Located in the beautiful green quarters of Brussels, the capital of Europe, there’s one of Belgium’s most loved places for gourmands: Restaurant Bon-Bon. In fact chef Christophe Hardiquest is probably the best representative of the Belgian culinary identity, combining classic, flavourful cooking techniques with contemporary influences and a huge love for local produce and preparations.
Chef’s Secret: Christophe Hardiquest – Bon Bon
From furniture shop to gastronomic restaurant
The roots of restaurant Bon-bon go back to 2003. After completing his education at the culinary school of Namur and having gained experience in several restaurants, chef Christophe Hardiquest felt it was time to start writing his own story. Looking at the beautiful location and top quality experience you get at Bon Bon today, it’s hard to believe that the chef started his career in a furniture shop in Brussels, having only 2.500 euros in his pocket.He immediately had to spend the little money he had to buy a stove and a dishwasher as no other financial support was involved. With only some family casseroles and his own skills and personality to rely on, Christophe Hardiquest managed to make a great first impression and in no time the place was the talk of the town, somewhere you just needed to go to for great food. The culinary guides and journalists were also attracted by the approach of chef Christophe Hardiquest, resulting in a first Michelin star in 2004.
A modern villa in the residential part of Brussels
In 2011 it was time to take the next step, so the restaurant of Christophe Hardiquest moved to its current location at the Tervurenlaan in Brussel where another restaurant, called Des Trois Couleurs, used to be situated. The interior of the villa in the upscale part of town was completely renovated in order to match chef Hardiquest’s plans: turning this place into the gastronomic restaurant of his dreams. The result was a modern and stylish interior, with an open kitchen and bar. Certainly not the stiff type of fine dining at Bon Bon, thanks to the austere lines, the warm materials and playful elements like the famous and incredible cool sheep next to the tables for women to place their handbag on. What’s also very nice at Bon-Bon is the small herb garden outside and beautiful terrace where people can enjoy their aperitif during the summer months.
Top of the list
Although things are going great for Bon Bon, their evolution has been healthy and steady. It has been a continuous process of improvement, which got Christophe Hardiquest step by step to the top. A first Michelin star in 2004, the second in 2014 and the third… who knows? In any case this chef is definitely named as one of the favourites to get the highest possible ranking in one of the most famous culinary guides. Gault&Millau, the other important culinary reference in Belgium has rewarded restaurant Bon Bon with a score of 19,5/20, which is not very common of course. And for The Best Chef Awards also, the rapid strides of chef Christophe Hardiquest, haven’t stayed unnoticed. Neither did his philosophy and typical approach, and the way he is passionately involved in the (online) gastronomic community. More than enough reasons we’d say to plan a visit to Brussels to have a tête-à-tête with the amazing chef Christophe Hardiquest.
Meet chef Christophe Hardiquest
When we enter the chic villa where restaurant Bon Bon is located, we’re immediately star struck by star struck by the chef’s appearence. He’s quite young, full of energy and also very accessible and welcoming. He’s quite young, energetic, very accessible and welcoming. A rock star, who’d you rather describe as the sympathetic guy next door, not at all a ‘diva’. As soon as we start chatting he passionately shows us around in his restaurant, while stressing multiple times how beautiful the culinary profession (his métier) is. This guy lives to cook, without being obsessed, we’d say. Passion and putting things in perspective, a difficult balance he seems to master. We’re lucky enough to have scheduled our visit to Bon-Bon on a sunny afternoon, so we can have a relaxed conversation with the chef in the garden. A place of peace and calmth just near the busy city of Brussels. It can’t get any better than that we’d say.
Hungry for More & The Best Chef (Chef’s Secret): Thanks for having us here today at Bon-Bon. We’re very happy to discover your restaurant. Can you tell us how it all got started here for you?
Christophe Hardiquest: Well, I completed my culinary education in Namur, where many Belgian chefs went to school. Quite early on I felt I wanted to explore things in my own way. So when I was 26 years old I took the leap and started my own restaurant with hardly any money and limited experience. But in fact I didn’t mind. I was so motivated and I just took the pots and pans from my home, and bought a dishwasher and a stove, all set to get started. When I look back at that early stage of my career now, it’s just incredible to realize how things can grow and evolve. I’m really happy that I’ve been able to get to this point already and I could have never predicted this when I started my first restaurant. So we will see what will happen in the coming months and years.
Chef’s Secret: How did you manage to get so successful, knowing that you had to build everything up from the ground yourself?
Christophe Hardiquest: I strongly believe it’s important to have a good reputation. You simply need a great deal of promotion through word-of-mouth. When many people talk about your restaurant, saying it’s a nice place to go, more and more people will be triggered to discover the place themselves. Moreover, I think the culinary guides, journalists and online communities have been an important factor in our success. Through these platforms you get a kind of ‘official’ or generally accepted recognition, attracting new customers to your restaurant. And of course it’s important to work on your own PR and communications, so people know what is happening in your restaurant and what you are doing as a chef.
Chef’s Secret: You’re named as the number 1 contendor to be the next three Michelin starred restaurant in Belgium. And there’s also often said that you are the chef that can put Brussels in the spotlights in the culinary landscape of Belgium and Europe. What is your take on that?
Christophe Hardiquest: It would be fantastic if we could get that third Michelin star. Not just for me or for the restaurant, but even more so for our team and for Brussels. As Brussels is the capital of Europe, it should also be the capital of the European and Belgian gastronomy. I’m convinced we must show what we are worthy of on an international level. Belgium isn’t just that small little country with waffles, chocolate and beer. We have so much to offer here when it comes to fine dining and craftsmanship.
Chef’s Secret: Do you think there’s room for change then? Isn’t the gastronomic landscape quite traditional and conservative?
Christophe Hardiquest: I can really feel a climate of change. People are open to new ideas and influencers, without wanting to step away from traditions. We should definitely keep the good and honour our heritage in the Belgian culture, but we also need to evolve and improve continuously. Here at Bon Bon our team is quite young, but it’s clear that rejuvenation persists everywhere. At Michelin or Gault&Millau new and younger teams are active, bringing a fresh point of view to the world of gastronomy. Also online platforms like The Best Chef add dynamism, stimulating quality and creativity in the world of fine dining.
Chef’s Secret: How do you manage to perform at the highest level, day after day?
Christophe Hardiquest: I think we can say that our level of performance at Bon Bon is very high. So it’s probably no surprise if I tell you I consider myself a perfectionist. I always want to be in my kitchen to see if everything goes just perfect. And I’m always looking for things to improve. That’s also why we decided to keep the restaurant open for only four days a week instead of five, so we have more time for the preparations – like recipe development or educational or promotional activities in the culinary world – and also because we want to make sure our team is in good shape and focused to perform the best they can on the days we’re open.
It’s very clear: we just love what we do. We love the world of gastronomy and the culinary art. So what keeps us motivated is the will to satisfy each and every customer day after day. We want to get better in what we do by exploring our capacities as chefs. So the motivation doesn’t come from the reactions of food critics or culinary guides, but they definitely make it possible to keep on living the dream.
Chef’s Secret: You’re also an engaged follower of online culinary platforms, like The Best Chef. What do you like about that evolution in the world of gastronomy?
Christophe Hardiquest: The Belgian culinary scene had nice visibility at the last event of The Best Chef Awards, so that’s great. It’s interesting to see through online channels how other chefs express their creativity and how you can see local as well as international influences in their dishes.
Chef’s Secret: You’re a real ambassador of the Belgian cuisine. Can you tell us more about that?
Christophe Hardiquest: I am indeed proud to be a Belgian chef and I try to represent the strenght of our heritage and local produce in my creations. Belgians are in fact quite avant garde, you know, and that’s something I find really interesting. When it comes to Belgian culture, we are simply gourmand, a people of bon vivants. Without being a chauvinist, I do need to say that it’s always a pleasure to welcome local Belgian guests in our restaurant, as they really enjoy sitting around the table for hours, enjoying the food, the atmosphere and the whole experience. It’s in our culture. And I’m very happy with that.
Chef’s Secret: So how is the Belgian culinary identity represented in your creations?
Christophe Hardiquest: The Belgian identity is one of the main themes in my cooking. That’s why I have created the concept of Bon Bon Origins. I’m investigating the Belgian terroir to transform traditional recipes into contemporary dishes. The spirit of the dish remains as well as the local produce, but by rethinking them those Belgian classics get a whole new elan which is far more pure and artistic. So history and heritage are important to me, to discover the hidden secrets of our national cuisine. We have so many interesting products and preparations here to start from, so I want to make the best out of them. Why should I work with wagyu or kingcrab, if I can also use such beautiful belgian shrimps, lobter or plaice.
Chef’s Secret: Why is that Belgian component so important in your cooking?
Christophe Hardiquest: I feel there’s a trend to work with local products and that is something I am a supporter of. And in fact I’m a good representative of the Belgian identity myself, as I am from Liège, which is the French speaking part of Belgium, but I also have roots in Limburg, which is Dutch speaking. And Brussels of course is the perfect melting pot of all Belgians, also because it’s a city with such an international allure.
Chef’s Secret: Maybe it’s a dull question, that cannot easily be answered, but how would you describe your own cooking style?
Christophe Hardiquest: I think a classical education in the French cooking techniques is necessary for most chefs to be able to develop their own contemporary style. That also goes for me. Taste is of the utmost importance. If that is missing, I couldn’t care less about how great a dish looks. It’s about what they call caudalie in the terminology of wines, which means the taste gets to a certain peak and then keeps that same level for a while. To achieve that kind of taste experience in your dishes you just need to know the basics of traditional cooking technique.
Chef’s Secret: Where do you keep on finding your inspiration?
Christophe Hardiquest: I’m lucky enough to have quite a lot of inspiration. But I must say throughout the years I’ve become much calmer and less impulsive. Nowadays I try to evaluate my ideas, working on them till all details are right, in search of perfection.
Chef’s Secret: Trends or classics? What do you prefer?
Christophe Hardiquest: Trends and influences in the culinary world are definitely very valuable. All around the world there are great chefs, doing things their own way. So I think it a good thing to be up-to-date with what is happening elsewhere and to learn from others. But it’s not because certain techniques – from Scandinavia for example – are all of a sudden very popular, that I should start doing the exact same thing. It can be inspiring, that’s for sure. But I want to cook in a Belgian way, and I just use other techniques and influences if they match the style that I want to stand for.
Chef’s Secret: Do you prefer to work with certain products?
Christophe Hardiquest: Again, I’d say I just love the beautiful products from Belgium, like rabbit, horse, trout and so on. Or herbs and vegetables from the local city gardens we collaborate with. Those are also ingredients that I really adore.
Chef’s Secret: How did you know you wanted to be a chef? Has it been your boys dream?
Christophe Hardiquest: Definitely. When I was 14 years old, I just knew I was going to be a chef. I used to have pictures of the world’s greatest chefs in my room, instead of posters of rock stars (laughs).
Chef’s Secret: And then our last question… What are your goals, plans and ambitions in the next months and years?
Christophe Hardiquest: In the first place we want to keep on doing what we are doing now at Bon Bon. We want to improve ourselves day after day, resulting in an even better service for the guests, more refined dishes and who knows… Maybe the highest level of recognition of the media, the culinary guides and the online platforms will come. Besides that we also want to promote craftsmanship, by integrating in the dishes on the menu and by opening a shop with artisan products. So we have many ideas and many plans in the time that is coming.
Chef’s Secret: Thanks so much for sharing your story! We’re already looking forward to follow your projects and to taste your food of course.
At the table
Being that said, it’s time to go to the table to taste the creations of chef Christophe Hardiquest and his team. In this case we have the best seats of the restaurant: two places at the bar in the open kitchen where the magic happens. Of course you can also sit at one of the tables in the dining room to have a more intimate fine dining experience with your own company. But in this case it’s great fun to watch how everything is prepared sitting so close to the chef and the team.
We start off with a range of appetizers and the try some classics (Bon-bon orgins) as well as dishes from the menu.
‘Kip kap’ macaron / bloody mary snack / ‘Pain soufflé’ with parmesan / ’guimauve’ and powder of vitelotte potato
Blood sausage (‘Bolling’), tarama and an emulsion of white beer from Hainaut
Tomato, ice, parmesan
‘Utah Beach’ oysters
The classic ‘Tomate crevette’ (tomato with grey shrimps), reinterpreted by chef Hardiquest
Burned sweet onion, ’Grevenbroecker’ cheese, pear and, chive
’Grevenbroecker’ ice cream with white port and celery
Pony with snails
Milk fed veal, nori ‘viennoise’, cockles parsley
Ray ‘in ‘t groen’ (in a sauce of green herbs)
‘Garden Dessert’: Fontainebleau, meringue and garden herbs
Fig from Solliès A.O.P, “Brousse de brebis” and wild thyme granita
Miel de Bruxelles (honey from Brussels)
Christophe Hardiquest is probably the best representative of the Belgian culinary identity, combining classic, flavourful cooking techniques with contemporary influences and a huge love for local produce and preparations.