So, the year end is creeping up on us and it’s time for me to take a look back over my shoulder to my culinary year 2015…not in dishes but in chefs…because without chefs and their brilliant teams of sous, chefs de partie, etc…, waiters, maître d’s, dishwashers and cleaners, there simply wouldn’t be any fine dining at all. This is my way of saying ‘Thank you’ to all the hardworking professionals out there who made my 2015 into yet another culinary grand cru!

Here are, in (almost) arbitrary order, a number of people I want to put in the spotlights this year…

GEERT VAN HECKE, Chef at De Karmeliet, 3* in Brugge (B), I just have to start with chef Van Hecke. He is one of the key people who have shaped my passion for fine dining. His restaurant started next to my elementary school and later on moved to my street, the one and only Langestraat, where chef achieved the Champion’s League status of 3* which he proudly held ever since for over 20 years now! #RESPECT Thank you chef for your years of dedication and hard work, for what you have passed on to new generations of top chefs and most of all, for your warmth and kindness. It has been a privilege and honor to dine at De Karmeliet over the last twenty years, hope to be back soon for a last meal before the doors close for ever.

MIKAEL JONSSON, Chef at Hedone, 1*, in Chiswick, London (GB), what can I say Mikael, we were welcomed like princess when we came back to your restaurant earlier this month, after a long one year absence and we ate like kings. Your obsession for sourcing topnotch ingredients and for skillfully transforming them into pure, delightful dishes makes your restaurant into one of Europe’s prime foodie destinations. Your bold move to downsize has raised more than one eyebrow, but I can testify, it’s a huge success! It was so great to talk to you for well over an hour after service, getting an even better understanding of your cooking philosophy and almost endless knowledge about ingredients.

CHRIS BAU, Chef at Victor’s Gourmet Schlossberg, 3*, in Perl-Nennig (D) Dear Chef, how lucky am I to have your restaurant so close to where I live!! It’s become a yearly ritual to visit Schlossberg to enjoy your work, which is almost an artform…You master the combination of European cooking, local ingredients and Japanese influences to perfection. The beautiful plates that are coming out of your kitchen look so impressive that it’s a shame to eat them…or no, they are definitely so good that you just HAVE to eat them…and the wines….aaahhhh the wines play an important part in making a visit to Schlossberg truly unforgettable, also thanks to the irreplaceable sommelier Daniel… Thank you for your friendship and your hospitality!

SANGHOON DEGEIMBRE, Chef at l’Air du Temps, 2*, in Liernu (B), over the years our friendship and mutual respect has grown strong like the best steel…every visit to your beautiful restaurant and its gardens is like a fairytale…with your dedicated team of hospitality professionals you turn every meal into a whirlwind of discoveries both for the eyes and the palate. Not only Belgian but also European top level…and most of all, a truly unique dining experience…My home away from home. X

EMMANUEL RENAUT, Chef at Flocons de Sel, 3*, in Megève (F), My meal here was the first ever to get a 20/20 score…so yes, the perfect meal does exist. Particularly pleasing for me since Emmanuel Renaut is the only 3* chef I’ve known in the days when he had no stars. Despite his quick ascension to the top of world gastronomy, Emmanuel managed to remain…well…Emmanuel…a humble and warm man and at the same time incredibly driven 😉 His love for the mountains, his seemingly simple, but detailed approach to the conception of a dish and his incredible technical skill make his restaurant the finest I have ever eaten at, world-class, no doubt.

TIM BOURY, Chef at Boury, 1*, in Roeselare (B), West Flemish people are known to be hard working people who take their jobs very seriously and who don’t talk more than is strictly necessary. Well, that is a pretty good description of Tim Boury…till you get to know him better. Then, you realize he is all that and on top of that he is a damn good cook who developed his very own style…and a great guy. I had my best lunch of the year here with the grilled beef served on a mini bbq on the table as an absolute culinary high. The service is also remarkable and in the good hands of his wife Inge and the young but very professional front of house team. Tim, I have to say, I expected your 2* this year but for some mysterious reason Michelin decided to ignore the whole of West Flanders, not only you, so I guess it will be for 2017 (fingers crossed)!!!

LOÏC VILLEMIN, Chef at Toya, 1*, in Faulquemont (F) My dear Loïc, on two occasions this year, you showed me why you were rightfully the youngest chef to get a Michelin star in France. Your cooking is super well mastered, technical, inventive and extremely well balanced… Your potatoes cooked in clay were simply extraterrestrialy good! I have not often seen such talent as yours. I will keep a close eye on your work and evolution for sure…can’t wait to be back in Faulquemont

CYRIL MOLLARD, Chef at Ma Langue Sourit, 1*, in Moutfort (L) Cyril, for me it has been an excellent year for Ma Langue Sourit. I must have eaten some six times at your restaurant which allowed me to be repeatedly charmed by the consistency of your tasty creations. What an evolution in the plate and in the service you have gone through! Your restaurant is ready for the next level…it’s tangible when you dine at your restaurant…except for the guides who seemed to have ignored this completely this year.

MARCELO BALLARDIN, Chef at Oak, in Gent (B), Marcelo, I decided to give you a place in my list despite not having eaten at your restaurant…though I did have the occasion of eating your food at the GaultMillau 2016 press lunch and at Horeca Expo. You move me with your cuisine. The way you delicately integrate Brasilian influences into your dishes is superb. You create dishes that express your unique vision on cooking and I cannot wait to discover more in 2016!!! By chance we could extensively exchange views and ideas and I was amazed about the river of ideas coming out of you 😉 I am sure you are one of Belgium’s top talents for the years to come…
WILLEM HIELE and BRUNO TIMPERMAN, Chefs of Willem Hiele in Oostduinkerke (B) and Bruut in Burgge (B), Willem and Bruno, I just have to mention you guys in one breath…you are to me, two brothers from, obviously, two other mothers…You are both perfect representatives of all that seasonal terroir cooking should stand for. The way the two of you met and how you stick together like glue, with an amazing four hand dinner as a result is so cool.
It’s not only great to eat your food, but equally great to hear you talk about your ingredients, cooking techniques and dish creations…I have spent hours and hours with you guys and it’s been unforgettable…especially the two of you making me scrambled eggs with chives, brown shrimps and whit truffle at 03:30am, just because I was getting hungry again was just EPIC. Big kiss to both of you…you cook from the heart, pure, no bullshit…love it!!!! 

VINCENT FLORIZOONE, Chef at Grand Cabaret in Nieuwpoort (B)…Flori, you are one crazy but special guy….talented chef and relentlessly motivated organizer of a great chef and foodie get together which has already become a reference, Flemish Foodbash…It’s been one hell of a tough ride for you this year, both personally and professionally and I have stood right next to you during some unbelievable moments but also during some tough challenges…respect my friend…and I wish you all the best for the future, once the doors of your legendary Grand Cabaret will close in a few days from now!!!!

Love you all, a big thank you and see you next year for more culinary adventures!! Best wishes for 2016!!!!

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