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Dinner is served: W Food Festival puts Wallonia on gastronomy map
In a three-day display of culinary daring, local chefs pinned Wallonia on the global gastronomy map with July’s W Food Festival. The food extravaganza delivered a triple mission: respect for Wallonia’s excellent produce, a tribute to usually anonymous food growers, and a celebration of Belgium’s favourite tipple: beer.
Forget the cliché about chefs and outrageous egos: the event deliberately placed artisans centre stage by honouring the special relationship between food suppliers and the chefs who put their products on the table. Generation W, the collective of gastronomic chefs, has been supporting this alliance since its launch in 2012 as part of a wide-scale promotion of the region’s food and farm-to-table movement. Among the producers showcasing their wares were cheese and bread makers, fish breeders, a whisky distiller and a ceramic artist.
Over the weekend, 22 of the region’s top chefs served up some of their tastiest signature dishes and took turns to impress the crowds with live demonstrations. Food lovers ate, drank and learned in a warren of white tents in the bucolic and panoramic setting near Terra Nova, the former military barracks of the medieval fortress.
The event was Generation W’s most ambitious to date. Targeting the public as well as professionals and future chefs for a congress on the final day, it invited a clutch of international chefs to show off their skills alongside local talents. The collective also laid on five-course feasts for evening galas. As well as sampling Wallonia’s finest fare, festival-goers had an opportunity to explore Terra Nova’s visitor centre and the citadel’s network of underground tunnels. Entertainment included concerts and workshops for children.
For the first edition, the festival theme was beer, a nod to Unesco’s recent addition of Belgian beer to its world cultural heritage list and in honour of Wallonia’s long-standing brewing tradition. The region’s microbreweries were present, in particular guest artisan brewer Bertinchamps. The Gembloux family brewery made a limited-edition blonde beer for the festival and chefs created special dishes paired with beer.
Led by two-Michelin-star chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and other bright stars in the culinary constellation, Generation W has been championing the region’s culinary and artisan talent in a series of national and international events. It has increased the number of member chefs from 10 to 22 in the past four years.
“After Spain and the focus on technique, and the Nordic countries, which returned to the product, the next global trend will be human, and it will come from Belgium,” says Degeimbre.
“And the personality cult that some chefs enjoy will extend to everyone getting food on to the table, including producers and the service, which is frequently overlooked.
Another of the collective’s founding fathers, chef Jean-Luc Pigneur, says, “Our philosophy is that the chefs are really there to show off the producer, as we’ve perhaps forgotten that we are reliant on their produce.” He believes Generation W’s promotion of local products and a dynamic creative cuisine plays a special role in boosting tourism and the economy. “This is one reason why it makes sense to develop our activities and showcase them abroad,” he says.
He thinks this is partly due to Wallonia’s occasional modesty. “In the mindset of Walloons, they need to be recognised abroad before they can be proud of themselves.”
This article first appeared in WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine