The champagne bottles were out for two Japanese chefs who cooked at Hertog Jan in Zedelgem earlier this year. Both Zaiyu Hasegawa of restaurant Den in Tokyo and Hiroyasu Kawate, chef of Florilège in Tokyo clinched their second star earlier this week. The third chef to cook at Gert De Mangeleer’s restaurant was Yusuke Takada from La Cime in Osaka whose restaurant also has 2 Michelin stars.
It was the perfect accolade for these two talented chefs who have been traveling and working on collaboration dinners over the past year. We caught up with the three chefs who cooked at the three Michelin star restaurant in Zedelgem to get their views of their experience in Flanders cooking with Belgian chef Gert de Mangeleer.
When we caught up with Hiroyasu Kawate at Hertog Jan he told us his goal was to move ahead, to get better in what he does, to search for perfection and to enjoy himself. He did not know that he his restaurant would clinch a second star. “I want to continue working with more dedication and commitment,” he said.
Kawate is known for focusing on trying to eliminate food waste from his restaurant and also to raise awareness on the issue in Japan, something that is not necessarily easy to achieve.
In Belgium he met Filip Claeys, chef of Brugge restaurant De Jonkman and founder of North Sea Chefs which was set up with the aim to promote the use of fish that is caught as a by-product and which is not common or sought after. “Speaking to Filip was an inspiration because I was impressed by his focus on sustainability, how he is cooking with unknown fish, making it more valuable and raising awareness about it.”
The Japanese chef said that the ultimate goal for him is similar but the way to get there is very diffierent. “We also face scarcity of fish in Japan and have a focus on sustainability. But the specifics and conditions in the countries are different and in this respect my visit to Belgium has been an eye opener.”
“I am building that same sort of philosophy and my meeting with Filip will help to strengthen my vision. But for the time being, it is not easy to pass this message of sustainability and no waste in Japan. But I feel that I have a duty and a responsibility to put this issue in the forefront. It is a part of me and without this I would not fell comfortable to work. So I need to work harder, need to push further. I cannot ignore the situation and I need to make people aware about waste. There is a strong message that you can give through food.”
He told Food and Wine Gazette that the garden at Hertog Jan was also an inspiration. “It was not my first time but I could see it in a deeper way and experience nature’s cycle. The difference is that this restaurant is big while in Tokyo we have a small restaurant. It would be impossible to have such a restaurant in Tokyo because the space is too expensive. Our capacity is 24 and that is a big difference.”
The chef of La Cime in Osaka is not new to Western Europe given he lived and studied in France and took that style with him.
He told Food and Wine Gazette that it was a huge learning experience to cook with Gert. “He makes bold dishes and is constantly keeping the standards very high. You can only learn from such experiences and from being able to work close to him. I hope that this experience will eventually help me to achieve my goal of having a three star restaurant,” Yusuke Takada said.
The Japanese chef said he was not surprised by the produce given he was aware of French produce. He loved Brugge and its architecture. “What I also notice is that Gert really creates dishes that come from the region not only in terms of the style but also in terms of the design. You can feel the atmosphere, the sense of design in Brugge and when you taste Gert’s dishes they have this sense of place. It would not be the same if the restaurant was somewhere else,” he said.
So how did he create the stunning dish (Duck with eel sauce), I ask. “When I saw the products list I saw paprika and eel and knew that I could use the eel with paprika in a sauce. Duck and eel as a combination are not common but in Japan, you can find ducks growing near rice fields and that gave me the image of an eel that is found in a river close to the rice fields. That’s how inspiration works some time.”
On the other hand, Zaiyu Hasegawa, who we had interviewed earlier when he visited Enrico Crippa in Alba earlier this year said that he could see the differences between Belgium and Italy very clearly thought the two restaurants both grew their own vegetables and had their own gardens. “The use of the vegetables is completely different. But both have the wish and feeling to bring the best out of the fresh produce.
“What I will be taking with me from this experience cooking with Gert is the fact that whatever the Belgian chef creates is not only beautiful but it is always delicious. This is not easy to do. It is not difficult to make something look beautiful. But for it to be beautiful and taste good is really something special,” he said.
The event, organised with the support of Visit Flanders and Arts Flanders Japan, aimed to raise awareness of this Belgian region by introducing the chefs and a few Japanese and international media to some of Gert and Joachim Boudens favourite suppliers and fellow chefs.
All photos by Piet de Kersgieter