Jigger’s – one of Gent’s best kept secrets

We have been hearing about Jigger’s – The Noble Drug Store for quite some time now from our friends at Villa Bardon who have a restaurant around the corner from this place. By the way, if you haven’t been to Villa Bardon, then make sure to pay a visit when you are in Gent, Belgium. More about that in another blog.

So it was indeed great that I finally discovered one of Gent’s best kept secrets last Wednesday. Without knowing this secret, you will walk past this splendid cocktail bar and not notice it. But if you look out for the stuffed fox which is the the window, then you are bound not to miss it.

It opens early so if you are just visiting the city, then head there for an aperitif at around 5pm when it opens. Later, you need to make a reservation. You will have to ring the doorbell and then the cocktail barmen will come to open the door, take your jackets and give you a table or if you are lucky place you in front of the bar where you can watch the barmen making their splendid creations of cocktails.

One of the owners of Jigger’s was not there when I visited. It is, however, no wonder that he has won the “Best Cocktail Maker of the Benelux” for the second year in a row.

The cocktails on the menu, which changes very regularly, are incredibly creative using ingredients which you would not imagine in a cocktail. When I was there I tried a Gin, Soda, Sorrel and Aceto Balsamico cocktail which worked perfectly.

As you walk in they offer you a glass of water and then give you a big diary with the week’s cocktails. You can look at the cocktails that have been served in the past and may also try to order them though it depends on what is in season and the ingredients they have available. They are very flexible and can serve cocktails on demand, including the classics.

The atmosphere is American 20’s and the inspiration comes from the American prohibition which was named “The Noble Experiment” by the America government and where alcohol was prohibited.

At the Cocktail Spirits Awards 2013 the bar was named one of the 50 best cocktail bars of Europe underlining the quality of the experience and cocktails Jigger’s offers

By the way, if you smell a smokey flavour while sitting at the bar, it is because they are making a cocktail with a special kind of Chinese tea. The story we were told by one of the cocktail makers is that in the past, the tea was precious in China and to avoid robbers stealing the tea from houses, people used to hide it in chimneys were it got the smokey smell. They use it as a condiment to a Pernod and Lemon Juice cocktail. It is the next on my list when I visit next hopefully some time soon.

Verdict: Unmissable. Make sure you book unless you are going there for an aperitif. Be daring and don’t go for your classic cocktail favourite.

Address: Jiggers can be found in Oudburg 16, Gent and is open from Tuesday to Thursday from 5pm till 1am and Friday and Saturday from 5pm till 2.30pm.

 

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Rene Redzepi (Noma) – breaking new ground

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36-year-old Rene Redzepi is on top of the culinary world again after regaining top spot for his restaurant Noma in the World’s 50 best restaurants. Yesterday he was in Gent to present his new book A Work in Progress which is part journal, part recipe book and a flick book.

He gave an inspirational talk while reading parts of his journal which recounts the day-to-day life at Noma.

I went thanks to our dear friends from Gent, Anna and Marteen of Villa Bardon. The stress to get there was probably worse than manning a station on a busy evening in a restaurant. The traffic to get out of Brussels was horrendous.

Redzepi is one of few chefs who have managed to take food to a level of creativity that can inspire people. These chefs, like Adria, Bottura, Blumenthal and the Roca brothers have broken away from traditions while at the same time going back to the roots. They break taboos or preconceived ideas and perceptions.

As he himself says, it would have been unimaginable 10 or 20 years ago for a restaurant like his to be considered for Michelin stars.

At 36-years-old, Redzepi says he is actually one of the oldest people working in the restaurant.

Having read quite a few books on creativity over the past few months including for example Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, The Myths of Creativity by David Burkus, and Todd Henry’s Die Empty, Unleash your best work every day (all of which are worth reading) it was interesting to see that Redzepi follows pretty much the same concepts in his kitchen. Creativity does not come by chance but through hard work, collaboration, team-work and ambition.

The main takeaway from his talk yesterday was that there has to be collaboration is essential in a team but most of all you must create an environment where people are confident that they can experiment without being ridiculed or laughed at. The restaurant has a very interesting tradition. On a Saturday evening, after an 85-hour work week, one chef has to present a dish to the rest of the team. It is here that innovation takes place. During the talk he showed a video of chefs being presented with a pig’s ear and another of a Kale (cabbage) ice-cream which believe it or not, he said tasted extremely good. There have been a few bad experiences he says but in general, the team has been stunned on many more occasions. “Can you imagine kale being served as an ice-cream. Until a few years ago this vegetable was used to feed horses. Then we discovered its nutritional value but it still is a cabbage. Suddenly it becomes a dessert, and the dish actually works. You need to have courage to think of and then present such a dish”

He noted how a dish can go through much iteration as it is improved once step at a time until the final product emerges from the test kitchen.

The story of how they introduced ants in Noma as part of a dish was also intriguing. He recounts how they experimented with ants and actually served it for the first time in the restaurant hidden with crème fraiche. He explains in detail the reaction of the first clients when they were told about the ants they were being served in the dish and their faces suddenly changing colours. Nowadays, he uses ants, which taste like lemon-grass as a condiment but at the time they served them first at Noma, he ended up being talked about in the press and even made it to the Danish Parliament. He said an American chef who was a friend of his phoned to ask whether he was crazy to serve ants in his restaurant. “I tried to find consolation by phoning the chef who introduced me to ants, Alex Atala from Brazil. When I told him the story, there was silence on the phone for ten seconds and then he asked, What, you served ants?” The bottom line – forget preconceptions.

During question time, Redzepi said he thinks that in future we will have to learn to cook things which people used to eat in the past but which have now been forgotten or else explore new ground. We need to get back in touch with the earth, he thinks. He is of the view, and this seems to be shared by others, that in the coming years, people will probably be eating more insects.

With the cost of beef rising and the impact cows have on the environment, it is likely that meat will be eaten only occasionally. The challenge, he says is to make insects appealing. What would you choose between a bowl of crickets or a nicely seared steak with parsley butter and fries? The answer for the time being is obvious.

He says that meat is now being grown in labs, he knows someone who tasted it and doesn’t mince his words. “It tasted like shit. But it is protein and it is being created in a laboratory.”

He thinks that the provenance of food will become more and more important in future. Rene Redzepi is chef of probably one of the world’s most famous restaurants. But he is also much more than that. He is passionate, hard-working, ambitious and in a very enjoyable hour and a half, he provided important lessons not only related to food but also on creativity, hard work and team-work.

I look forward to visit Noma soon though I am not so sure about what my reaction will be if served ants. Maybe I should also forget my preconceptions.

 

Food as art – a great chef

A picture is worth a thousand words. At Osteria Francescana

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Risk savvy – how to make good decisions

Risk Savvy

Risk Savvy – how to make good decisions is one of the latest books I have read and is a very interesting read. It is a practical guide to making better decisions. The author, Gerd Gigerenzer takes numerous examples from the field of finance, health and personal lives to show how irrational we can be at times. The author shows how risk-taking is essential for innovation, fun and the courage to face the uncertainties in life. But he adds that amid these uncertainties, the people we trust to lead the way, be they financial advisors or doctors sometimes take decisions which are not necessarily in our best interest. There can be various reasons to this. It could be down to the simple fact that they do not quite know how to assess risk properly or how to read statistics and probabilities. It is worse, however, when they guide us to take certain investments because it actually helps their companies bottom line for example. Filled with numerous examples including how you can get risk savvy by taking matters in your hand and trusting your gut, this is a recommended read in the field of behavioural psychology. Some quotes from the book

We teach our children the mathematics of certainty – geometry and trigonometry – but not the mathematics of uncertainty, statistical thinking. And we teach our children biology and not psychology that shapes their fears and desires.

When modern technology is involved, the illusion of certainty is amplified.

The quest for certainty is the biggest obstacle to becoming risk savvy.

Calculated intelligence may do the job for known risks, but in the face of uncertainty, intuition is indispensable.

Learn by failing, or you fail to learn.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Conflicts of interest are the rule rather than the exception. They are build into the system, and customers need to understand them. There is no way around basic financial literacy if you don’t want to be taken in every time.

First listen, then speak. If a person is not honest or trustworthy, the rest doesn’t matter.

Learning to live with a good-enough choice and the possibility that there is something better out there is necessary in an uncertain world. A risk-savvy child can be as effective as a fancy warning system. Don’t teach for tests, teach for life.

Continue reading “Risk savvy – how to make good decisions”

Follow your passion

Massimo Bottura is not your normal run of the mill chef. He is a man with a vision – combining modern art with avant-garde cuisine while at the same time respecting nature’s provenance. Having quit studying law after finding that a trattoria was up for sale on the outskirts of Modena he has gone from strength to strength reaching the pinnacles of international cuisine by reconstructing Italian traditions and humble ingredients into something one can be awed with.

Like an epic football final or a brilliant art exhibition where you would continue to talk about it until your friends get fed up, Bottura’s food has a somewhat similar effect. Bottura has a simple philosophy – follow your passion and express your emotions in what you do. You can only admire him for this. He resonates this philosophy when you enter his world. It is probably the dream of many people who are stuck in their daily routines to do what they would love but who might not have the courage to follow their passions or express themselves.

Can food be art? What turns humble ingredients into greatness? Can you break preconceptions while at the same time respecting tradition and history? What eventually makes a meal memorable? The Osteria Francescana makes you ask these questions and much more.

This to me was always going to be much more than a restaurant. The reservation was made a few weeks after I turned 40, the booking was only a few days after my wife and I had celebrated our 7-year wedding anniversary. And we were going with two dear friends. While not being too bothered with celebrations, the expectations for a 40-year-old at maybe the turning point of his career where huge. The restaurant is hidden in one of the pretty alleys of the unpretentious but incredibly welcoming streets of Modena.

Here, in the land of fast cars and slow food, you can be lost in thinking that time stood still. Whether it’s the traditional Aceto Balsamico from Modena, the Parmeggiano Reggiano from the region or even the different types of hams, you can find exceptional produce which ages gracefully. The experience was unforgettable in more ways than one. At Fulvio Pierangelini’s Gambero Rosso, which alas no longer exists, I beat a phobia which had the potential to ruin the pleasure of gastronomy. Until that time, I had a phobia of cheese, not an allergy but rather a psychological condition. But at that restaurant I had vowed to eat whatever was served. All was going well until the kitchen decided to send an amuse bouche before the main course of suckling pig which I still can remember like it was yesterday. But more about that story another time. photo

At Osteria Francescana, I graduated with Honours when it comes to cheese. The five ages of Parmeggiano Reggiano served as one of the courses was simply out of this world. In its simplicity, it was a celebration of just one ingredient but the textures, different temperatures and different taste where such as to wow you into a sense of wonder. The idea alone was incredible. The execution of that idea was perfect. How could the chef have created such a dish?  How did he even think about it? The dish was clever but not too clever. The presentation was harmonious but at the same time bland. The flavours, textures and temperatures did all the talking. And what a speech they gave.

I will blog about the whole meal in a separate post first for me to record what is one of my greatest culinary experiences and secondly to encourage you to see for yourself the effect Massimo Bottura’s philosophy has on the food and help you to get out of your comfort zone because this is exactly what Massimo Bottura does.

You need to think more about the providence of food and how to reinterpret certain dishes, including by not necessarily following precise recipies.

Was this the pinnacle? I don’t know. On the one hand, I don’t want it to be. What is certain is that I will return to try different interpretations of dishes which were not served. One lesson which I take from the experience however is that of why it is so difficult to succeed in the restaurant business. Massimo Bottura was not there when we visited. How did we know? We asked.

Did we guess he was not there? Not really though with the benefit of hindsight we should have guessed. In such a well run kitchen, everything works to perfection. And this was clearly the case this time as well. The service was impeccable and all the dishes were executed to perfection but the finale went missing. The first sign of our hindsight lesson is that we were encouraged not to take the 12-course sensations menu. The second is that we were served 11 dishes, one of which was a dessert which was good but not memorable and clearly not in sync with the crescendo of dishes which just seemed to get better and better. In my view, this was meant to be a pre-dessert. I stand to be corrected but upon reflection, discussion and menu counting we came to the conclusion that we had not been served the main dessert probably because it was getting late and the chefs wanted to close the kitchen. For those who are familiar with Bottura, it was maybe a case of “Ooops I forgot the lemon tart”. A slight disappointment to an otherwise impeccable meal. As the saying goes, when the cat is away the mice come out to play.  And that clearly is the difference between passion and work. A passion which Bottura has in droves.

A promise to myself

From time to time, i have toyed with the idea of starting a blog. But there was always a reason to procrastinate. For some time, I blogged at brincs@wordpress.com but that is no more. I decided to delete that blog because it was not regular and also had haphazard content. This time, I want to test myself and see whether I can discipline myself to post on a regular basis. I will not limit this blog just to food and wine, which are among my top passions but also to book reviews, observations on news and politics, sports. In other words, anything which tickles my fancy.

I hope you follow this blog from time to time and you find the content interesting. Do not hesitate to drop me a line with your suggestions or feedback.

My first post will be about following your passion and is inspired by a recent experience we had at one of the world’s best restaurants Osteria Francescana. I hope it tickles your taste buds.