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Sang-Hoon Degeimbre is a renowned Belgian chef whose innovative cuisine for his first restaurant, L’air du temps, has garnered him accolades from around the world. With the opening of his new restaurant San in Brussels, Degeimbre continues to share his passion for cooking with his clients through an ever-changing menu of locally sourced dishes. Read on to discover how this master chef is putting Belgium at the forefront of the international gastronomic scene.
How did your passion for cooking begin?
I cannot say that I had particularly dreamed of being a chef. Before everything else, I wanted to be a pharmacist; my parents suggested cooking because they knew I loved eating. I accepted without knowing that it was going to reveal me.
How did you take the leap from working as a wine sommelier to opening up your first restaurant, L’Air du temps?
The taste and the knowledge I have learned are experiences, which helped me, and still do, in the perception of shades and details. Wine is a stage that allows me to see the cuisine in its balanced aspect. It was evident that I wanted to open my restaurant; I did not want to depend on a chef. I started cooking in order to fulfill my profound need of independence, which I have had since I was young.
You recently opened your second restaurant, San, in Brussels. Can you describe the concept behind this new place?
For me, bowls are an easy way of breaking down gastronomy, a simple content, good-quality products, requirements and techniques earned from the gastronomy in a relaxed ambience. The content of the bowls is an homage to my trips’ influences.
How would you describe the philosophy behind your cooking and the ingredients you select for your dishes?
L’air du temps is my gastronomic restaurant in Liernu; it has existed for 19 years and is recompensed by two [Michelin] stars since 2008. The restaurant is situated in Hesbaye, which we can also call ‘le grenier à blé’ of Belgium. Its fertile lands create local products that are the basis of my cuisine. My philosophy of contemporary local, and my trips allow me to keep a window open on the world and its high-quality products. If there is a product I cannot find around my place, I will bring it from where it is the best, keeping in mind the seasonality, durability and ethic.
The menu for your restaurants varies each month. How do you manage to create such unique and innovative dishes?
The menu of my restaurant San changes every month; its composition is a valorization of the knowledge I earned at L’air du temps. In 19 years, I have been creating hundreds of dishes; it is a huge database, which helps when we have to create a new menu. We just need to adjust some dishes in order to provide an ease of execution, a pertinence of taste always related to the city that inspired the dish.
The menu of my restaurant L’air du temps changes every six weeks because there are more details to consider while creating the dish. A research and development team concretizes my ideas.
What is the inspiration behind your cooking?
My first source of inspiration is my garden; the local products are a second one; my Korean origins a third one. My trips, chemistry, meetings, art, science, and curiosity are all sources of inspiration or creation. And when we see the amount of products available on Earth, we are not done yet with all the possible combinations of taste.
If you were not a chef, what other job would you like to do?
People have often asked me this question; I answered architect or chemist or researcher. In any case, a job where I can be curious and creative. To cook is mixing both of them.
Is there a Belgian dish you enjoy the most?
I particularly like the ‘boulette sauce tomate’ and the ‘poulet Waterzooï.’ I like to go to the Bozar Brasserie – they use good quality products. The chef revisits old or forgotten preparations such as the ‘pâté en croûte.’
You have become an important figure that brings Belgian cuisine to an international platform. Can you tell us a bit more about the Generation W project?
The formation of GW (Generation W) is based on a simple finding: we do not know Walloon chefs, their creativity, and talent. We are using the chefs in order to promote local products and producers. I intend in each of my trips to promote the Belgian gastronomy.
The famous Michelin guide has given two stars to your restaurant L’Air du temps, and you were deemed Chef of the Year by Gault & Millau. What are your plans for the future?
Guides rankings are not goals, but they are recompenses for a work well done. It is not something that is part of our business plan; it is actually not really a part of our plans. Our idea for the future is to improve the experience with our clients and teams. We are evolving all together, in order to increase the experience for the clients.