Some stories are there to be told…
… the PAST: one about my personal history with OAD (Opinionated about Dining)…
… the PRESENT: one about the friendship and professionalism of seven chefs serving the OAD Top100 European Restaurants 2014 diner in Brussels last Monday…
… the FUTURE: and, finally, one about the future of fine dining that already shined through at the OAD diner…
When I started to get interested in fine dining in a serious way I came across some forums that discussed the latest trends, shared experiences and gave advice from an international perspective. Among them was Steve Plotnicki’s Opinionated about Dining where I found similar minds to share my passion. It was here that, in 2005, I posted about German fine dining and asked why no-ones writes about the German scene. Steve answered that there is nobody to promote those restaurants and the consensus was that German fine dining was a mere copy of French haute cuisine. So, as a matter of fact my whole blogging mission was born out of this OAD threat as I want to showcase and portrait the German fine dining scene, first on the site highendFOOD (that miraculously now belongs to the you-know-who of the German culinary world) and now under this new endeavor culinary-insights.de.
From what I read at OAD, Steve came across very argumentative, vivid, passionate, knowledgeable and crazy about food. I still remember sitting in Oud Sluis in 2007 (a restaurant Steve directed by into) and discussing Steve’s recent trip with a friend on that they drove enormous routes in Spain to find some restaurants (among them was Extebarri as far as I remember). After some time, we finally got to meet each other and shared a nice trip in Germany eating at Schloss Berg and Amador in 2008. In the coming years we shared some spectacular events like the Copenhagen crawl in May2010 or our trip to Can Roca and El Bulli in February 2011.
In the meantime, Steve focused on initiating a survey among fine diners to rate their experiences and worked out an elaborated weighting system to rate the importance of the participants and started to publish the survey in 2009. Right now, the survey builds on over 70,000 reviews by 4,300 participants – I kind of proud to have made to the Top100 Fine dining Voters;-)
The PRESENT (aka the OAD diner)
To celebrate the presentation of the TOP100 European Restaurants list on June 9, Steve set up a diner at BOZAR Brasserie in Brussels. This brasserie is run under the concept of David Martin who is the chef de cuisine of La Paix also in Brussels. Organized by my friend Laurent Vanparys, a fellow blogger who founded OneBite Consulting, the chef line-up was spectular: Gert De Mengeleer (Hertog Jan***, Bruges), Quique Dacosta (Quique Dacosta Restaurante***, Denia), Sergio Herman (The Jane, Antwerp and Pure-C, Cadzan), Tim Raue (Restaurant Tim Raue**, Berlin), Sang-Hong Degeimbre (L’Air du Temps**, Liernu/B), Esben Holmboe Bang (Maeemo**, Oslo) and David Martin himself.
There was first a caption at 1700 before the result were presented at 1800 – surprisingly Kobe Desrameults of In de Wulf took the top spot from Quique Dacosta who had been number one in 2013. The menu ahead of us made us all smile as this would be a gigantic effort to coordinate all the chefs and send the dishes in good timing and the expected high quality. Let’s see how this worked out…
Gert de Mengeleer of Hertog Jan opened the show with a clear statement: reduction is king and let the product speak for itself. A seemingly simple dish: intense yummy avocado not too fatty was coated with just the right amount of tomato powder and seasoned with some sea salt. Together with a little bit of olive oil, this was a big hit, just delicious, incorporating textural contrasts (the mouth-feel of the avocado in combination with the slightly crispy tomato powder) and the perfect harmony of avocado and tomato. Outstanding!
As I have not yet been to the so much raved Maaemo, I was particularity interested in chef Esben’s first course that was a real fresh and light authentic dish. The oyster was served as an intensified jelly, flirting nicely with some mussels cream and being transformed into a light assemblage by a wonderful dill jus. I am pretty sure there is much technical effort involved but, in the end, it was a real fresh and delicate second opener…
David Martin then demonstrated what he can be up to: the young cucumber was grilled in the now so popular “Jasper oven” served luke-warm and garnished with some trout roe, passepierre algae and herbs whereas the cuttlefish was thinly sliced and cold adding some nice temperature contrast and textural mouth-feel. But the absolute highlight was the amazing Langoustine bouillon to die for. Altogether an excellent dish and a clear step-up in intensity, very deliberate in terms of menu dramaturgy (thanks Laurent!). And, very versatile pairing with young and fresh Côtes de Provence!
It was quite clear from looking behind the scenes that Quique Dacosta had already prepared a quite elaborate dish using his beloved gamba de Denia with a variation of beets and maybe the best gazpacho I have ever eaten. Divine is the only word I have for this experience.
Then, it was Sergio’s turn! Being a big fan of his cuisine at Oud Sluis I was quite curious how he progressed and developed further. And, as Gert, he clearly reduced the complexity on the plate compared to his former Ous Sluis style. But, the “Sergio essence” is there: an interplay between acid and sweet elements, yet less texturally pronounced as before. The product itself is more on the forefront. Although the two main protagonists, the formidable “oosterschelde” eel slightly smoked and served warm and wrapped with a tiny but very tasty slice of West Flemish beef in combination with yellow and white beet, a cream of peas and a intricate vinaigrette adding the expected acidity. A masterpiece, as expected from this true culinary genius. Chapeau!
Maaemo2 was up next – the first of two consecutive mackerel dishes – this one very soft, a hard stand after Sergio’s strong flavors. But it worked amazingly in course of the menu: the mackerel was only lightly pickled, almost en nature, and came with ramson leaves, a sauce of preserved apple – and, suddenly there was this rare effect of flavors “clicking” and it all came together – some garlic-like notes of the ramson, smokiness of the mackerel, freshness of the apple but not too dominant – I must say I fall in love with the Norwegian take on their “New Naturals” perspective. Reduced to the max – outstanding!
The second mackerel dish was presented by David Martin – and, my fellow foodies, it couldn’t be more different, yet building on the same product. Interpreted in a Japanese way, it showed the fleshy character of the mackerel being marinated with Sake kasu (the leftovers from Sake production) that literally throned on the fabulous cep dashi sugo accompanied by some “beach pine” and a small risotto to appeal to the Sake kasu. Excellent!
Then, my personal favorite of the night, the second dish of Gert De Mengeleer: simple, tasty and to the point, I have never eaten a better bell pepper. This one was appealing to some Mediterranean / Greek flavors but it was so spectacular that it can’t be described in words! Leaves me still speechless – Gert, make sure, you serve that one the next time I show up at your then new place…
So, it was “Tim time” – for Tim Raue to rock the stage… I had eaten the Wasabi langoustine before at his restaurant in Berlin and must say that there was not the slightly difference in presentation or quality. It’s an immensely yummy dish, succulent, delicate with an amazing langoustine quality being coated by a Wasabi cream and Wasabi/panko flakes. Characteristically, Tim uses a deliberate spiciness in all his dishes and has even tamed this in recent years making his cuisine more accessible (and overall bringing him the second star in the Michelin 2013 edition). Excellent!
The Tim’s second dish was a clear step up in intensity and spiciness and maybe the most provocative dish of the evening. With the intense truffled rice wine jus, the nice celery it was very good and rich but did not fit that well in the overall dramaturgy. But, I am pretty sure people will remember it the most as it was quite controversial;)
Back on the more traditional route – a typical “Sergio” with a nice interplay of the juicy Iberico neck (slowly cooked I assume) in combination with a superb aubergine all held together by miso structures and an intense sesame cream – as expected, a formidable built-in acidity that only great masters like Sergio can so effortlessly integrate in a dish.
Quique is another master but also in a field that you would not expect: rice dishes! He has extensively written about all sorts of rice variations (his book „Arroces Contemporáneos“ published in 2005) and in the early years at El Poblet you could still order Paella (Steve P. did, by the way, at his first visit and inserted 2 or 3 Paellas in a modern structuralistic multi-course dinner – or was it lunch?). So, Quique’s “ashes” dish builds on this profound knowledge serving a traditional rice dish in a modern way building on creamy yet still al dente rice with pigeon, truffles and eel – a formidable combination whereas the complexity unfolds in the course of eating as there are many surprising textural and flavor elements. In end, an immensely yummy dish!
The pre-desert by the Michael Vrijmoed (Restaurant Vrijmoed) and Matthieu Beudaert (Table d’Amis, Krotrijk/B) was both fun and delicate – a very light touch on a cheese course as the combination of ryepanaer (aged gouda) and soy milk came out not too strong and dominant more like an ice cream. Perfect pairing with the caramel sugo and ice-rosted potatoes. Not too sweet and wonderfully balanced. Excellent!
First dessert course – a nice interpretation of the use of regional beer presented by Damien Bouchéry (Restaurant Bouchéry, Brussels) and Julien Burlat (Restaurant Le Dôme, Antwerp), also accompanied with some Kriek Boon by Brasserie Boon: intense, perfect cherries and a succulent pepper meringue all held together by some cherry – Kriek beer sugo and garnished with clover. Excellent!
Finally, Sang crowned the menu with a quite traditional tartlet with rhubarb, strawberry, elderflower and robinia – light, succulent and a perfect finale!
This was a glimpse into the future – how state-of-the-art chefs, some of the best chefs in the world, see the style of cooking evolving. It’s about reduction to the essentiell, about the nature of the products and a simplification of recipes, even Sergio’s plates showed more purism than at Oud Sluis. “The thrill of the gel is gone”, as Grant Achatz has nicely put it – regionalism is in, friendship among the chefs is, transparency…
Maybe the next big topic besides techniques (remember techno-emotional or even the no-word molecular cuisine) and the focus on regional produce will be democratization, freeing fine dining from its own burden being self-centered and only concerned about progress. In the end, it’s culture, an experience that needs be brought closer to the client in terms of authenticity and also pricing. Only in this way can fine dining survive in the long run as no client segments need to be opened up.
Thanks to Steve, Laurent and all the chefs involved – it was a true benchmark experience in terms of particular dishes, the overall dramaturgy and, most importantly, the amazing quality served for 120 in a Brasserie kitchen environment – big chapeau!!