Six years after opening L’Air du Temps in its current idyllic location, in the middle of the Belgian countryside in Liernu, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre is set to embark on a new journey as he reopens the newly refurbished restaurant which will open the doors to many new possibilities.
With a new dining room that is between the kitchen and the garden, clients are expected to get a completely new experience when they visit the restaurant next time.
“It is what we wanted to do from the start,” San told Food and Wine Gazette in an interview. “When we moved six years ago, we wanted to have the dining room that was connected to the garden but unfortunately, we did not have the budget to carry out that project. We wanted the guests to be connected to the garden.”
Ultimately this may prove to be a better decision because San and his team today know the farm which houses the restaurant inside out. “We now know the restaurant and the space better and we can therefore plan the new space in a way which might have been different,” he said.
The project includes five new rooms which will bring the number of guest rooms in the farmhouse to 11.
Work on the project started in summer of last year though the work on the dining room only started in January which meant that the restaurant has had to reduce the number of weekly services. “It was not easy because we wanted to keep all our staff working full-time even though we were not serving guests on certain days but this is essential if you want to retain the rhythm,” he said.
During the refurbishment, they have had to serve 60% less guests but those who visited the restaurant were able to taste a special menu with the best dishes from the past winters.
The new space means that the guests will get a completely new experience when they go to L’Air du Temps. “Our idea was not just to change the dining room and making it central to the garden but also to be able to use all the space for clients to be able to move from one place to another also making use of the garden which is part and parcel of the restaurant,” he said.
While the restaurant grows in space, it is not the intention of San and his team to increase the number of covers. They will continue to serve a maximum of 40 to 50 covers.
San spoke about the six international guests who will be visiting L’Air du Temps throughout 2018.
These are Anne Sophie Pic, chef of 3 Michelin star restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic in Valence France, Dominique Crenn of 2 Michelin starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, USA, Emmanuel Renault, chef of 3 Michelin star Flocons de Sel in Megeve, France, Mauro Colagreco of two Michelin star restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, Magnus Ek of 2 Michelin star restaurant Oaxen Krog in Stockholm, Sweden and Andreas Caminada of three Michelin star restaurant Schauenstein Schloss Restaurant in Switzerland. The name of the events is PLAY FOOD and San’s idea is to let them use the terroir and the garden to express their personality and dishes.
“It is interesting to observe the different styles of the chefs at close range and also for my clients to get to experience the cuisine of these six incredibly talented chefs. It is a way to enrich the experience of Belgian guests and also show the world what we can do in Belgium,” San said.
The Belgian chef said that it also gives the opportunity to his team to enrich themselves with new experiences and see how other chefs work. “Not everyone in the team has the possibility to travel and work in different kitchens so this is a way to bring this experience home,” he said.
So how do these new plans defer from his original vision of six years ago, I ask him. “I think that we have learned to work with the space we have. This is something that was difficult to imagine. Before we did not have a connection to the garden and we need to show how important this is to our whole concept of cooking. We had to find a way to bring the garden into the restaurant. We also want to show our guests the work we do with fermentation because this is not something that people see at the moment and it is also an important part of our work. The new space will help us to show what we do and also to explain easily our work.”
Of course the question as to whether all this investment will lead to a third Michelin star. “It is not something we pursue though of course it would be nice recognition for our work. But in the end, what we want to do is show that things are happening in Belgium on the gastronomic scene, that there is a new, modern and contemporary cuisine that is opening up to the world,” he said.
San will be working in an open kitchen, something that he had already done in his old location. “We have nothing to hide. We’ve had a camera in our kitchen for guests to see what was happening in the kitchen. But it is also interesting for us to see our clients and to be able to interact with them.”
San is also ready to start working more with vegetables also at the dinner table. “At the moment we may cut the meat at table but this is not done with vegetables and we want to change this,” he said.
The plates at the restaurant will also change. The chef has entered a collaboration with Mauviel which will provide him with the utensils that can be used in the dining room.
The newly refurbished restaurant and rooms opens on 13 April after the Easter Holidays.