Georges Rouzeau - 2012-06-09
Three childhood friends – Jason Blanckaert (J.E.F.), Olly Ceulenaere (Volta) and Kobe Desramaults (De Vitrine) – are the Flemish Foodies, a group of chums who are mad about cooking. With a collective preference for simple, accessible ingredients, they’ve succeeded in shaking up Ghent’s gourmet scene.
Jason Blanckaert, Olly Ceulenaere and Kobe Desramaults are inseparable. They met in Ghent (which the Flemish spell ‘Gent’), went to school together and learned the same profession. All three love to cook – just as they love parties and rock’n’roll. The extremely talented trio also trained at the finest starred establishments of France and Belgium.
Together they constitute the Flemish Foodies, a group inspired by the same principles as the ‘locavore’ movement. The three chefs share a desire to showcase ingredients from the North Sea and the Flemish countryside, and do their best to make gastronomy more democratic and accessible. Meticulous and perfectly professional, the spirit of their cuisine is nonetheless playful and light. Anything goes, including recipes that call upon technical expertise (low-temperature cooking, Thermomix, liquid nitrogen…) while seeming perfectly, beautifully natural.
In lieu of deluxe products, they often prefer top-quality, easy-to-find ingredients such as ham or whelks which they prepare and transform at length. Of the same ilk as the feted restaurant Le Chateaubriand in Paris, they ‘do bistro’ for lunch and ‘posh, sleek gastronomy’ for dinner.
First of all, there’s Jason Blanckaert
who was already ‘Michelin-starred’ when he cooked at C-Jean
. With his wife Famke, he now runs J.E.F
.: a smashing success. He’s also famous throughout the city for his tapas served Friday nights at 10.30 p.m. after the theatre. Concocted using the restaurant’s ‘leftovers’, the tapas are wildly popular, even if the queue to get in often involves an hour’s wait.
And then there’s Olly Ceulenaere who established Volta, open since November 2010, in a fabulous former electric power plant whose decor has been preserved. This tall, friendly chef offers a ‘lunch tray’ for the basic price of € 24/£ 20, attracting a clientele of executives and gourmets (who are often one and the same). Fresh, flavourful, wholesome: the concept is a hit. Come evening, the lights are dimmed, the number of seats restricted and the € 59/£ 49 five-course ‘tasting menu’ is de rigueur.
Finally, there’s Kobe Desramaults, the best-known of the three, who has already been ‘starred’ for his In De Wulf restaurant located in Heuvelland, five kilometres from the French border. In Ghant, Desramaults fell for an old butchershop in the heart of the red light district. He entrusted it to his sister Eels who is assisted by Olly’s girlfriend and two of his former cooks, Matthias Speybroeck and Niels Desnouck. The establishment was launched in June 2011. With a decor that is nearly intact – marble fittings, tiled floors, cured meats hanging from hooks –, De Vitrine is wonderfully authentic. The name, which means ‘the showcase’ or ‘window’ is a tip of the hat to the other windows and wares of the red light district. Its qualities? Fresh regional ingredients treated with respect and given pride of place, and there’s a lovely selection of natural wines by the glass. As with Volta, the € 24/£ 20 lunch menu becomes a € 45/£ 37 dinner menu in the evening.
Nieuwe Wandeling 2b B
Tel: +32 (0)9 32 40 500
Brabantdam 134 B
Tel: +32 (0)9 33 62 808
Lange Steenstraat 10
Tel: +32 (0)9 33 68 058
Where to stay
Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof
Tel: +32 (0)9 235 40 70
One of Ghent’s most recent hotels, the Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof is situated in a magnificent classic manor dating from the 18C. Now listed as a Historic Monument, the building was designed by Baron Olivier Reylof (1684-1742). Inside, there remain several (handsome) traces of the Empire style, such as a superb winding staircase and a few fireplaces. 158 rooms, several bars and an appetising restaurant, all at less than ten minutes from the city’s historic centre.
By ferry from the UK, Ghent/Gent is 70 km east of Ostend/Oostende.
Via Eurostar with a change in Brussels (3 hours): www.eurostar.com