Restaurant In De Wulf: Kobe Desramaults and the Essence of the New Flemish Cuisine
Early June, evening sets in. The days are long. We just left Lille, but we are still in France, bordering Belgium. I know this area well. I spent a beautiful period of my life here. We drive along narrow back roads between green and rolling hills, cows and farms, in the direction of Dranouter, Belgium. One does not arrive here by chance. The restaurant, In De Wulf, is not found easily in passing. It looks as if it is one of those lost farms in the countryside.
In De Wulf is a gastronomic pilgrimage destination. The restaurant’s chef, Kobe Desramaults, is one of Belgium’s “cult” cooks and one of the most interesting in northern Europe’s culinary scene.
We arrive at the restaurant. At first sight, the place is magnificent. The sun is setting and they serve us appetizers on the terrace, a space covered in clusters of wisteria flowers. The terrace is located next to the farm’s garden, which is surrounded by huge green fields that seem to go on forever. I remember it well; here, the alteration between frequent rain and spring sunshine makes for vegetation that grows at an almost tropical rate this time of year. Wild herbs grow and bloom everywhere.
The appetizer provides a taste of what is to come on the menu: pork rind crackers, fermented carrots, crispy onions, beets with yogurt and sea snails. Apparently, Desmaults’ cuisine is basic, but after tasting his creations, it reveals something surprisingly deep and complex. His culinary philosophy supports the manifesto of the new Nordic cuisine: pure, natural, fresh and esthetic. Even the dinnerware (made of clay, wood, or stone) reminds us of the Scandinavian style.
The sun has set and we move inside to continue tasting the 17 remaining dishes. Now, there is only sourdough bread accompanied by Dranoutier artisan butter and the traditional smout, a crackling mousse, which is worth the trip alone.
And so it begins, the showing of this essential, yet complex and deep, cuisine.
Ten natural wines, served by the glass, accompany and exalt dinner. Ten oenological jewels of great personality wisely chosen in France, Italy, and Germany.
All the plates are marked by primary tastes and scents that are central to the mosaic of ingredients, extreme at times but delicate at other times, in an improbable and complex combination.
The tartare is emblematic of heather-smoked mackerel, accompanied by a light touch of lime peel; a profound dish characterized by the primary taste of mackerel, sweet and dark all at once, with terrestrial scents of heather and the discreet hint of lime juice.
When selecting ingredients, it is common to set precedence for self-produced ingredients, but this restaurant sources the best local and seasonal produce from nearby farms and villages. In the ample repertoire of dishes that encompass our dinner many culinary staples appear: Oosterschelde lobster, Ghyyelde asparagus, west Flemish beef cured for six weeks, Uxem goat’s milk, Ambleteuse herbs…
And not only are all the vegetables from the garden, but each dish has an accompaniment or a dressing that incorporates wild herbs collected in fields around the farm. Kobe Desramaults is passionate about foraging and every other day his team departs to collect wild herbs, flowers, and berries from the woods, meadows, and the seashore.
The most surprising and spectacular dish is based on thick shoots of river reedmace, “beards” of fennel, and wild flowers: fresh, vegetal, milky, crispy, and aromatic.
We let the photos speak for themselves. I already want to return.
June 2, 2013 #retrospective