The great Vrijmoed shines twice on Ghent

Meet the Flemish chef, with two brand new stars, leading the food scene in Belgium’s third largest city

04-05-2018

Michaël Vrijmoed and the extraordinary fish from the North Sea 

"Ghent is an emblem for the Michelin Guide: three more stars" was the title of a piece in Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad in November, when speaking of the climb to the Olympus of food of this beautiful Flemish town, which this year has even more étoiles from the Red Guide shining (only five years ago, there was only one remarkable restaurant for the French guide): all in all, five one-star restaurants and a two-star one, Vrijmoed in Vlaanderenstraat 22, which is named after its chef-patron, Michaël Vrijmoed, a pure gentenaar born in 1980, previously one of The Flanders Kitchen Rebels. To use the words of Michelin, "he matches complex and refined tastes with a soft spot for vegetables. He uses his creativity wisely. His dishes always have a soul. You’ll surrender". A very positive and well-deserved review.

Peter Goossens (three stars at Hof Van Cleve) and, to his right, Michaël Vrijmoed, in a photo from a few years ago 

Peter Goossens (three stars at Hof Van Cleve) and, to his right, Michaël Vrijmoed, in a photo from a few years ago 

The disciple of masters such as Guy Van Cauteren ('t Laurierblad) and Peter Goossens (3 stars at Hof Van Cleve, where Vrijmoed was sous chef), in March 2013 he opened his restaurant in the heart of Ghent. The name of the city comes from the Celtic word Ganda, which means "confluent", as it is located on the confluence of rivers Leie and Scheldt. The restaurant got its first star only 8 months later. "Young Flemish chef" in 2015 for Gault Millau, which the following year awarded his restaurant for its "Best veggie menu in Benelux".

We met him recently in Bergamo, at the Hostaria inside Relais San Lorenzo, with chef Antonio Cuomo, in an evening organised with the help of Gualtiero Spotti. A while ago, the Flemish chef told the latter on Cook_inc: «Since the age of 14, I felt I wanted to have a manual job, but at the time convincing my parents that I was to leave school wasn’t easy. So until I turned 19, I just attended some cooking classes and specialised in pastry making and chocolate while I finished my studies. Then came the great leap, when I had the chance to acquire experience with Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo».

The dining room at Vrijmoed

The dining room at Vrijmoed

The foundations of his cooking are French. However, as in the case of all the Young Flemish Rebels, this imprinting is then filtered through the product culture (including raw products) that is typical of the New Nordic Cuisine. Indeed the Flanders are the perfect geographical and cultural meeting point between this trend and the French school. His personal contribution is his special attention to seasonality and fresh raw materials.

The brigade at Vrijmoed

The brigade at Vrijmoed

During a previous visit to Milan, in the days of Expo [he also visits Italy as a tourist: he’s a passionate windsurfer and often goes to Sardinia] he said: «Every week farmers and local producers supply us with raw materials. We also use the excellent fish from the North Sea, which is only 40 minutes from my restaurant (...) Vegetables have a main role. They are very important in my cuisine. I use them from starters to dessert». It’s interesting that a chef can offer different things, and even food for thought. With vegetables you can do much more and there are tasting menus that only have vegetables and interest even non-vegetarians. Flanders and Belgium can count today on a young generation of chefs with an added value: they bring local history on the plate, in unexpected shapes».

His favourite ingredient is hop sprouts («A very expensive classic in the first months of the year, in Benelux, given their price reaches 155 euros per kilo», Spotti). He serves them in many recipes: Oxtail with hop sprouts, Hop with egg and watercress, Suckling pig with hop sprouts, and so on.

Scampi with beetroot wrapped in salt, orange confit, vinaigrette with vanilla and orange 

Scampi with beetroot wrapped in salt, orange confit, vinaigrette with vanilla and orange 

Ravioli with spinach, seaweeds and tofu, sesame, marinated spinach, consommé of Matcha tea

Ravioli with spinach, seaweeds and tofu, sesame, marinated spinach, consommé of Matcha tea

Eel with green herbs

Eel with green herbs

Jerusalem artichoke soup with black garlic foam and Parmigiano

Jerusalem artichoke soup with black garlic foam and Parmigiano

Poached and roasted skrei, seaweed salad, asparagus and yuzu confit

Poached and roasted skrei, seaweed salad, asparagus and yuzu confit

Vrijmoed’s ideas belong to a contemporary cuisine, which during our tasting in Bergamo he interpreted in rich, elegant dishes with a strong presence of chlorophyll but balanced to harmonise the fresh "green" flavour with the other components. As in Eel with green herbs, a dish in the menu in Ghent, in which the fatness of the meat is softened by the vegetal ingredients. The same applies to the Poached and roasted skrei, seaweed salad, asparagus and yuzu confit (skrei is an ancient cod - Gadus Morhua – caught in Norway from January to April). The delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup with black garlic and parmigiano, and before that the remarkable Ravioli with spinach, seaweeds and tofu, sesame, marinated spinach, consommé of Matcha tea.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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