Week van de Smaak returns with focus on sustainable food

Summary

The high point of Flanders’ culinary calendar, Week van de Smaak is back with a packed programme that marries the sustainable with the delicious and blends old traditions with new ideas

700 events across Flanders

Now in its eighth year, the Week van de Smaak, or Week of Taste, is bursting at the seams with more than 700 events across Flanders this month. Co-ordinated by the Brussels-based non-profit Vol-au-vent, it has become a mainstay of the culinary calendar in a society of self-confessed gourmands.

Under the tagline “sustainable imagination”, this year´s edition is as likely to find inspiration in banquets with leftovers as it is in fine dining. “We want people to think more about their food,” says Eef Rombaut of Vol-au-vent.

She emphasises the participatory and practical nature of the packed programme. “We hosted an inspiration website, a sort of virtual brainstorming group encouraging people to give it their own twist.”

The mouth-watering variety of the events in schools, cultural centres, squares and restaurants spans urban planting, communal harvesting, vegetable preserving, old-style pickling and reinvented conserving, with old traditions and new ideas blending into a contemporary culture of sustainable food.

Also on the agenda and definitely for the more adventurous are a number of events to promote the eating of insects and insect-based products, following last year´s move by the federal government to approve 10 insects for consumption.

Entomophagy, the eating of insects, forms part of the diet of two billion people across the globe and has come to be seen as a major source of nutrition for the world’s population in the future.

With European consumers often squeamish about creepy-crawly cuisine, the inclusion of Bugs on Your Plate workshops on Week van de Smaak’s programme is a bold move. Wouter De Vriendt of MiniFood in East Flanders organises tastings and provides catering services for parties. He says it’s time to abandon the misconceptions. “You have to taste bugs to realise how good they are,” he insists.

Fussy eaters be warned – insects are on the menu at events in Zwijndrecht, Denderleeuw, Roeselare, Knokke-Heist, Maldegem and Beveren-Waas. Fancy chocolate might sweeten the crunch? The Crickets with Chocolate workshop at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate in Brussels might be just the ticket.

Gastronomic voyages

In 2013, Week van de Smaak celebrated the bitter witloof, the national delicacy “discovered” in the 1850s at the National Botanical Garden in Brussels. Fish is the flavour of the 2014 edition, and it’s one that fits well with the focus on sustainability. Still, Rombaut says, “sustainable fish can mean different things to different people, which can be confusing to consumers, so we prefer to talk in terms of local and seasonal fish.”

The spirit of the shared table is at the heart of what we do

- Eef Rombaut

A central experience of Week van de Smaak is sure to be the return of the Smaakboot, or Tasteboat, the gastronomic barge voyage. The Smaakboot will be launched by environment and agriculture minister Joke Schauvliege on 13 November and will stop off at 11 locations across Flanders.

Each day, 40 guests will be welcomed on board and treated to a floating feast, as 11 chefs take it in turn to serve up their signature twist on fish cuisine. Chefs include Flemish foodie Olly Ceulenaere of Publiek in Ghent, Karen Keygnaert of A’Qi in Bruges and rising star Vilhjalmur Sigurdarson, who runs the kitchen at Souvenir in Ypres.

Keeping with the emphasis on local produce, beer rather than wine will be served on the Smaakboot. On-board beer sommeliers Sofie Vanrafelghem and Luc de Raedemaeker have also paired a trio of beers as the perfect accompaniment to each three-course meal.

Prefer to savour the delights of the Fish Tour on solid ground? The Smaakmobiel (Tastemobile, pictured above), a flashy red converted caravan, is the answer. Making pit stops in Ostend, Bruges, Oudenaarde, Riemst, Arendonk, Roeselare and Ghent, each day will see a different chef reinvent the fast-food classic fish-and-chips and serve it up to the public for free.

A jury headed by food journalist Marc Declercq has tasted all seven versions of the dish. Will Michelin star winner Angelo Rosseel send their taste buds into a swoon, or will the spicy, African-inspired entry from the social restaurant Toreke in Ghent perhaps have the winning edge? All will be revealed as the winning chef works culinary magic in the close confines of the Smaakmobiel.

While a little healthy competition is part of the mix, the Week van de Smaak values community and co-operation as central to its success. “While it is undoubtedly about food, it’s ultimately about bringing people together,” says Rombaut. “The spirit of the shared table is at the heart of what we do.”

Lost bread

Nowhere is this spirit better represented than by Antwerp organisation Food For Foodies, which will run the workshop Cooking With Your Own Harvest, offering sustainable ways to use and conserve foods. Instructor Daphne Aalders plans to use the remains of the Harvest Tower project that started with some vegetable bins in the reading garden of the Permeke library and led to a shared harvest celebration by local residents. Aalders describes the Harvest Tower as a “cultural project with a social dimension”.

Kaba, a social grocery store in Bruges, sources surplus food from supermarkets, food auctions and local growers, giving it a second, or sometimes even third, life since the food that doesn´t sell in the social supermarket is processed by two local schools to make soup or jam.

Running a social grocery store gives the team behind Kaba ample inspiration for the Week van de Smaak. As well as running two cooking workshops, they will launch a recipe book.

Katrijn van Bouwel, Flemish improv actress and thrift shop diva, is also a fan of leftover cooking. As an ambassador of the Week van de Smaak, she’ll be sharing a blog of her best tips and recipes.

On 21 November, children in primary schools will take part in the Lost Friday event to find out the best ways to use leftover food. Overripe fruit blitzed to smoothies, leftover veggies transformed into soup and stale bread given new life as verloren brood – French toast to English speakers. One lucky school will have a helping hand as Ketnet presenter and singer Sien Wynants drops in for a visit.

The folks at Recyclart, housed in what was once Brussels’ Kappellekerk Station, are organising a compost drive under the principle “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. For three days, they will be handing out vegetables in exchange for compost waste.

13-23 November across Flanders

photo courtesy Week van de Smaak