Kookeet 2017, a food festival in Bruges

Previous Monday, on 25th of September, I ended up visiting a food festival in Bruges, Belgium, named Kookeet. I only heard about it on Sunday for the first time so there was not much to think about. So after my first day at school on Monday (I went to further study at university and actually instead of writing this post I should be busy with wording my dissertation topic, since the deadline is exactly in 6 days) I felt it was appropriate to celebrate with a gastronomic tour of 31 praiseworthy chefs of Bruges. The guest chef was Piet Huysentruyt, the chef at the star-rated restaurant Likoké* in the French Ardèche. Surely that was the stand I first set my feet to.

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69°C pork belly, Vadouvan aioli & mussels. It was a good dish, but not wow. The broth reminded of a creamy Tonkotsu broth, but also included some sort of dairy, since milky notes were present. The mussels were mildly marinated and kohlrabi added sharp pickled contrast. The pork belly was sweet but the true downside came that cooking at 69°C, I expected it to be cut with a fork, but I really needed a knife.

Next, we just started to wander around and taste whatever looked intriguing.

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Next up was a light and elegant dish from Lieven of  North Sea crab, “tartare” of cucumber and black radish, juice of lovage and sesame aioli. The aioli with sesame (tahini) was something that will surely remember to recreate at home. Overall I liked how the black radish, which is quite sharp in itself, was nicely balanced with mild crab.

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A scallop dish by Den Dyver was put together with ultra-smooth cauliflower cream, aerated shrimp bisque (assuming it was local brown shrimps), coarse mushroom duxelle  from champignons and Brugge ham crumb. The centerpiece was perfectly cooked scallop.  To me a well-known combination, I myself have done the same dish with sweet potato cream, Ganda ham crumb and chervil oil, which I enjoy slightly more. The mushroom duxelle didn’t add too much, but champignons are bland anyway, and why to use them in autumn when the forests are filled with wonders, remains in wonder to me.

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A koninginnenhapje (literal meaning: queen’s bite) by Laissez-Faire. There was an option of addition of sweetbread, and that is what I ordered. The sweetbread is seen at the front, but that is all I can remember. It was alright, but far from a wonderful memory of trying a veal sweetbread at Chambre Séparée in Gent by Kobe Desramaults. It was my first one, and did it leave an impression. Probably the highest level one can set regarding sweetbreads, and I may just stop ordering it to avoid lack of enjoyment. On the plate there was also a sausage from stuffed chicken meat, mushroom mayonnaise and again mushroom duxelles, which was much better than with the scallop dish. The crumble was from crackling, which was a nice addition. All together, it tasted like a home-made meal with local and familiar ingredients.

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Next up, vol-au-vent by Zet’joe. But my god, what a vol-au-vent. Instead of the classic  (and let’s be honest, already quite boring) chicken, this one used Burgundy snails. These were far from your classic chewing-on-a-pencil-eraser snails. The mouth-feel was as if they were aerated. That was really also a moment where you stop and you think – will I ever have them any better? You can still see their shimmer on the photograph. The creamy sauce had notes of chervil, most likely made from chicken broth and had both cooked and raw champignons. The boudin blanc type meatballs had the addition of Ganda ham and classic puff pastry was substituted with crispy filo. But that was secondary to the snails.

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Stuffed champignons by Rock-Fort. The mushrooms were stuffed with green herb sauce, where chervil was dominating and a sausage from organic chicken and foie gras. This was topped by a cracker made from some sort of legume, either chickpea or lentil. As previously mentioned, my autumn has been filled with tastes of parasol mushroom and king bolete, so the basic champignon taste was a bit too familiar. A decent tapas, but no overwhelming emotions. Beautiful presentation regardless.

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Seabass tartare by Bistro Bruut with herbs, pickled turnip slice and yoghurt whey. I also discovered that black crispy pieces was in fact seaweed. Tartare was mostly left for the seabass to shine, with an inclusion of capers and shallots. The oil drops, if identified correctly, were from cannabis oil, which I really enjoyed. Simple and great, really.

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Crusted haddock by Den Gouden Karpel. Sadly the disappointing dish of the whole evening.

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The menu reads: North Sea haddock in crispy crust, sweet potato, anise sauce, purslane, confit red onion.

What I tasted: Haddock, which, albeit perfectly cooked, had a very intense iodine taste which made it uneatable. My friend, however, could not detect it. I truly don’t know what was the reason behind it. On the plate there was also rather bland pearl pasta, or spätzle, which didn’t contribute to the dish. I did not taste anise sauce. The confit red onion was so vinegary it seemed to be just plain pickled onion. Maybe it was just because it was the last day and just before the event finished, maybe I had too many taste experiences already. Maybe.

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Onto more cheerful notes – La Tache offered risotto croquettes with oxtail, celeriac cream, truffle and Brugge Goud cheese. That was a simple croquette, yet extraordinarily executed. You could taste all that gelatinous broth from cooking down the oxtail. There’s not much more to say – a delightful bite you’d constantly order at a gastropub with your beer.

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And to finish with a dish by Kok au Vin which truly pampered my taste buds – Smoked Picanha beef with corn cream, chimichurri of roasted bell peppers & onion, puffed quinoa and aerated sour cream.  I don’t know, there is something about intense smoke taste done with proper wood chips that I am just sold. The beef taste was concentrated and was balanced out by the sweet corn cream. Puffed quinoa added texture, and aerated sour cream added pungency. What brought it all together was intense chorizo oil. These days people like to use the word deconstructed, I normally don’t, but I did think about deconstructed taco. And how wonderfully executed.

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Kookeet is something that will be on my “impossible-to-miss” list. Pity that I have to wait a bit under a year to visit the next one, but some of the memories of experienced meals in 2017 will be more than enough to get me through the year.

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