Chef Christophe Hardiquest : boundless exploration, sharing and complicity
- Belgian 2 Star Chef at Bon Bon
- 19, 5/20 Gault and Millau (five chef’s hats)
- Named chef of the year 2011 by Gault & Millau50 Best Award
More 2 stars chefs here. Other Belgian Chefs. Other 50 best chefs here.
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His philosophy for Bon Bon
“To knit together the patchwork of our memories of tastes and flavours and to gently work on ensuring that these memories go on and on” – Christophe Hardiquest
Christophe Hardiquest could have been a rock star or a philosopher. But he decided to open himself up to other people through haute cuisine… A European by blood and in his soul, his approach to cooking is of his generation, multicultural, food-loving and generous. It revolves around the concepts of sustainability, dialogue and sharing and is about the “here and now”.
While his hands cook, his mind analyses. While his memory recalls flavours, his creativity bursts forth. The words of Saint Exupéry echo in him like a credo: “Make of your life a dream and of your dream a reality.” So it is that, day after day, thanks to the radiant presence of Stéphanie that the chef pursues his dream. A couple in the town just as they are a couple at Bon Bon, they take great pleasure in creating happiness as a duo for their guests and their team.
How did he decide to become a cook? That clearly dates back to his grandmother’s cooking (Nenene). She always cooked at midday and in the evening and his youth was full of local dishes. He evokes the memory of a cream pudding based on butter, confit of rabbit with prunes, cuts of meat with mustard, a chicken in the pot and her unparalleled cherry turnovers. She made her own black pudding, her gellied meat dish, her chicken stock, her vol au vent, her prunes with vinegar, her rhubarb tart… A youthful Christophe Hardiquest used to spend his afternoons topping and tailing beans or removing the stones from cherries. This family cuisine, produced while respecting traditions and always being delicious and healthy (she had her own vegetable garden) is undoubtedly the reason behind his penchant for cooking. When you have been brought up in these conditions, when you have scrubbed the bottoms of saucepans, when you have tasted these simple flavours of vegetables that have been picked and then cooked straight away, bread with butter made on the farm, strawberries that have been sugared and crushed on that same bread and butter, you can only be attracted to cooking and good things. His father did not know how to cook and took him to restaurants on a very regular basis. He told him one day that he wanted to do a course at a hotel and catering school. So it was that, aged 14, he found himself as a boarder in the highly reputed Citadelle school in Namur.
In the Citadelle in Namur. He learnt the ropes of the trade there. He had good marks. Those were wonderful and carefree years. He also learnt about adult life and took his responsibilities at a young age. He did traineeships in well reputed restaurants in the Ardennes and in France. When he was 18 he was finishing his studies when an advertisement at his school caught his attention: An American restaurant in New York state (la Crémaillière – a French restaurant) was looking for a trainee. He needed no second bidding. And these were three very educational months in terms of work but also in terms of his language skills.
All the people he got to meet! Olivier Langlet (Y. Mattagne’s Sous Chef), Roland Debuyst, Pascal Silman … in their own way each of them led him on a path of discovery about his own culinary identity! But the fact that he was sharing and giving pleasure to people also made him feel that he was playing the most beautiful trade in the world! He starts from the principle that it is a trade in which it is key to know how to host people and how to have fun. If one day this were no longer his mindset he would try to earn his crust another way!
After his three months of traineeships in the US after his course at la Citadelle ended, he came back to Belgium and worked as a commis chef in L’Amandier, a restaurant in Uccle, before before being taken on at the Radisson Hotel by Yves Mattagne where he stayed for a year. He began cooking for banquets and then in the L’Atrium restaurant before ending up in the famous Sea Grill restaurant.
He then worked for two years and two months with Roland Debuyst in his L’Orangerie restaurant in Nossegem just before it got its Michelin star. Christophe Hardiquest was his commis chef when he was the Belgian candidate at the famous Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon. They practised almost every day for a year. At the end of the competition, Christophe was on his knees. Finally, after spending five months at La Villa Lorraine where he barely felt in tune with the restaurant’s mindset, he headed back to the US for nearly two years, once again in the state of New York for the opening of a French cuisine restaurant called Le Mas. On his return, he got to know a French chef who worked in the L’Épicerie restaurant of the Meridien Hotel in Brussels: David Martin, who later took on La Paix, an iconic brasserie located by the slaughterhouses of Anderlecht. He met, with him, another French cook, Pascal Silman, who was the chef of the Hotel Conrad’s restaurant. He took him on and he stayed there for two years. From being
Chef de Partie when he arrived, he ended up being Executive Sous Chef. He learnt a lot there, especially about products. With all this experience behind him, he set up a private restaurant in a loft, which almost took on the form of a secret restaurant, called Voyage à travers les sens (Journey through the senses). The idea for this restaurant came from Véronique Toefart, an expert in rare wines and collectors’ wines. He hosted 40 people for dinner every evening who he took the greatest of care of (everything is home-made: nibbles, mini cakes, bread etc.). He worked there for a year and a half all alone! He even did the washing up there…
It was then that he asked his friends, who were owners of a furniture store in the Louise area, for permission to set himself up in their show room because he did not have enough money to buy furniture. He rented 150m2 of the 400m2 available. That is how Bon Bon started, with 2,500 euro in his pocket. His customers used to drink their aperitifs on the sofas and then move on to the chairs and tables that were on display! Unwittingly, that made him a sort of forerunner of the concept store! He offered a single menu there and quickly reached sixty dining guests every evening. For around a year he did all this by himself but in the end there were six of them working on this. Then he arrived in Rue des Carmélites in what was more of a bistrot than a restaurant, called Mok Ma Zwet, where he found himself in the kitchen making meatloaf and stoemp. The idea was to take over the place. But he did not have money and the banks did not want to give him their support because he was young. After a financial arrangement with the owner, he found himself back at his place in his restaurant. For his first real service in the evening there were 18 diners. One of them was a certain Pierre Marcolini. The restaurant worked very well right from the off. Guides such as the Michelin and Gault and Millau guides – already – backed him. It was fortunate for him too because, without the support of the guides and some good press articles he would have quickly gone bankrupt. The restaurant never ran out of customers. He stayed there for eight years. From being three of them in the kitchen and dining area in the early stages, there were twelve of them at the end of the adventure. The story continued within these walls and brought success to other restaurateurs after him…
Then, in 2011, came the move to Avenue de Tervueren to the old Des Trois Couleursrestaurant in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre. He and his wife had been looking for a restaurant to take over. After a discussion with Jean- Pierre Bruneau about buying his restaurant, the purchase did not in the end take place. José Tourneur wanted to hand over his restaurant. They got on well and, after a few changes, they managed to achieve the set-up that they wanted: a big unit that mixed together the dining room and the kitchen: an invitation to be interactive. There were twelve of them in the kitchen and nine in the dining room, including the wine waiter, Michel De Muynck, the Maître d’Hôtel, Jonathan Gillet, his wife Stéphanie and the chef himself. It was also their family house and it was not an infrequent occurrence to see one of their three children wandering around the restaurant. At Bon Bon you dine at the Hardiquests in the end, which offers you a surprising intimacy like no other and that offers you relaxation and complicity.
On a daily basis, Christophe Hardiquest produces an improvised type of cuisine, without rules or boundaries, his creativity let loose. He likes to say that, without extraordinary ideas you will not have extraordinary results! A quotation by a wise person, a word heard the evening before, a simple ham and butter sandwich recently enjoyed, a newly discovered product, a memory related to the sea, the sweetness of the organic earth of his brother-in-law, the magic of a beer, a Madeira or Riesling wine suggested by Michel De Muynck… Everything inspires him. His common thread is spontaneity, the explosiveness of the moment, the product, the combination of flavours, the freshness. He does not want to make cooking too intellectual and take the risk that people do not understand it any more. He likes to imagine dishes (sometimes from a single day) with products not used by others. That could be rock salmon, sardines, cuttlefish, rabbit kidneys, pork breast and also sweetbreads that he likes to combine with sea urchins. But also more noble products… easier to create than others. More expensive too, such as langoustines and Breton lobster.
Christophe Hardiquest grows his vegetables and his herbs with his brother-in-law, François Carlier, in their vegetable garden near Mons, including 120 varieties of tomatoes and all done in a natural and organic way. There is tansy, wood sorrel, Corsican mint, peppered nasturtium, shizo, collard greens, beautiful carrots, butter beans, sweet banana peppers, violin courgettes… but it is also full of chard, watercress and other magnificent salads from Frédérick Morand (Vert d’Iris) or in strawberries “to die for” from Stéphane Longlune.
His cuisine, like him, evolves… of course it is woven with some key elements including great attention to the product rather than to techniques, the latter never being subservient to taste and emotions. The advantage of maturity (provided that he gets there – laughs) is to be able to get to the essential things quicker. His cuisine has lightened up over time and is heading more towards a “healthy” side. For example, he is working more towards consommés, he uses less fats, he uses more bouillon, he keeps taste, freshness, rawness. This approach is instinctive. It is not sought at the very moment. But this evolution comes via cultures, mixtures, exchanges and cross-fertilisation is needed. A cook draws inspiration from his trips and he has a habit of doing a cooking course with the locals on each of his trips. Thirsty for material to inspire him, Christophe Hardiquest has a habit of learning something every day from some book or other!