Belgium: A Gastronomical Delight
Eat, Drink, And Be Merry
Text and Photos by Beverly Cohn
Part 1: Food, Glorious Food
hatever youve heard about the gastronomical experience youll
have in Belgium surely cannot begin to prepare you for the tasty days
that lie before you in this tiny, pure white diamond of a country.
With over 25 restaurants in Brussels and Wallonia having
been awarded one or two Michelin stars, the highest per capita in Europe,
your reporter was hard pressed to choose one, but choose I must and
for Part 1, of a two-part series, have focused on Li Cwerneu, whose
Cuisine Intuitive earned owner/chef Arabelle Meirlaen a
Michelin star, the only woman chef in Belgium to be so honored. In addition
to the Michelin star, this gifted chef has earned multiple awards, including
Best Lady Chef of 2008.
One of Belgium's oldest towns, Huy lies along the
river Meuse in the Walloon Region, Province of Liege.
Trained at Belgiums Libramont hotel school, Arabelle
and her partner in life, Pierre Thirifays, own and operate Li Cwerneu,
an immaculate, boutique restaurant housed in a charming building near
the town square in the historic town of Huy.
Trained at the hotel school in the city of Libramont,
owner/chef Arabelle Meirlaen has been cooking for over 18 years.
Arabelles mother was a good cook and some of her
basic recipes have morphed into this honored chefs creative, inventive
cuisine, with a decidedly feminine, whimsical touch, and includes the
use of plants and seasonal organic products.
Our small group of select journalists from across the
U.S. and Canada, were about to have our senses enchanted with Cuisine
Initiative Menu Prestige, an eight-course tasting feast that took a
delightfully leisurely, oh-so-relaxing three hours. Following are some
highlights of that most memorable food experience:
Arabelles unique Garden Salad
replete with delicious creepy, crawlies.
Listed as one of the Top 10 New Foods of 2011, Pot de
légumes du Moment, or seasonal vegetables, was a picture-perfect
presentation, unlike anything youve ever seen before. Dazzling
to the eye, the dish replicates a garden patch, with a variety of vegetables
including radishes, tomatoes, avocados, edible flowers, and snails.
The major ingredient for the garden "dirt."
The almost lost art of formal
dining service lives!
The mélange of garden components were meticulously
arranged on a bed of soil, which the chef created from crumbled
sugar, flavored butter, and nuts combined with black charbon (carbon)
generally used for digestive purposes.
Wearing white gloves, this gentleman, trained in the
traditional art of serving, prepares to present Lingot dOr de
Foie Gras, a deliciously creamy goose liver accompanied by chopped almonds.
The service was impeccable, with the ladies given their food first,
and no dishes cleared until everyone finished eating and their cutlery
neatly placed on their dish. As for the Foie Gras, lets just say
it was a taste fit for the gods.
The term "holy mackerel" might apply to
this far from your basic fish dish.
Maquereau en Vinaigrette et Wasabi a delicate
mackerel resting on a stream of wasabi dressing with a garni of seasonal
greens. The taste? Simply divine.
No skimping on these succulent creatures of the
Served in a deep dish, St. Jacques aux Noisettes et
Noix, Betterave Rouge or scallops with goat cheese, hazelnuts, walnuts,
red beets, and mayonnaise was almost too beautiful to eat, but eat we
did and savored every forkful of this amazing creation.
It's worth an upstream swim for this divine taste
Saumon Label Rouge avec Verveine, Oignons et Herbes,
is a very tender wild salmon from Scotland, prepared with a fusion of
sweet onions, asparagus, parsley, and herbs. A fish lovers delight.
Say goodbye to your veggie steamer.
A blend of bacon, fava beans, and cheese topped off
in a vegetable sauce made of curried mustard seeds and crowned with
a pumpkin garni, this most spectacular veggie arrangement was beyond
delectable and a far cry from steamed broccoli and summer squash. It
will be hard to restrain your sighs of enjoyment as each forkful makes
its way into your mouth.
Close your eyes and transport yourself to taste
No meal in Belgium, which boasts over 2,000 chocolate
shops, would be complete without a chocolate dessert and we were not
disappointed as our palates were rewarded with not one but two amazing
desserts - the first one melt-in-your mouth chocolate with a burst of
a surprise caramel filling.
This dessert will keep you smiling for days.
Theres always room for one more act of decadence
and it came in the form of a pear marinated in cognac, encrusted with
a white meringue coating and encircled by chocolate nuggets and vanilla
ice cream. Your already fully aroused taste buds will welcome this crowning
touch to an once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.
Arabelle and her Sous Chef Linda Neti take
a Kodak moment for a most happy group of journalists.
With her Sous Chef Linda Neti at her side, when asked
how she combines her extraordinary career with her family responsibilities,
because of her limited English, Arabelle answered through Pierre: You
need character and strength because you have to consider your family.
Regarding how she received her Michelin star, Arabelle said, You
have to take the initiative to contact Michelin and send them photos
of your dishes. It takes a long time to finally get someone to come
to your restaurant, but it was certainly worth the wait.
So, for those of you planning your spring or summer
European vacations, you absolutely must put Belgium on your visit list
as this year has been designated 2012 Year of Gastronomy, making
it all the more deliciously inviting. And, while youre there,
dont forget to dine at Arabelle Meirlaens Li Cwerneu, ranked
#1 of 49 restaurants in Huy. But honestly speaking, the worst
meal youll have in Belgium is going to be one of the best meals
youve ever had in your life.
Part 2 of the Belgium series, will cover its world famous
beer, chocolate, Pekets, Belgian pommes frites, and, of course, those
famous waffles. So, stay tuned
Tel: +32 085 25 55 55
For Travel Information:
Belgium Tourist Office
220 East 42nd Street, Ste. 3402
New York, NY 10017