Destroy it to enjoy it - foodie philosophy with Luc Hoornaert

17.08.2018 - Editorial

According to author and food enthusiast Luc Hoornaert, there’s a simple way to determine whether a person is a foodie or not. It’s their willingness to go an extra mile. Literally. The person needs to be determined enough to do 100 km out of his way just for a specific dish or an ingredient. “Sometimes I do a 200 km detour to get that particular sausage or that particular ham,” admits Hoornaert, safely reassuring his title.

For him, being a foodie is a way of life that has nothing to do with the number of restaurants one has visited. Actually, he claims that he’d take staying at home and cooking for a group of friends over going to a fancy restaurant any time. And he loves cooking, he loves food.

His book deal came about rather unexpectedly. A publisher overheard him sharing his food knowledge in a restaurant and approached him with an offer. Soon enough Hoornaert was putting together his first book. For him, it is a way of sharing stories, experiences, and feelings that build up over time or while road tripping for food.

An interesting thing about this way of life is, what Hoornaert calls, the destruction part that comes with it. If you collect stamps or coins, once you get them, they are always there. If you love pork chops, however, and you find the ultimate one - you have to eat it. “You have to destroy it to enjoy it,” he emphasises, making it sound like a quote one can put on a fridge magnet.

Could you please you tell us, how did your interest in food start?

There were two things in my life which made me realize that food is more than just eating. The first one was a visit to a restaurant in Belgium. I was 16 at the time and I had a sort of enlightenment. I said to myself “this food gives me more than just a feeling of fullness, it makes me happy.” The restaurant was called Le Pre Mondain [now Le Fou est Belge].

The second experience was just a year later when I went to Japan. There was all this fantastic food there. You know, 30 years ago Japanese cuisine wasn’t that well-known around Belgium so the food there was that more impressive. It was like it’s from another planet. That was something very inspiring.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish?

I don’t really have a favourite, but if I have to name one, I would say Nasu Dengaku. It’s fried eggplant that's caramelized with chef’s bend of sake and miso - every chef does it differently. For me, it’s THE comfort food, even though it is rather exotic in our part of the world. If I ever see it on the menu, I always order it as it is some sort of a standard for me, a way to evaluate the place.

Where’s the best place in Belgium to have that?

In Belgium you don’t see it very often, there are only a few Japanese places around here. The best ones are probably DIM and Izumi in Antwerp.

What’s the best gastronomic experience you’ve had in Belgium in general?

I like La Table de Bouche in Mons, which specializes in meat and old-fashion French cuisine. I love the feel, the style and the food at that place - it has a good vibe.

Something completely different is Five Flavours in Antwerp. I would dare to call it the best Chinese place in Belgium. The chef specializes in medicinal cuisine and makes phenomenal Dim Sum.

Then there’s a place called t’Fornuis. The chef, Johan Segers, is known as the godfather of Belgian cuisine. He is like 68 and he’s still cooking without making compromises. He cooks with a lot of butter and salt and all the things that are supposed to be unhealthy. And I’m okay with it being unhealthy as long as it makes me happy.

What’s the worst restaurant in Belgium? Where should we definitely not go?

I, personally, don’t go to a strictly vegetarian or vegan place. I don’t believe in excluding people and that’s what they do. Vegans often have a prejudice against people that eat meat and I don’t like that. I have nothing against vegetarian food, just this unwelcoming vibe. I think people should be free to choose what they want to eat.

Name a book/website/magazine that makes your mouth water.

The one I like most is Lucky Peach magazine, which was discontinued last year. Chef David Chang was a part of the creative team and they did a good job.

Which Belgian food artisan do you think deserves a statue?

I think, at the moment, Peter Goossens is the only one who’s keeping Belgium on the gastronomic map.

The aforementioned Johan Segers of t’Fornuis deserves a statue as well. In the world of trends and copycats, he is sticking to his own thing, to the tradition. He doesn’t have a website nor a marketing agency and his restaurant is still full twice a day. I find it to be quite extraordinary these days.

What’s your favourite food shopping place?

Rob, the gourmet market in Brussels. It’s a foodie nirvana - they have everything you can dream of in one place, all the time.

What is the perfect food pairing?

Chocolate and blood sausage. It’s an unexpected pairing, you have to strike a good balance there. However, when it’s done well, it feels like these two ingredients were made for each other.

What would your last meal be?

I would go for a typical Belgian dish, Vol Au Vent. It makes me feel like I’m home. And I would like to have my last meal at home, not just somewhere in a restaurant.


Pictures © Luc Hoornaert