Bite: Walk on the culinary side


A new initiative has turned castle grounds in Schoten into vegetable and herb gardens

Robyn Boyle on Flemish food and drink

Vordenstein is a 14th-century castle park in Schoten, near Antwerp, that belongs to the Flemish region. It’s a paradise for walkers and nature-lovers, and now for food-lovers as well. Since May, the park has been enriched with 4,000m² of culinary gardens where you can walk among herbs and other organic edibles in what is now one of the world’s richest collections of culinary plants, some 50,000 in all.

The idea is not that visitors of the park get to munch on the plants as they walk, but a stroll through the gardens is certainly aromatic and visually stunning, as well as educational. Wim Maes of the website Cook and Herb is the mastermind behind this initiative. “I’ve been coming to Vordenstein since my childhood and now, with Cook and Herb, I’ve given numerous workshops here for chefs and herb lovers. But now I can really get my hands dirty working in this magical garden,” he told Fence magazine.

Maes, who is the main supplier of award-winning restaurants such as ’t Zilte, Rascasse, Jane, de Schone van Boskoop and Hof van Cleve, says, “Chefs are always looking for new tastes, new sensations, colours and textures. I’m trying to build a collection of them, to deliver top quality that you only get with cultivation on a small scale like here in Vordenstein.”

The educational side of the project is supported by the Flemish Agency for Nature and Woodland (ANB). Director Tom Embo is delighted with the new culinary park: “Vordenstein lives, smells, feels; there is a vibe now on this domain which was much needed,” he told Fence.

The park serves as a source of inspiration for both professional chefs and the public. The culinary gardens are set up according to habitat (shadow plants, rocky soil) or style of cooking, under a theme that changes monthly to reflect the seasons.

Top chefs from Flanders’ best restaurants have taken sections of the park under their wings, including Peter Goossens (gourmet garden wonders), Sergio Herman (coastal herbs and wild Japanese vegetables), Viki Geunes (exotic winter garden), Roger Van Damme (edible flower garden and dessert herbs) and Wouter Keersmaekers (historic vegetables).

The gardens are open to the public and entrance is free. And of course there is a bistro on site in case you work up an appetite: Parkbistro Orangerie De Vlinder, run by people with conditions such as autism. The bistro has been welcoming park visitors since February with a variety of local food and drink.