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.
From furniture shop to gastronomic restaurant
The roots of restaurant Bon-bon go back to 2003, when after completing his education at the culinary school of Namur and after having gained experience in several restaurants chef Christophe Hardiquest decided it was time to start building his own story. If you look at the beautiful location and top quality experience you get at Bon-Bon today, it’s hard to believe that the chef started off his career in a furniture shop in Brussels with 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. But even with only the help of a bunch of family casseroles and his own skills and personality to rely on, Christophe Hardiquest managed to make a great first impressions and in no time he was kind of the talk of the time, this place were you just needed to go to taste great food. Also the culinary guides and journalists where tempted by the approach of chef Christophe Hardiquest,
resulting in his first Michelin star already 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 design, 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 that women can use to put their handbags. 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. Nor did his philosophy and typical approach, and the way he is passionately involved in the gastronomic community, including online. 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 the appearance of the chef. He’s quite young, full of energy and also very accessible and welcoming. Like a rock star, who you’d rather describe as the sympathetic guy next door and not at all as 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, that’s a difficult equilibrium that he definitely masters. 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. And I felt quite early 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. And I was 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 must say that I strongly believe it’s really 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 those platforms you get a kind of ‘official’ or generally accepted recognition, that is important to get people to come 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 contender 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 there is a climate for 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 that trend is visible all over the gastronomic world. 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 got things moving, what gives an absolute boost to the quality and creativity of chefs all around the world.
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 here is indeed very good. So it’s probably no surprise if I tell you I’m a real 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 open the restaurant for only 4 days a week instead of 5, 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 happy and in good shape to perform
the best they can on the days we’re open.
And in fact one thing is very clear and simple. 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 the latter 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: We’ve had really nice visibility for the Belgian culinary scene at the last event of The Best Chef Awards, so that’s great. It’s interesting to see via 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 strength 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. And when it comes to the Belgian culture, we are simply gourmands and bon-vivants. So without wanting to be a chauvinist, I do need to say that it’s always a pleasure to welcome local guests from Belgium 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 about 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 produce and that something I feel really good about. 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 and then working on them till all the details are right. I’m really looking for refined creations and 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’s a good thing to be up to date with what happening elsewhere and to learn from others. But it’s not because certain techniques - from Scandinavia for example - are certainly 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. That 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.