Thursday 19 January, Restaurant Bon Bon, Brussels: A few days after the shock announcement that Hertog Jan, one of two 3 Michelin star restaurants in Belgium would close at the end of this year, chef Gert de Mangeleer was cooking his first ever collaboration dinner in Belgium as guest of Brussels chef Christophe Hardiquest.
This was the first Bon Bon Origins Dinner, a series of dinners created by Hardiquest, chef of two Michelin star restaurant Bon Bon who has been going back to the origins researching stories and recipes that are part of Brussels and Belgian heritage.
One such story from the previous century has made it to the first Bon Bon Origins dinner. Up to the 1950s, in the streets of Brussels, there used to be a man called the ‘marchand de coco’ who would walk with 40 kilogrammes on his back and serve a drink called the Kalichezap, a mix of lemon, almonds and liquorice among others. Today, chef Christophe Hardiquest has turned this drink into a dessert that is served in his restaurant as part of Bon Bon Origins.
Hardiquest has launched 2018 by inviting De Mangeleer to be the first chef to cook in a series of dinners that will continue in March and go on till 2019 and 2020. In these dinners, he is inviting chefs from around the world who are focused on their terroirs to try and discover how they work, how they showcase their terroirs and what goes into their creative process. “These dinners are a way to celebrate our differences and also our beautiful “origins” together. It is also a way to push further our knowledge and new ideas,” he said.
Gert de Mangeleer is not new to collaboration dinners. Over the past years he has travelled to Asia for such dinners. But he has never cooked a four hands dinner in Belgium. “This is the first collaboration dinner that I have done in Belgium and I immediately accepted because I respect Christophe and consider him to be one of the best chefs in Belgium,” he told the guests at restaurant Bon Bon on Thursday evening. He has also promised a former colleague of his a gig next month in Gent to celebrate the clinching of the first Michelin star.
It was, however, not the first time that Gert had cooked at Bon Bon. In fact the Brussels restaurant was the host to a 40 hands dinner in November 2016 as part of the GELINAZ! Headquarters event. Gert de Mangeleer was paired with Clare Smyth and cooked alongside another 18 world top chefs at Bon Bon.
Christophe Hardiquest said he was thrilled to welcome Gert as the first chef of the series of Bon Bon Origins dinners. “Beyond his talent, his humanity and his creativity he also gives a lot of importance to the terroir and shares this vision in relation to our country.” He also joked that he was pleased to be the first chef to make his restaurant available to Gert given the recent announcement on the closure of Hertog Jan.
Bon Bon Origins was born from a statement, the fact that the globalisation of gastronomy is accelerating. “My fear of one day seeing the same products, the same dishes being served in all fine dining restaurants has made me realise that I need to do something to counter this movement,” Christophe said.
For these dinners, Christophe is inviting young Belgian talents to also participate by cooking the appetizers and work alongside the guest chefs and Cristophe and his team. For this dinner, Christophe invited his sous chef Adrien Cunnac, a young rising talent to create three dishes (appetizers and dessert). “He has been working with me for six years and it was only natural for me to invite him to join us for this first dinner.”
The work on Bon Bon origins has been going on for two years. In these two years, the Belgian chef has been going through books and journals to discover long lost recipes or stories which he can then recreate. “Through culinary experiments, I arrive at the creation of a new series of recipes that is all about Belgian cooking, about Belgian products while at the same time working in a contemporary fashion.” He has chosen the iconic tomate crevettes or tomatoes with shrimps, a truly Belgian classic, a grilled rabbit tartare served with Geuze from the Cantillon brewery and a Flemish beef carbonnade apart from the Feuille a Feuille Kalichezap (see story above).
These combined perfectly with Gert’s dishes which made the dinner a truly spectacular one for the guests that were lucky to get a seat at the restaurant. The dinner sold out in less than 2 hours from when it was announced.
On his side, Gert served the crispy cannelloni stuffed with Flemish red beef cured and salted by renowned butcher Hendrik Dierendonck, black radish from his garden with sea bass from Niewupoort served with a butter sauce with fermented tomatoes and a fresh cheese, one of his signature dishes the langoustine from Zeebrugge with beetroots and pickled raspberries and the eel with green herbs and fermented black garlic, a reinterpretation of a Belgian classic.
Adrien Cunnac created a typical Belgian apero, a meringue of cheese and beer and also “La baignaoire du gendarme” an egg with herring. For dessert he created a buckwheat waffle with chamomile and honey.
This turned out to be the perfect start to the Bon Bon Origins project. A dinner that was perfectly balanced and harmonious which is not always easy to achieve. It was a night that brought together two of Belgium’s most talented chefs. It was also an emotional evening because it was a reminder of what the country is set to lose when Hertog Jan closes at the end of the year. Gert de Mangeleer with his business partner Joachim Boudens has promised the start of a new chapter, including a new fine dining experience that will pop-up in secret places and serve just a few covers.
Hats off to Christophe Hardiquest for managing to convince Gert to cook in Brussels. While the ew guest chefs are yet to be announced, the next dinner is set to be held towards the end of March. The first dinner at Bon Bon has set the bar very high.