Life Begins at 40: Chef Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan, Belgium

By: Qian Leung posted May 17th 2018 01:37PM

Twenty one years ago, for then 19-year-old Gert de Mangeleer, the plan was to own a jazz club. Mid-way through hotel school, though, a stint at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bruges in northwest Belgium changed his mind, and he started cooking on a fine dining level. In 2005, the Dendermonde native opened his first restaurant with best friend Joachim Boudens, receiving his third Michelin star in 2011. “I think nowadays, a lot of young people cannot push so hard anymore.” Back in the old days, he used to work 365 days a year, leaving his home at seven in the morning, and coming home at three the next morning. “I think young people have to understand, they cannot expect to drive a BMW, go to the fitness centre three times a week, have dinners with their girlfriends, go to the movies, and still run a business. No, that’s not possible.” That doesn’t mean you cannot have a married life. “I’m married, and I have four children.”

Today, he closes Hertog Jan four times a year, and goes on holidays with his wife and children. The restaurant is located in the midst of three hectares of farmland, and 800 square metres of green houses, which supply him with 600 varieties of herbs, flowers, and vegetables. To represent the 132 varieties of cherry tomatoes that they have, each customer is always given 130 grammes of tomatoes, a mixed plate of yellows and reds which range from sour to fruity and sweet. When he travels, he packs black radishes from the garden into his suitcase, to recreate a rose-shaped dish. “Actually I’m really in love with the shape.” In foreign lands, he may replace the sea bass with Hamachi, and oil of marigolds with yuzu oil, but the signature shape of the rose, shaped from thin shavings of black radish, remains. He thinks of the Michelin stars as a healthy pressure. “It pushes your business so hard, and gives you so many opportunities and possibilities to grow. I really enjoy the pressure, because you need it to improve yourself, to become better every day.”

Since he started from nothing (he came from a normal working class family), and is now doing a business of millions of millions of Euros, he believes that you should always follow your dream. “Joachim and me, we believed in it, because we had only one goal in life – to reach the top of the culinary world.” Therefore he cautions young people not to choose the easy way, but to go for the hard way. This year, he announced that he would stop doing Hertog Jan. “I always dreamed that I would stop at the top of my game,” says Chef de Mangeleer, with a satisfied smile. “But for sure I will not stop cooking. I have so many plans. It’s just a new beginning.” 
"Chef de Mangeleer has built an amazing reputation for his commitment to produce and attention to detail. In his daring relocation to their farm in Zedelgem, they allow all guests who dine with them to experience thee passion they have for their ingredients and the true purity of their produce.” Julien Royer
Hertog Jan
Loppemsestraat 52, 8210 Zedelgem, Belgium
Tel: (32) 5067 3446
1 Saint Andrew's Road, #01-04, National Gallery, Singapore 178957
Tel: (65) 6385 0498
Adapted from the Mar Apr 18 issue of Cuisine & Wine Asia.

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