We paid a visit to Nathan, chef of his eponymous restaurant in Antwerp which was rewarded with a Michelin star in 2019. Nathan spent the beginning of his career in the kitchens of “het Hof van Cleve” and “The Pastorale” before he made the move of opening up his own restaurant. Together with his partner Eva, they present their customers a contemporary seasonal kitchen.
We got in touch with Nathan partly thanks to the fact that he doesn’t drink any alcohol and so we just had to spread the word.
Lowno: Where did your passion for food originate?
Nathan: My passion for food grew organically I suppose. It all started when I was 14 and working as a ‘dishy’ in a restaurant. Simultaneously in school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. That’s why I enrolled in a hotel management school, thinking that perhaps I could effectively take up hotel management. But because I didn’t really excel, they advised me to take the kitchen courses. I think this is where my passion really flourished. Around the age of 19 I started to go out and eat in several restaurants and I think from there on, the gastronomical world had a hold on me. That’s also the main the reason why I started working in Michelin restaurants such as “Het Hof van Cleve”, “De Pastorale”, “L’Epicerie du Cirque” and “Dôme”. I’ve seen all the stars from 1 to 3 and at the same time, my taste buds developed.
Lowno: You’ve gathered a lot of experience in good restaurants, but at what point did you decide to open up a restaurant for yourself? Has this always been your ambition?
Nathan: No, it just developed like this. When I was 20, I never thought I would open up a restaurant. You just start working and gather experience. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work from my 18th until my 25th in several amazing restaurants. It shapes you as a person. At L’Epicerie du Cirque I got a lot of responsibility while at the same time the restaurant received one Michelin star. It meant a great experience and achievement. For the next 2 years, I’ve worked very hard at Het Hof van Cleve before I embarked on the adventure of opening up my own restaurant together with my partner Eva. It has been 3 years already.
Lowno: We’ve heard you stopped drinking alcohol, why that decision?
Nathan: Last year I stopped drinking alcohol to gather more focus. We work approximately 80-90 hours a week so alcohol isn’t really helping. I also try to exercise and follow a particular diet and it all adds up to feeling healthier without alcohol. In the end, I got much more creative and energetic when I stopped drinking. My interests always lay more with food and not necessarily in combination with wine. Eva on the other hand is devising our wine list and I have to admit my knowledge is about 5% of hers. Food and wine are usually going hand in hand, but without it is a whole other experience in my opinion. Wine will bring another dimension to the dish but you will eventually taste less because your taste buds are being affected by the alcohol.
Lowno: What do you think is missing when combining nonalcoholic beverages with food?
There are plenty of restaurants who serve fruit or vegetable based non-alcoholic drinks to go with their dishes, but I find it quite difficult because of the heaviness. Nowadays there are also water based infusions and this will provide a more subtle and refreshing combination. Also playing around with different types of tea is sometimes complementary for your dish (cold/warm/infusions). I recently had a great nonalcoholic arrangement at Het Hof van Cleve. It was suberb, a must try!
Eva, partner of Nathan, comes over to join us: I was actually a bit jealous of what he was having as I was getting wine pairing. You can complete your dish by adding in one of the missing or complementing ingredients through a nonalcoholic drink.
Lowno: Which nonalcoholic beverages do you guys offer in Nathan today?
Eva: We present two homemade Iced teas: One is citrus, thyme and mint based, the other one with orange, kaffir & lime. We also implement some juices into the menu. Nothing too strong though. We first tried to make them ourselves, but then we discovered the high quality juices from Alain Milliat, so we’re still using them to this day. We also infuse some of the juices with herbs and complement them with mixers to freshen them up.
We’ve noticed that it’s very difficult to invest a lot of time in preparing nonalcoholic drinks because we’re a small team. So it’s nice to work with high quality nonalcoholic products to complement our dishes. On the other hand, conservation is the bottleneck of fresh homemade juices. If there are some days you’re not selling that much, your fermented drinks unfortunately need to be thrown away.
Lowno: Is there a higher demand for nonalcoholic drinks than there used to be?
Eva: Very much so. First of all we see that during lunch a lot of people are asking for alternatives to wine. Subsequently is the fact that there is an increase in interesting alternatives to alcohol. So it’s great we can surprise our guests nowadays.
Lowno: Thanks for having us today Nathan & Eva. We wish you the best of luck!