This is set to be a year of culinary delight in Brussels with the advent of Brusselicious 2012, a year-long gourmet festival. Hughes Belin has the mouth-watering details
The most original New Year’s card this year was undoubtedly the one sent by Christos Doulkeridis, the Brussels Region’s Minister for Tourism. Made of potato flour, it was edible, a reminder that this year is dedicated to showcasing the great gastronomic traditions of the Belgian capital.
Themed exhibitions started last year with A Table! (dinner is served) at Tour & Taxis, a look at food from field to fork and ways of improving the journey; in March an exhibition on the five senses at the Natural Science Museum will run until September, and the dinosaur gallery will be transformed into a venue for meals created to explore the senses.
All year long, chefs and cooks will make Belgian cuisine accessible to both inhabitants of Brussels and its visitors. Dinners will be organised almost monthly to shed light on different aspects of the city’s cultural life: in March the commemoration of the Banquet des Misérables, the legendary dinner organised by the publishers of Victor Hugo’s famous book; in May the 90th birthday of Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans; a medieval banquet in July to celebrate Ommegang, the annual reenactment of Charles V’s arrival in Brussels in 1549; a giant mussels and chips lunch on the urban beach at Bruxelles-les-bains in July; and a comic strip dinner combined with a sound and light show is planned for the Place Royale in September – to list but a few.
The Omnivore Food Festival, launched in France in 2003, goes on a global tour for the first time and stops off in Brussels in March with master classes and demonstrations by prestigious chefs. The 5th edition of Goûter Bruxelles week in September, organised by the Brussels chapter of the slow food organisation Karikol, will focus on the city’s vegetable gardens and its “good soil right under the cobblestones”.
There’ll be competitions to reward the best chefs – Bocuse d’Or Europe in March, a world cooking contest involving chefs from 20 countries – and the most creative barmen will take part in the Black Russian Cocktail Challenge.
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Starting on Valentine’s Day, Michelin-starred chefs will feed those who can afford a two-hour dinner in a specially decorated tram which will travel through the Capital’s tourist spots from Tuesday to Sunday every week throughout the year – even at 75Euro a head, booking well in advance is recommended. Yet more expensive, at about 150Euro per person, is Dinner in the Sky, a weekly event during the month of June. Choose a location from between the Atomium, the Parc du Cinquantenaire, the Palais Royal or Bois de la Cambre, the dining table suspended high in the sky from a crane. With diners strapped to their seats, dinner will be served by a celebrity chef for 22 guests at a time.
The Belgian capital hosts some of the best outlets for Belgium’s renowned specialities, from fries and mussels to chocolate and beer. Promoted year-round in bars and restaurants, it will be impossible to miss artist creations of outsize Brussels sprouts, chocolate bars, mussels, pints of beer and cones of chips in the streets. Brusselicious already has its own special brew too, a vintage faro-type beer – low alcohol and sweet – sold at quality outlets. Maps have been printed to guide foodies through the city’s jungle of specialities: fritkots (stands selling fries), sweets, markets, chocolate, gourmet Brussels, sustainable gastronomy and world food.
Throughout the year, several restaurants will offer Brusselicious menus using three seasonal Brussels ingredients. In select hotel bars, the “Bubbles in Brussels” campaign will give customers an opportunity to taste three champagnes before ordering their favourite. Hotels will also be serving up Brusselicious breakfasts featuring bread rolls, waffles, pastries, crackers and other traditional fare.
Additionally, smaller gastronomic festivals will be held in Brussels throughout the year: a mini Belgian wine fair on April 15 and Brussels Wine Week in September, the Belgian Beer Weekend (end August-early September), the Brusselicious festival (September), the Thai Food Festival in Stockel (September), the first World Beer Show (November), and Chocolate week (November).
Foodies can cherry-pick from a number of events run by individuals, professionals and institutions in association with Brusselicious, including a giant egg hunt in the city parks on Easter Sunday, picnics in the parks during the summer, neighbourhood dinners in Watermael-Boitsfort, and university seminars on the linguistics of eating and history of gastronomy. Last but not least, renowned Belgian chef Pierre Wynants will award a prize for the best attempt at updating traditional specialities. Bon appétit!