Pastorale, the restaurant of Belgian chef Bart De Pooter, has long been a part of the Flemish gastronomic landscape. The culinary craftsman sees himself as the purveyor of a dining experience aligned with the laws of nature. His “Biotope” concept is the ultimate embodiment of this philosophy.
Ten years ago, two-star chef Bart De Pooter already knew exactly what he wanted. Two Michelin stars and one “2012 Chef of the Year” title later, the general public is now ready to share his ideology, too, which could serve as the written introduction to the Pastorale menu: “Bart De Pooter and his team connect their environment to the microcosm of the forest, the endlessness of the ocean, and the richness of the earth.” This vision is made tangible in the “Flora” menu, a series of vegetarian dishes that guests can enhance with items from the “Aqua” (fish) or “Fauna” (meat) menus to compose their own full meal of seven to nine dishes. The Pastorale restaurant’s added value lies in the ingredients’ purity and the flavors showcased in dishes’ artistic presentation.
Can you explain the “Biotope” concept?
A biotope is rather like a habitat, a living environment. There’s my own biotope, for example, that I’m continually enriching, through travel, for instance. Then there is nature. The world’s made up of water (fish), flora (vegetables), and fauna (meat), and a combination of all of these (the biotope). This concept brings together my personal experiences in dishes that always honor the ingredient and its biotope.
And I can pursue this concept to some lengths: I once served a golden pheasant in its biotope; in other words, a pheasant surrounded with everything it eats: cereals, oats, corn. The dish had a golden color. This interaction is true in all realms.
Where do you source your ingredients?
We work locally as much as we can, like with asparagus and hop shoots, which are grown in Werchter. We’re meticulous in selecting our suppliers, because it’s vital that they share our values of quality, love for the ingredient, and respect for the planet and its peoples. Whenever possible, we also work with ingredients from our own garden. I still live on the family farm, where we grow a lot of herbs and vegetables. Among them is fresh rhubarb, which we used this summer to make a delicious mixture that we put into jars and gave to our guests as they left. So they went back home with a small plot of the Pastorale garden. Although I love local produce, under no circumstances does that mean I’m going to overlook the best of what’s done elsewhere in the world. I’ve always traveled a great deal, which has taught me a lot and given me inspiration. Fortunately, we have the port of Antwerp nearby, so high-end products from across the planet are never really out of reach.
You base your menu on vegetables, the “Flora.” Why did you choose to do this?
I ate a lot of vegetables at home when I was little. If you add my fascination with the seasons to that, the choice pretty much speaks for itself. I love the rhythm of nature. The sprouts that come up in the spring, for instance, lead me to cook differently than those available in the fall. We always start the Pastorale menu with appetizers and the “garden” dish, two creations built primarily around vegetables, with compositions that change each season. In September, for example, we served our “garden” dish with pumpkin, pinecone, and caper leaves, yet it was quite different in February, when it featured a green-apple kombucha mixture with avocado and nasturtium.
Why is the pea your favorite vegetable?
I see peas as a symbol of spring. They offer so many possibilities, cooked or raw! And if you let them sprout, that’s yet another taste to enjoy. Though you can serve them year round, I personally only eat them in April, May, and June, because that’s when they’re small and deliciously sweet. And, to no one’s surprise, my favorite dish is a plate of peas with baby herbs, lettuce, and white onions. Serve that with our own chicken from here on the property and, if possible, the first new potatoes.
Which of the four menus is your personal favorite?
I’m a flexitarian and, though I do love vegetables, I really appreciate a good piece of Holstein beef. Raw, smoked, or well done. It all depends on my mood or my schedule on a given day. If I still have work to do, I’ll opt for a light vegetable dish. The seasons also heavily influence my choices: In spring, for instance, eels or lobsters from the Eastern Scheldt (Oosterschelde) make for particularly tasty dishes.
You recently introduced a unique “butter service” at Pastorale. How exactly does this contribute to the “Biotope” concept?
We start with local unsalted butter that we process right here, on a cold salt block, and then work it to the customer’s preferences. So it’s a customized dish that people can order based on their tastes. This personal experience sets the tone for our subsequent contact with that guest. And it comes with two kinds of bread: multigrain sourdough and focaccia with capers and olives. Let’s face it: All that really constitutes a dish in its own right!