The world on your plate: Three foreign chefs in Brussels share their stories
With Brussels a melting pot of 184 nationalities, it’s no surprise that there are so many multinational chefs cooking in the capital of Europe. We meet three of them.
Kenzo Nakata’s restaurant, Gramm, has been greeting customers on the Rue de Flandre for more than five years. The interior has a clean minimalist look, with a fanciful large-scale neon sign in the window the only exuberant element.
“I do French food, but creative French food,” says Nakata, who was born in Brittany to a French mother and Japanese father. Dinners are fixed seasonal tasting menus of five, six or seven courses, and at lunchtime there is a three-course business lunch.
“I like the history of food because there’s a lot of translation, I like to cook everything, and I like to be creative and express myself by cooking.” And it has been well received – Nakata was named Gault & Millau Young Chef of the Year Brussels 2018.
Why Brussels? “A love story,” he says. “It’s always a love story. I love Brussels because I have my family here, and I like Belgian people, and that’s why I’m staying.”
Co-owner and chef Alex Joseph’s restaurant is located on the Avenue Louise in a beautifully restored late 19th-century townhouse, which boasts the additional feature of a grove of century-old beech trees as a garden. In 2015, Joseph won the title of San Pellegrino Best Young Chef for the Benelux region. Subsequently he was voted fourth best young chef in the world at the international final in Milan.
“I’m originally from California, that’s where I got my start in the restaurant business,” he tells us. “Then I moved from California to New York, to open up the Rouge Tomate in New York and was then sent in 2010 to help out here in Brussels, originally for three months but now it’s been nine years. I didn’t initially choose to come to Brussels but I’ve totally fallen in love with it. It’s one of those places that has hidden treasures, there’s so much to do once you get to know it.”
He describes his cooking philosophy: “We focus on seasonal cuisine with local products. We like to change the menu as often as possible, we try to keep things simple, and respect the products that we’re working with.
“Our aim is to create an easy restaurant where you can enjoy just a simple lunch during the week, or come out with family for dinner. As a chef it’s important to realise that the products you have are always ever-changing, certain things change from day to day whether it be meat or fish, and it’s important for me to work closely with my producers. I enjoy working with my fish purveyors, I talk with these guys day in and day out and it means that I get a better product, it means the clients get a fresher fish, and then the guys in the kitchen they’re learning to deal with stuff that’s not coming in frozen - for me it’s a whole picture.”
Located on the Avenue de la Couronne in Ixelles, Rui Garcia’s bakery and coffee/tea room is a piece of Portugal with its authentic blue and white azuelos on the walls, a functioning fountain and the actual facade of a Portuguese house, which includes the doorway of the house where Garcia was born.
Hailing from Lavre, in the Alentejo region, Garcia moved to Brussels in 1987 and opened the bakery in 1990. “He loves when people are smiling just by eating what he does,” says daughter, Vanessa. “He really puts love into what he makes.”
She adds: “We bake a number of different traditional breads such as cornbread and tiger bread. In pastries we offer the Pasteis de Natas, the Pasteis de Portimaos from the Algarve and the cream filled Pasteis de Tentugals.
“Brussels is very nice and the people are really warm so we love to be here.”