A month ago, Kobe Desramaults' Instagram account exploded. The Belgian chef had announced that he would be permanently closing In De Wulf, a restaurant in the West Flanders province that he took over from his parents aged 23, and earned a Michelin star for two years later. Here, he tells us why.
When I started In De Wulf, we were cooking in an old barn in the garden with two people. Since then, we've experimented a lot and continued to grow until we found a suitable concept for our business. Setting up a good restaurant is a bit like creating an artwork: when it's done, the artist doesn't need to adjust anything, because nothing can be added anymore. That's exactly what I started to find annoying.
Everything in life comes to an end at a particular moment, and the same goes for kitchens, which is fine by me. At this time in my life, I feel a lot more like doing a cuisine spontanée, a spontaneous kitchen where I can decide what I'm going to make every day. That wasn't possible at In De Wulf.
Of course I couldn't just quit in the middle of a shift. My 20 cooks would have looked at me and thought, "What's he doing?" But I was just getting a little tired of having the same routine over and over. People coming, people going—it requires a lot of energy. A team should see and understand each other as a kind of small family, and at In De Wulf, the family became too big.
I also have other projects in mind: I bought the oldest building of the village, a farm that was once a pub. I'm still not sure what I'll do with it exactly, but I'm giving myself four years to think about it.
Of course, If I open a new restaurant, the only thing I'll change is the setting. My kitchen will remain the same: a raw kitchen with fermented and aged products. This is a logical consequence of my career, as I've worked very hard to create this kind of cuisine. In the beginning, I just reproduced what I had learned in other cuisines, especially in the three-star restaurant Oud Sluis in the Netherlands, which has since closed. One day I realised that didn't make me happy, even though I won Michelin stars with it. I wasn't expressing myself, but someone else.
I decided to get my inspiration elsewhere: I went to Bras (a famous French restaurant) and while I sat there, facing their famous gargouillou, it opened my eyes. I pulled myself back together and decided to work with local products, and to do everything myself: maturing, fermenting, and even creating my own miso.
Our signature dish at In De Wulf was pigeon. I've played with the maturation of the meat, and I've even experimented in a cold store for 100 days before I got the perfect recipe. The pigeons were delivered in full and stayed in the cold store for two weeks before being cleaned. Then we filled them with hay and smoked them lightly. After that we'd let them rest in a cold room for four weeks, well packed in hay. I like to treat the pigeon meat this way. The flesh ripens and absorbs the taste, and it needs nothing else.
We served the pigeon in this simple way, too, without decorations or a pile of sliced beetroot. It didn't need that. I also like to mature cream and convert it into butter in a wooden barrel, so you get an incredible flavour.On the plate, I'd rather keep it simple as well, with at most only a few simple products. If people eat a large menu with complicated courses, they won't remember all the ingredients. I prefer that people can still perfectly remember what they have eaten when they leave at the end of the night. They don't need to have photos of it to remember.
I also love the purity of charcoal. Cooking on charcoal is harder than on wood fire; you have to really keep up with your head, be constantly focused, and understand what is happening with the meat. When you taste the meat, you know that nature has done its work here. Whether it's the cooking method, aging, or fermentation, we let nature speak. And we just help a little.
Voilà, that's my kitchen.
As told to Céline Maguet.