Awarded the title of ‘Discovery of the year 2019’, a recent 14.5/20 in the Gault & Millau guide, and a first Michelin star, chef Kevin Lejeune is most definitely a rising star and exceptional talent. After several years working as a sous-chef at La Paix restaurant, run by the renowned chef David Martin, Kevin decided to make the leap to his own restaurant, La Canne en Ville, just outside of Brussels city centre. Craftsmanship is reflected here in a refined cuisine bursting with personal touches and on-point flavours. Connoisseurs and experts describe the cuisine of chef Kevin Lejeune and his young team as contemporary, innovative and subtle.
Next stop in our S.Pellegrino Hungry Chef tour
Each year, our collaboration with S.Pellegrino takes us to a number of interesting restaurants in Belgium and Luxembourg. This time, we had the chance to discover La Canne en Ville, the restaurant of the young and impassioned chef Kevin Lejeune, definitely a must-visit in Brussels.
Authentic on the outside, modern on the inside
The restaurant is located in a chic neighbourhood – or quartier as the citizens of Brussels like to call it – just outside the capital’s city centre. As is only proper of a high-class restaurant in Brussels, La Canne en Ville offers a valet service, which also matches the standing of this neighbourhood perfectly. Up until 1983, the corner house where the restaurant is located was the local butcher’s shop. Original interior design elements – like the meat hooks on the wall, the colourful patterned floor tiles, the typical wall tiles and the authentic scale next to the window – recall the history of the place. In such an authentic setting, the classic furniture blends in perfectly with the freshly stiffened, white table linen, the minimalistic tableware and a few baby-blue elements. There are two different dining rooms at the restaurant. On the one side is the former butcher’s, which still has that authentic feel, as well as plenty of daylight thanks to its big windows. On the other, there is a part of the restaurant that feels more cosy and homely thanks to the parquet floors and a beautiful fireplace at the heart of this dining area. The finishing touch to the interior is added by the decor featuring unique artworks designed by the talented Brussels artist Olga Dupré. In her paintings, you’ll see her personal interpretation of some of the chef’s most beloved dishes.
Hungry Chef: meet chef Kevin Lejeune
A chef who was born for his profession and who has an everlasting passion for cooking: that’s how chef Kevin Lejeune is best described. As a teenager, Kevin decided to head to culinary school in Namur to chase his dreams. However, Kevin realised pretty fast that going to school was not really his cup of tea. So, he decided to quit after just one year and instead get his diploma through an apprenticeship contract. After working in a small gastronomic restaurant in the city of Namur and in L’Éveil des Sens* in his hometown of Charleroi, Kevin moved to the city of Brussels, where he worked in a small restaurant not far from where La Canne en Ville is located. When he saw that chef David Martin of La Paix was looking for a new chef, he jumped at the chance. At just 19 years old, he was working on the appetizers, first courses and desserts at La Paix. After three months, he already felt he could use an extra challenge and chef David Martin must have immediately noticed how talented Kevin was, because he promptly offered him the job of sous-chef. Certainly, a challenge for such a young chef – but it turned out to be a success, and Kevin ended up working at La Paix for 10 years. During that period, he was afforded a front-row view of how the former ‘Brasserie of the year 2008’ developed into a gastronomic restaurant, currently awarded with two Michelin stars.
Hungry for More: You were just 19 years old when you started working as a sous-chef at La Paix restaurant. What was it like being part of the team at such an iconic restaurant?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: To be honest, it was quite a surprise when David Martin offered me the position of sous-chef after having worked there for just three months. But I knew right away that it was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I grabbed the challenge with both hands. To be honest, it was difficult in the beginning. I was still a ‘kid’ and didn’t have a clue how to lead such a big and well-organised team of chefs. Luckily everything fell into place after a couple of months. It was a tough learning curve, but in the end, the best I could ever have.
So, it was at La Paix that I learned how to lead a team and manage a restaurant. Everything was very organised there, not only in the kitchen but also in the dining area during service. I also appreciated the Japanese techniques we used in order to create a lighter cuisine. Instead of using several kinds of creams, which was really trending back in the 80s, we experimented with bouillons to make the dishes easier to digest. Today, you will also find that type of cooking at La Canne en Ville restaurant.
“It was David Martin who taught me that perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be a better and more flavourful version of your dish. But that mentality also keeps you alert and boosts you to give the best of yourself every day.”
Hungry for More: After 10 years, you decided to take the leap and start your own restaurant. What’s the story behind the restaurant, La Canne en Ville?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: Before it was turned into a restaurant, there was a butcher’s shop located in this building. First it was a small family restaurant, already called La Canne en Ville. One day, I came to dine here with a colleague from La Paix, and the current owner told me that she wanted to retire, having managed the restaurant for 31 years. For me, it was a done deal. I immediately fell in love with this place as I had always wanted to have a restaurant with a rich history. So, I decided to quit my job as a sous-chef at La Paix and start my own business. During the refurbishment, we preserved the authentic floor tiles and other typical elements of the butcher. For the interior, we envisioned a more contemporary look and an open kitchen. From the beginning, the intention was to cook at a high level, so the interior also had to be adjusted and modernised.
“We maintained the restaurant’s name, because it’s such an iconic place for this neighbourhood and I didn’t want that story to disappear. Unfortunately, the previous owners couldn’t tell us the meaning of the name ‘La Canne en Ville’. But there’s a student who works here now whose grandparents used to own the former butcher’s shop, so we still hope to discover the story behind the name.”
Hungry for More: How would you describe the cuisine and cooking style at La Canne en Ville?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: I think that a flavourful cuisine with respect for the product says it all. Further, I would describe it as a gastronomic and contemporary cuisine. I really want to keep the gastronomic aspect, but add an original and exciting touch to it. We serve, for example, a first course made of prawns and mandarin. It’s a combination that you wouldn’t expect, although it turns out that both flavours make a great combination. So, the dish creates a sort of surprise effect.
To put it briefly, guests still need to be able to recognise the different products that are used in our dishes, but they should also be surprised by certain aspects. In the end, having dinner in a restaurant should be an experience – otherwise they might as well eat at home.
Hungry for More: Where do you find the inspiration for new creations?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: Travelling always nourishes my inspiration. There are so many different types of cuisines in the world. I love to discover the techniques they use in other places and integrate them into European cuisine. Going out for dinner and experiencing the cuisine of other chefs can also be really inspiring. I never copy a dish, but I do register everything I eat. Then, when I’m creating new dishes, I remember certain ingredients or combinations I once had, and I try to create new dishes with them. Sometimes I have no new inspiration for a while, yet the next week I might come up with ten different new dishes. Inspiration often comes when I least expect it.
“Parmesan cheese is one of my favourite ingredients. You can use it in so many different ways. Last year, I created a dish with white asparagus, a vinaigrette of coffee and a cream of parmesan cheese. It’s an atypical combination perhaps, but those ingredients go surprisingly well together.”
Hungry for More: Apart from La Canne en Ville, you’re also in charge of le Meat Bar?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: Indeed, in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert – just outside the city of Brussels – we have another restaurant that’s all about meat. Actually, we came up with the idea to open this restaurant before La Canne en Ville came into existence. But due to all the renovations at le Meat Bar, the restaurant finally opened its doors a few months after the launch of La Canne en Ville. The concept, interior and philosophy are completely different from what you’ll find here. At le Meat Bar, we only serve meat. We even have our own maturation cellar for our dry-aged meat. The atmosphere is more relaxed, laid-back and accessible.
As I want to be fully focused on my restaurant, La Canne en Ville, there’s another chef in charge of le Meat Bar. We created the menu together, which was not that easy for me. I was used to working in Michelin-starred restaurants, so I tended to go too far when creating dishes for le Meat Bar. I realised that making ‘simple’ dishes was quite a challenge for me.
“At La Paix restaurant, I learned a lot about dry-aged meat and I’m a true meat lover myself. So, at le Meat Bar I can go wild with the various types of meat we serve. Here at La Canne en Ville, I’ve chosen specifically to use more fish. It feels like some sort of rediscovery of my own cuisine.”
Hungry for More: What’s next? What are your further ambitions and goals for the future?
Chef Kevin Lejeune: Being awarded a Michelin star was already a dream come true. Even though it had always been our intention to cook at a high level and reach for the stars, as it were, it was a surprise when we achieved that recognition after only a year. Sometimes I don’t even notice we’ve got that red Michelin sign at our front door. Now, I think it’s important to keep both feet on the ground and to keep on evolving gradually. For example, we recently decided to put one table less in each dining room to make it as comfortable as possible for our guests. We’ll keep on working hard and refining our dishes, and then we’ll see what the future holds for us.
Menu: the chef’s suggestions
At La Canne en Ville, guests can choose to eat à la carte or to follow the chef’s suggestions in the ‘Menu Découverte’ (4 courses), ‘Menu Gourmand’ (5 courses) or ‘Menu Surprise’ (6 courses). The chef also provides a 3-course business lunch. We’re happy to follow the suggestions of the chef and experience the contemporary cuisine of the young cook and his team. During service, the team comes across relaxed and hospitable, with no trace of stress or pressure.
We start off with a cold juice made of carrots and yuzu.
The chef then presents a selection of appetizers:
A sablé breton with Jerusalem artichoke and a freshly peeled shrimp.
A crispy tuile filled with capers and smoked eel.
Marinated mackerel with avocado and cordyceps – an Asian type of mushroom.
Our first dish consists of Obsiblue prawns from New Caledonia with a soufflé, spinach, daikon and a jus made of tuna and clementine. This dish is a perfect combination of Kevin’s contemporary flair and the cooking style of his former chef, David Martin. You can taste a hint of Japanese technique with perfectly balanced sour nuances, which remind us of the cuisine at La Paix.
Next up: a dish with Wester Ross salmon – a beautiful piece of fillet representing the best of the umami flavours from the Scottish Highlands – pied bleu mushrooms, smoked tarama – a Greek speciality – and gravy made from the pied bleu mushrooms.
We continue our experience at La Canne en Ville with the chef‘s signature dish: a langoustine – which is one of his favourite products – smoked with rosemary, accompanied by morel mushrooms and a bouillon made of morel mushrooms.
The chef serves us up a main dish made of duck, celeriac, chanterelles, almonds, a miso-mustard and gravy made of duck leg confit.
We finish our lunch with a fresh dessert made with cheesecake, mango, speculoos, passion fruit sorbet and Vietnam pepper.
Our experience at La Canne en Ville ends with a selection of cakes and canapés:
A tartelette with chocolate and verbena.
A meringue with lemon.
A home-made financier.
A dacquoise with pistachios and pineapple cream.
La Canne en Ville restaurant is housed in a former butcher’s shop just outside the city centre of Brussels. Young chef Kevin Lejeune serves a cuisine based purely on the freshness of the products provided by a carefully selected group of suppliers. With his talent and experience of working at La Paix, he received his first Michelin star just one year after opening. This passionate chef is definitely someone to watch.
La Canne en Ville, Hervormingsstraat 22, 1050 Elsene (Brussels) | +32 2 347 29 26 | www.lacanneenville.be | firstname.lastname@example.org | facebook.com/lacanneenville | instagram.com/la_canne_en_ville | instagram.com/lejeune_kevin
Interview & text: Carline Roggeman
Photography: Adriaan Van Looy