The 2022 Michelin Guide awards show how much Flanders crushes Brussels and Wallonia. A ground swell, a metaphor for a wider fracture. The observation, in the south of the country, is harsh: lack of public support, rejection of success…
It is a debacle for French-speaking Belgium. And the confirmation of a groundswell, too: Flanders dominates Belgian gastronomy head and shoulders. The 2022 Michelin Guide awards, the results of which were unveiled on May 23, aroused sadness, anger or dismay in the culinary world of the south of the country. And provoked a burst of pride.
It is a debacle for French-speaking Belgium. And the confirmation of a groundswell, too: Flanders dominates Belgian gastronomy head and shoulders. The 2022 Michelin Guide awards, the results of which were unveiled on May 23, aroused sadness, anger or dismay in the culinary world of the south of the country. And provoked a burst of pride. Lionel Rigolet, chef of Comme Chez Soi, is the expiatory victim of this cursed vintage: his establishment, formerly three-starred under his father-in-law Pierre Wynants and symbol of Belgian cuisine, has been downgraded from two to one star. “Distraught”, he nevertheless confides to us that he wants to “preserve his DNA”. Beyond this symbolic shock, the diagnosis is implacable: Flanders obtains a third “three stars” for none in French-speaking Belgium. It has two new two-star restaurants and 11 new ones, compared to one two-star and three stars in Wallonia and Brussels. “It hurt me to see this even bigger split this year between Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, confides Sang Hoon Degeimbre, chef of the two-starred L’Air du Temps in Liernu (Eghezée), who now dreams of a three-star Walloon to reverse the trend. I found it all the more difficult as the ceremony was taking place in Mons.” The party wanted by the Walloon Minister-President Elio Di Rupo (PS) was cut short. But there are reasons for this. Christophe Hardiquest, chef of the two-star restaurant Bon Bon, in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, is another symbol of this rout: he announced at the start of the year the upcoming closure of his establishment, which we nevertheless felt would one day drop out the Graal. “Lobbying is powerful in Flanders, he says. That has not changed. It was enough to see the organization of the 50 Best, at the end of last year, in Antwerp. This list is also the result of this strike force. We do not look enough at the successes in Wallonia and Brussels. When I see Le Coq aux Champs or L’Air du Temps, I think that they are worth more than their current status and that they have a lot of merit .” For him, the page is turned. “It’s funny, I’m ending the last month of Bon Bon without a star,” he quips. Not without bitterness. He regularly denounced the meager aid granted by Brussels during the Covid-19 crisis. “We are coming out of two years of pandemic and a war is hanging over our heads, he insists. I need positives, I want to have fun. But no longer 100% in Belgium. Be careful, I am proud to be Belgian, I was born in Wallonia, I live in Flanders and I have an establishment in Brussels. I love our country but it no longer makes me happy.” Christophe Hardiquest nevertheless cultivates the ambition to come back, stronger: “My new projects are becoming clearer. There are four or five, in Belgium, but also in France and Switzerland. We’ll see. I don’t know. still if I’m going to do everything. I’ve been in the kitchen every day for 30 years, it’s time to have perspectives. I’ll come back with new ideas, perhaps more avant-garde.” With, in a corner of his head, an uninhibited revenge against the Michelin claiming that his cuisine “lacks consistency”? In this gloomy context, Serge Litvine is a beacon of hope. After a career in the food industry, he has been investing heavily in the Brussels catering industry for years with La Villa Lorraine, La Villa in the Sky, Da Mimmo, Lola, La Villa Emily, Odette en ville…La Villa Lorraine, an old lady of Brussels gastronomy, is the only one to get her head above water by winning a second star. This does not prevent its owner from being critical. “For us and for Brussels, this recognition is good news, he tells us. But it’s meager: the city receives nothing else and Wallonia not much more. does what it wants. A few years ago we too were less happy after Villa in the Sky lost a star. You have to accept that. In general, there is always a reason for that .” His observation of the French-speaking stall feeds his approach: “Customers are no longer just looking for the plate, they want the atmosphere, the service, the discovery of a place and an atmosphere. From this point of view, we We are behind Flanders. With Yves Mattagne, at the Villa Lorraine, we worked on a project that takes these expectations more into account, with more careful decoration, a friendlier atmosphere, less stuffy staff… Without neglecting the cooking, of course. A cook is above all an artist.” Serge Litvine does not mince his words with regard to the public authorities. “You have to know what you want. Brussels has been the poor relation in terms of aid during the pandemic. If you look at what is happening in Flanders or in the Scandinavian countries, politicians are investing a lot in their gastronomy. We , we are hardly supported. In addition, the evolution of Brussels is a disaster, whether in terms of mobility, security or cleanliness.” The successful boss goes further: “In French-speaking Belgium, we don’t like success. I don’t necessarily talk about money, it’s not an end in itself. Me, what makes me happy is to succeed in a project. In Flanders, it’s the opposite, we strongly support that. We could draw inspiration from it. And I’m not talking about the American dynamic where only money comes into consideration. We employ 280 people, the most of them come from different backgrounds and with few qualifications. Little by little, they are formed by the trade. It is a role that we play for society and which is not recognized in its fair measure by politics either. “. Renowned gastronomic critic and author of numerous books, Jean-Pierre Gabriel has closely followed the evolution of the key regions of contemporary gastronomy: Catalonia, the Basque Country, Scandinavia, South Korea… and Flanders. “At home, there was a very strong desire, which goes back to the government chaired by Geert Bourgeois (between 2014 and 2019), to develop a gastronomic brand image linked to tourism, he explains. Flanders has reaped this the fruits.” Flemish success is a question of finances and purchasing power. But this does not explain everything. “What we are paying for in Brussels and Wallonia is the lack of an incubator policy like in Flanders, emphasizes Jean-Pierre Gabriel. And when there are young talents emerging, Michelin does not I don’t spot it either. I regularly visit restaurants in Wallonia which unquestionably deserve a star. But in Flanders, there is a political structuring and a promotion of young chefs, sold as stars.” During the Mons ceremony, the Michelin presenters kept saying that the new stars had passed through the great Flemish houses such as the Hof van Cleve or Hertog Jan. Three stars! “It is high time that the public authorities ask themselves what future they want to leave to our gastronomy, continues the critic. It is a bit like the steel industry: once we have let it go, it is difficult to recover. It’s a broader cultural issue.” And an emergency. Pointed the finger, the politician intends to relativize the observation. “I have read all the analyzes and we will take them into account, but they must be qualified, explains Willy Borsus, Walloon Minister of the Economy. Today we have 14 stars in Brussels, 84 in Flanders and 35 in Wallonia. J I weighted these figures. Brussels represents 10.6% of the population and 10.7% of starred, Flanders 57.7% of the population and 64.6% of starred, Wallonia 31.6% of the population and 26.9% starred There is therefore an under-representation in Wallonia compared to Flanders, but this can be weighted even more by emphasizing that socio-economic incomes are around 7% lower in Wallonia I would also add that the number of gourmet Bibs, who salute the quality/price ratio, is much greater here: there are 75 in Wallonia compared to 38 in Flanders.” In short, all is not so bad. “That said, gastronomy is indeed a sector of excellence in its own right which enhances the territory, continues Willy Borsus. We intend to support it and redouble our efforts. We have set up the ‘Tables du terroir’ network to promote quality, in connection with local products. Another initiative will be taken to salute ‘terroir excellence’. We have a certain number of schools and quality chefs, we also intend to insist on this value of example We are aware that gastronomy contributes to the image of a region.””Life does not stop at the Michelin”, replies Olivier Marette, head of gastronomic events at Visit Brussels, which promotes the capital. “There are around 3,000 restaurants in Brussels, an increasing number of which are focusing on quality, he tells us. This is where it all comes down to it. Saint-Gilles is one of the richest municipalities in terms of gastronomy but it doesn’t have any starred restaurants.The town is none the worse for it. give it three stars.” According to Olivier Marette, the dynamic is positive in Brussels. “The average age of chefs is lower than in other Regions, we have a lot of young people who may one day seek the stars. But we have also become a multicultural city and it is now a DNA on which we rely a lot, as well as the sustainable character. We must stop talking about the golden age of gastronomy. When La Villa Lorraine obtained the first ‘three stars’ outside of France: it was in 1972, a time when gastronomy came down to French gastronomy. Times have changed. If tomorrow we get a three star in Brussels, we obviously won’t spit on it. But a city that relies only on the Michelin Guide is setting up a very fragile model. Look at what happened in Bruges…” For the leaders we contacted, this argument does not hold water. “It’s an excuse, exclaims Sang Hoon Degeimbre. I often tell my team: if you don’t announce your ambition, everything you explain afterwards will be an excuse. You have to be clear about your intentions. Otherwise, it’s as if one embarked on higher education but that, failing to succeed, one relaunched at a lower level.” Translate: it is high time to develop the culture of excellence in Wallonia and Brussels.