When Kobe Desramaults said he wanted to reinvent the dining experience he was clearly being very serious about it. The chef of the renowned restaurant in De Wulf, in Dranouter, Belgium, which closed in December, has been serving guests in his new restaurant Chambre Séparée in the Belgian city of Gent since opening the new restaurant in June.
In a completely different format, the talented Belgian chef is doing what he loves best, cooking with fire in front of guests in what can easily be described as a unique experience. The restaurant only has 16 covers and the diners all sit around the kitchen. Here the cooking takes centre stage and the experience is focused on Kobe and his team working in harmony to serve a limited number of guests while cooking with different forms of fire.
There is no hiding for Kobe and his team. In a completely open environment you will know what is going on in the kitchen, whether there is a problem or not. Most importantly you will know whether the key performer, the chef, is in the kitchen or not. That alone is also a very important part of the experience because there are many high-end restaurants where the chef is not necessarily in the kitchen.
When you visit Chambre Séparée you are entering Kobe Desramaults world. Every detail is curated from the choice of music to the pace of the dinner which is fast. There are of course similarities to In De Wulf when it comes to the cooking, to the dishes that are served and also to the whole philosophy of eating out. Kobe has obviously reflected a lot during his time at In De Wulf about major food issues like food waste and his cooking is very much inspired by not only the sense of place but also the principle that everything should be used.
That principle could best be exemplified by the exceptional dish he served called Langoustine which is served three ways. This was a dish stunning in simplicity but one which explained all you needed to know about Kobe and his restaurant. The claw was served nearly raw, barely cooked, the main part of the langoustine was perfectly cooked to excel the sweetness and the heads were pressed in a duck press and served in the form of a juice.
It is obvious that Kobe is in his element. He may have been constrained to take certain decisions, like the number of staff in the restaurant, because of the heavy financial burden in Belgium of recruiting staff. What he is doing may be an answer to this. But in the process he has also created a new dining experience.
Has Kobe started the process to change the way we dine? That is still a question but in a world where dining is not just necessarily convivial but also a performance, a travel destination in its own right Chambre Séparée is entering new territory. This is because the experience at Chambre Séparée is different. As the customer, you are not the centre of the experience but rather a participant. It is like being at a theatre where this time the cooking and the chefs take centre stage and you accompany them through the performance.
While it might be impossible to book a table for one in some restaurants, here it is actually encouraged. The restaurant only takes bookings for one or two persons because they believe this is the best way to experience the dinner.
Another interesting aspect to the dining experience is that it is very quick and that is also something that the chef has reflected upon. When creating the experience, he wanted to cook for a small group of people and be able to serve many small dishes in quick succession. You could easily go through the 20 or so dishes that were served in just over two hours.
The restaurant is only open in the evenings and allows the chef and his team to also have a work-life balance which he could not find at In De Wulf. “At In De Wulf, I have people who work from morning to night non-stop. I want to reinvent what a restaurant should be like. I cannot do it at In de Wulf so I will do it in this place in Gent,” Kobe had told us.
This restaurant is going to set the bar high when it comes to restaurant experience and we have no doubt that it will become extremely difficult to get a table given the limited number of covers. Kobe has also introduced a pre-paid system whereby you pay for the dinner at the time of your booking. It is a system that has become common in the United States but is relatively new in Europe. So far, it seems to have worked.
A few words about the meal which was as impressive as the whole dining experience. The dish mentioned above, the langoustine cooked three ways was memorable but there were many other dishes that stood out, from the smoked mussels with crab and the courgette custard served hot to contrast with the cold Belgian caviar.
Other dishes that were impressive in their simplicity, the fava beans served with herbs and ham, the lobster cooked in butter, the tomato cooked in its juices and stuffed with paprika and the pigeon simply cooked on the fire and served very rare nearly reminding you of sashimi.
The experience is not necessarily cheap but this is not your normal dining experience and one which foodies around the world will come to travel for.
Kobe has set the bar very high for this restaurant which will only exist for the next three years. Will we see more chefs take such a bold approach?