a manager.
The restaurant has a garden which is an essential element of San’s cuisine. The vegetable garden from Liernu has in fact become one of the most symbolic dishes of the restaurant.
He spoke about how 2016 was a difficult year weather wise. “The gardener was despairing in the garden and at times we felt it was better off if we bought our vegetables instead of growing our own. A thought enters your mind that you might as well abandon the project but then you pick a small plant or vegetable after a spell of bad weather and you realise that its fantastic even if its not perfect. You ultimately know that if you abandon such a project you will abandon who you are.”
He said the same thing happened with people. “You need to get the best out of people. For plants, we sometimes change the place where a plant or vegetable is grown because this is better for the eco-system. The same thing is important for humans. Change allows humans to stay motivated.
Today between L’Air du Temps and his two Brussels restaurants called San, he employs around 45 to 50 people. “When you grow you learn that you cannot manage it alone.”
He spoke about the setting up of a Research and Development team but ultimately decided against because if someone is alone they will stagnate. He has instead opted to work as a team when it came to thinking about new creations. “If you look at nature, you can get inspired by a bee which goes to all plants leaving traces everywhere. So sometimes, I give an idea to my second or to a trainee and ask them to imagine what can be done.”
With perma management, San always look to nature for inspiration. “Whenever there is a problem I always try to find something in nature which helps me find a system to solve the problem. Ultimately, you cannot go against nature,” he said.