To celebrate our respective birthdays, we have chosen, Valerie and I, to go to La Grappe d’Or, the famous Michelin starrred restautant in Torgny. We had the chance to enjoy the Menu, sleep there at the Hotel and we had also the occasion to talk with Clément Petitjean, the Inn’s co-owner (with his wife Monia Aouini). I’ll explain you a bit about the life and the work of a man for whom the word Values takes all his sense.
La Grappe d’Or, a restaurant in Gaume
L’Auberge de la Grappe d’or is located in the magnificient small Village of Torgny, in far south of Belgium, the area where Clément comes from. The Gaume have this in common with Liège which is the visceral attachment of its people with their Mother Area. Thus even during his internationale exiles (Savoy, Jean-Georges, …) the Chef knew he would come back to Gaume.
Just 8years ago, he bought La Grappe d’Or to definitvely come back in Gaume, and they developped the magnificient restaurant and the Hotel too, and they’ve opened a second table and participated to the creation of a wine shop imbricated to the house.
The Inn’s integration in the village is something really remarquable. We are in a high quality restaurant, but everythind is about good taste, where the beauty is all about sobriety and class, letting luxurious and visible decoration for other restaurants…
The room, or rather the rooms of the restaurant is also marked by purified refinement, without disavowing at all the house (which must date from middke 19th) and its characteristics like the antique furniture, which does not eat visual space at all.
Concerning the Hotel part of the hous, we slept in a Suite where installation and furnishing are of a refinement which leads to the simple and healthy wellness. It was far from being the most equipped in luxurious equipment, but it had a heart and an insane charm, still signs of attention that Monia carries to its customers.
I have only tasted once the Cuisine of Clément in the Restaurant, but I had the chance to discover his work during a few of external events, so my opinion will be limited in term of knowledge, but as sincere as possible.
It’s a so used cliché, but it’s so true in this case that I’ll allow myself to say that : The Clément’s Cuisine is perfectly in line with his Area and its evident beauty, without any unnecessary flamboyance, a Cuisine I would define as a Sophisticated rustic Cuisine, at least on some plates whereas others, mainly Starters, are more sophisticated, but never plays the game of the masturbatory technique neither!
I loved the eclecticsm of the cooking he propose, a bit like a mockery to everyone saying the local food is a limit given to creativity and Gastronomy. For sure, the food is majority local, but the preparations done with it are far more open : Cook local, think global. Some creations play more on the acidities, some on fermentation juices, other on sweeter aromas and show traditional techniques perfectly mastered, as for example the magnificent veal braised which was a masterpiece of meat-cooking, which is something not always seen on new generation restaurants.
We are on a menu construction between french and nordic Ecoles. The menu is neither composed of 4 plates, neither on 12. It’s a decision in fact still more puzzling than what we used to, but it’s really interesting to “learn” a new style of menu… and that’s also why we go to the restaurant 🙂
If I had to highlight 2 dishes savored last saturday, I would maybe go to the starter made with a lot of different carrots growned in the Chef’s garden, and the dish of lobster, tomatoes and tripes. This plate, of a crazy boldness, is in fact just evident once tasted, all the flavored come together to create something just perfect…
The Creative Process
I like to understand how a Chef create new dishes, and I’m quite impressed of the intellectual way with which Clément is inventing new recipes. He will not multiplicate the trials , far of that because he doesn’t perform any, but he builts a perfect mental image of the plate and all the techniques associated before to cook it directly for the restaurant : finishing works are made during firsts services.
This approach requires a big control of gestures and especially a very impressive mental library, but our Chef feed it with a lot of cookbooks (he reads a lot) and tastings on colleague’s restaurants. I do not have any doubts neither on the fact that the perfect knowledge on all the products (and producers) he uses play on the capacity to create theses mental views on his creations.
What about the plates ?
We never talk about the plates, which are part of the culinary experiences of people, despite they have a bigger and bigger place in the restaurants, with sometimes excesses. The plates, like ceramic’s ones, are sometimes too fashion, without “story behind”…
By his own admission, if he had not been a Cook, Clément could have been creating also plates : the desire to creates beautiful thing, by bringing it the Beautiful, is an engine for him. Also, he pays a particular attention to the link between the dish and the plates behind, and some of them, as the Beetroot on the blue flower’s plate, were exceptionals!. The Beauty in details. If in cooking we give the rhythm by playing on the gustative intensities, Clément does the same with plates there, alternating ceramic, chinas and others to be always a surprise. This thinking shows to what extent the high gastronomy is an affair of details.
Golden Grapes for golden plates
Modest on his own knowledge, Clément puts the light on his Sommelier, and also on his former one, Cédric, who owns know a wine shop in the village ad with whom he works a lot. But our artist has a deep knowledge on wine, its structure and its culture. So, all the wine pairing are chosen with a great attention, I would even say it is comparable of what we can find on San Degeimbre Restaurant (l’Air du Temps), even if San has more international choices, Clement more french wines. They both love wine with expressive juices, with an acidity integrated, Bio and natural wines but never deviant ones. I’ve been font of almost every wine from the selection, except one, and some pairing were just wonderful, and showed the picking was far away the coincidence.
An example I particulary liked is the Trousseau from Julien Mareschal (2011) with the Beetroot, the pairing was just perfect and one made the other part better. The spicy touch with the ground flavor, just great.
Monia, Magician of Time
The Grappe d’Or is well known for the quality of room service, leaded with talent by Monia (even for the restaurant than for the Hotel). We spent an evening out of time, and the way we were put in our cocoon participated in it largely.. Of course, the service is obliging, fast and responsive, but more of that Monia add a touch of natural empathy, at the same time reassuring and respectful of the bubble in which we were.
Clément Petitjean, Passionate about Gaume
Let’s talk now about the link between Clément with the Gaume, with the Cuisine. As I’ve already said,, Petitjean is one of these persons who are firmly attached to their own area, and when I feel on some people a strong feeling, sincere and militant, to promote their own products,I think he’s the step further : no more needs to prove anything about his choice for Gaume, local products is just an indisputable obvious fact!
On its matter of product’s quality, he has the highly interesting thinking : the quality concept is not something monolithic, but the production’s area, the way it is produced, the potential, etc… play also a role in the concept of quality. For example, if a collaboration between the restaurant and a producer allows the latter to invest and enhance the production method, it’s a crucial quality which is profitable for everyone!
All the team members seem to feel good in their job, Clément seems to care sincerely about their well-being, and when a reorganization is necessary, he thinks naturally of the inspirations of each and not only of the capital gain(increase in value) for the establishment. The Human being is in the center of the project of the couple.
A leader for #GenerationW
This man is part of the first Cooks to who have been integrated on the well-known Collective I’ve already talked about Generation W. Really active in the movement, he perfectly embodies the Charter of it.
Even if he perfectly fits to the spirit of Generation W, Clément is really inclusive in his approach, and for him Generation W will not be always more and more local, but better and better Walloon, which will lead to Chefs feeling good in their jobs, feeling good in their Area.
GenerationW has not to turn to sectarian but well to corporatism, in the positive acceptance this term can have, with the values of mutual help, exchanges and support.
It’s never easy to conclude an article talking about the knowledge I have on a Chef’s philosophy. What to say apart I would like to emphasis the human qualities of Clément and Monia. I also would like to repeat how I think Clément is one of the leaders for the future of walloon gastronomy. I just can advise you to go to their place for a week-end, to have a wonderful stay and rest and fully understand what I’ve explained here… And to discover Clément, who behind a reserved appearance, is a sharp, charming and modest person, a good guy.