If you happen to arrive to Le Chalet De la Forêt blindfolded or haven’t paid any attention to how you got there, you will not believe that you are still in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
Nestled in the immense Sonian Forest a bit further away from one of the main parks of the city, the Bois de la Cambre, is a chalet that houses this two Michelin star restaurant.
The road leading to the restaurant is stunning whichever season you pass through it. Be it the austere winter months, spring, summer or autumn when the leaves turn golden, it always has a magical feel especially at dawn or dusk.
In this location, Pascal Devalkeneer, the chef and owner of the restaurant and Kasper Kurdhal, the executive chef have joined their creative efforts and are starting to push boundaries hoping that they can take the restaurant to the next level.
Why this restaurant is not really on the radar screen is something that intrigues me and you can learn more from my interview with Kasper Kurdahl in the coming days. Here are two chefs that have what it takes (with other chefs in the city) to put Brussels on the world map. Pascal was considered to be one of the rising stars when Phaidon published Coco, a book where 10 culinary masters selected 100 contemporary chefs. His work has been recognised over the past years not just by the Michelin guide but also by many in business and he is known to have inspired many of today’s young Belgian chefs who are now working on their own. On the other hand, Kasper has worked at 6 different 3 Michelin star restaurants so he needs no introduction.
The restaurant has a large herb garden which some might consider a luxury for a city restaurant but Kasper believes the garden gives the restaurant a different dimension. “Both Pascal and I have worked with gardens for a very long time before it was in vogue. When I started my career with Roger Souvereyns we worked with produce from the garden. The garden is important not only from an education point of view but also because the produce is better,” he said.
They have planted all types of herbs and spices which they use in the restaurant and also treat organic waste and make compost. “This is not just a communication tool but also extremely important for our wellbeing. My seven year old boy is learning about compost at school. It is our duty to take care of nature, we need to understand nature and do something about it,” Kasper told Food and Wine Gazette.
We chat for over one and a half hours and then Kasper asks me whether I am ready to start lunch. The welcome is a tree to reflect the location of the restaurant “After all we are a restaurant in the forest,” Kasper says.
I’m a guest which gives me the possibility to go to the kitchen between dishes out of table and discuss each dish to discuss them with Kasper. What strikes you with each is the seemingly simplicity. Exceptional flavours and produce is what you would expect from a restaurant of this quality but here were two chefs pushing the boundaries in terms of flavour.
Pascal has been known for his ‘rock and roll’ style of cooking despite his very classic basis of his cuisine. Kasper, whose worked with some of the World’s greatest chefs like Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse, Roger Souvereyns to mention just a few names is focused not just on technique but also on how to create an emotion or memory for the customer.
There is not one ingredient which is out of place but there is also a certain playfulness with techniques which are not visible unless you ask. The pigeon has been cooked three ways, first poached, then cooked at a very low temperature and finally roasted. It is a process that lasts days and the result is one of the most stunning pigeon dishes I’ve ever tasted.
There is also different techniques used for different fish. The bass is cooked without any fat, the turbot with butter resulting in two dishes with different tastes, different textures and a beautiful contrast.
The sea urchin, langoustine dish with peas and beans is given a sensational kick with caramelised curry on top. One of the classic dishes of the restaurant, Oyster Tartare with caviar, broccoli flowers, juice of vegetables, acidic lemon and potatoes is an example of the restaurant philosophy to look for the perfect balance of textures, seasoning, acidity and freshness.
“We are a classic restaurant in the sense that this is a big restaurant and we have retained the classic part by choosing to have a big a la carte menu with starters, fish, meat as well as the menus. We also have a lunch menu and also suggestions. Instead of taking the modern route of just having one menu or a few tasting menus we choose to keep this big restaurant identity,” Kasper said. “But that’s the only classic part you will find,” Kasper told Food and Wine Gazette.
“We do not have rules when it comes to cooking but we have guidelines. That is to create experience and emotion or sexy food. What is sexy food? For me, it is when you have an emotion about what you are eating or are caught by surprise,” Kasper said.
That pretty much sums up the experience at Le Chalet de la Forêt. Exceptional cooking, technique that aims to bring the best out of the produce with surprising flavour combinations through the right mix of herbs, spiceness and acidity.
Put this restaurant on your radar screens.
Don’t miss our interview with Kasper Kurdahl in the coming days. We talk about how he ended in Belgium, the day he refused an offer to become the sous-chef of Ferran Adria, why he hopes Belgium wins the World Cup and what it means to work in tandem with Pascal Devalkeneer.