The Flemish Primitives – Is Belgium the New Black?

On February 8th I attended my first international culinary conference, The Flemish Primitives, which took place in Bruges.

Named after a group of painters who were active in the Netherlands during the 15th and early 16th century in the flourishing cities of Bruges and Ghent, The Flemish Primitives today is the a group of Belgian chefs as well at the name of this annual culinary congress.

The event is organised by the Flanders Taste Foundation and the focus is innovation, creativity, research and collaboration. The chefs are encouraged to take part in tests and experiments with participating universities and companies. The goal is for the chefs to come up with something totally new and never seen before.

I was invited to the event back in September last year when I joined the six hands dinner Identity Crisis at the restaurant In de Wulf and during the dinner I met Bernard Lahousse, who is one of the project leaders of the congress. Also my friend bloggers Bruno, Stephane, Food Snob, Ingo and Laurent attended.

So, with the first morning flight to Paris I arrived on Sunday before the day of the event. Laurent and Bruno met me and Stephane at the Charles de Gaulle airport and we all drove towards Bruges.

On the way we stopped for an intense but excellent lunch at In de Wulf and fully stuffed we finally got to Bruges and the welcoming reception for the invited guests and the press.

After the welcoming speeches, small and delighting dishes were prepared by the chefs, The Flemish Primitives, in the two kitchens in the back of the hall room. It was great to see all the plates lined up and the chefs working together in getting everything right and ready. The dishes were examples of the impressive contemporary Flemish cuisine.

Filip Clayes and Roger van Damme

Parsley root in different textures and forms

After the reception we all went for a traditional Belgian dinner at the Bruges Concertgebouw. The feast was prepared by 3-star chef Peter Goossens and offered a very nice three-course dinner of croquettes with shrimps, eel with fennel and a green sauce of some kind and with fries on the side. To our surprise the dessert offered vanilla ice-cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce – also known as Coupe Danemark.

During the evening I was introduced to Jean-Pierre Gabriel, who kindly asked if I would like to be part of the panel discussion the next day along with Peter Goossens, Hof van Cleve, Fiona Morrison, Master Of Wine and Herman Konings, trend watcher. The focus was a combination of discussing the purpose of the 10 commandments of the Belgian gastronomy, which is a list of commitments that Belgian chefs part of the The Flemish Primitives have agreed to follow and respect. The other focus was on the social media’s effect on gastronomy. My role was to explain the effect of the manifesto of the new Nordic cuisine in Denmark and abroad, and also to comment on the social media and the bloggers’ influence on gastronomy today.

Anyway, the next morning at 8:30 the doors opened to the conference and we were there on time  although the first session started one hour later. 1250 people attended the conference which was more concentrated on the technical aspects of gastronomy and more scientific compared to last year’s conference.

The first presentation quite surprisingly revealed a new technique of a high pressure pump, which preserves food by subjecting it to a pressure of astounding 6000 bar. We all got a taster of four different types of shell fish. What struck me was that the fish’s surface was dry. The flavour was natural and very delicious and in fact the taste was quite strong and full.

Other presentations and talks followed, use of fermentation, distillation at low temperature, magnetic fields. All very impressive and unique.

Sang Hoon Degeimbre preparing the Korean dish Kimchi

The three Roca brothers of the El Cellar de Can Roca

Backstage my friends made interviews with a number of chefs, asking them about their philosophy, their restaurant and what they have presented at the conference. The interviews are in French and you can watch them at Cuisigner en Ligne.

Sang Hoon Degeimbre, L’Air du temps

Bart de Pooter, De Pastorale

Kobe Desramault, In de Wulf

Filip Clayes, De Jonkman

What I experienced at The Flemish Primitives was that they are working together, The Flemish Primitives are exploring new techniques and in fact succeeding in finding new ways of working with the produce.

I definitely find exciting what’s going on in Belgium right now. The food I have eaten at high-end places in Belgium is beautiful and inviting. It’s creative and innovative and a congress like this is stimulating new ideas. There seem to be a will to make a difference, to look out and to give a new life to Belgium’s gastronomy. What I brought home from the event was curiosity to learn more about what is going on in Belgium right now. I wonder, is Belgium the new black?

Many thanks to everyone involved!

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