Landing in Lille, the design capital of the World 2020 and the capital of Northern France, I wanted to discover its gastronomy gems. “Would you want to try a restaurant that is redefining gourmet fare in the Flanders region?” asked Pierre-Yves, my local friend. Without batting an eyelid, I said, “Yes.” After all, I have experienced the hospitality of Hauts du France region first-hand and I know I can’t go wrong with the local advice.
Next day, after a few hours of sightseeing in the countryside, we reached our destination, Auberge du Vert Mont in Boeschepe, where we were treated to an epicurean encounter. Boeschepe is the last French village before Belgium and is at the crossroads of Europe.
Upon arrival, a rustic rural setting welcomed us — ducks and goose swimming happily in the flowered pond, sheep sunbathing in a manicured lawn, ponies gingerly nibbling the juicy grass and piglets bouncing around the fenced area. I took a walk inside the vine-draped Michelin-starred restaurant made of wood and exposed brick, just as cool, authentic, and welcoming as its star chef — Florent Ladeyn. His rockstar-like attitude and personality made him the most loved finalist of ‘Top Chef 2013’ in France.
Ladeyn prides himself in making his visitors live a unique and enchanting culinary experience. The dishes served always follow the cycle of the seasons and magnify with delicacy and subtlety the products of Northern France. Barring salt everything is locally sourced, is 100 per cent organic, and 80 per cent of the food served is vegetarian. Moreover, Ladeyn is on a mission to make avant-garde dining affordable. That is why the restaurant has cut down on frills like menu cards and table cloths, and multi-course meals start from as low as 21€.
Here, dining is like a treasure hunt — when you enter the restaurant, you have no idea what you are going to eat. You tell your dietary requirements and let the magician chef take you on the culinary ride of your life.
Under wooden beams and a well-lit room with large glass windows facing the rolling-hills, as I waited for my meal, Ladeyn made an entry. If there were ever a prize for making the right first impression, he would have easily won! Dressed in a long blue Lenin shirt with Chinese collar and khaki pants, flashing a million-watt smile and sporting a funky long hairdo, Ladeyn looked every bit of a rockstar. He wears his passion for cooking on his sleeve — fork and knife tattoos on his forearms. When I asked him why he has kept modest pricing for his Michelin-starred restaurant that can easily fetch a hefty premium, he answered with a spark in his eyes, “I want my guests to enjoy a gourmet cuisine without burning a hole in their pocket. Quality and creativity are not meant just for rich people. By keeping our prices low, we can draw more people to sample, and possibly inculcate a healthy eating lifestyle.”
Ladeyn owns the Flanders cuisine like no one else. The self-taught chef cooks only local Flanders products and criss-crosses his region to discover new recipes. In the kitchen, the team wears casual clothes, and there is no menu — the daily offerings are created based on the season and what farmers can provide. Each dish is a delicate and delicious interpretation of Flemish terroir best enjoyed when paired with an in-house wine, or beer. J’en ai l’eau à la bouche!
Ladeyn thinks he is too small to change the world. But he can contribute by serving homemade, fresh, and biodynamic food to his guests. After a quick introduction, he returned to the kitchen to show us the magic of flavours and textures.
My epicurean encounter started with three entrées — falafel with homemade yoghurt dip, young leek flower stems wrapped in red coloured seasonal poppy flowers and a crispy egg-white cracker embellished with multi-coloured seasonal blooms, nuts and asparagus sauce.
My second course consisted of a locally grown cabbage-like green vegetable called Kohlrabi stuffed with goat cheese and served in a fennel sauce with a delicate garnishing of the elderflowers.
The next two courses familiarised me with the seasonal veggies of the region — the tender green asparagus served with fermented verbena juice followed by grilled Zucchini and sage.
The main course was a soft blend of flavours in the form of grilled lettuce, white asparagus garnished with sunflower seeds. An exceptional dessert made of rhubarb, juniper berries and wood sorrel concluded one of the most innovative meals I have ever had.
Dining at Auberge du Vert Mont in Boeschepe is a culinary experience of a lifetime — an excellent mix of textures and tastes!