FRESH FROM BELGIUM brought together a select group of British and Belgian fresh produce businesses at New Covent Garden’s Food Exchange last night, to sample some of the fresh fruits and vegetables available to restaurateurs across London and the South East this winter season.
Taking over the development kitchen at Mission Kitchen, Flemish chef Bart Sablon live-cooked a series of sumptuous dishes, using fresh-picked produce from the fields of Flanders. Each of the four courses was expertly paired with a selection of artisanal Belgian beers to enhance the flavours of the food.
Belgium is one of Europe’s largest field vegetable growers. Its thousands of small family farms are famous for traditional local favourites such as chicory, white asparagus, and Brussels sprouts. For its British customers this autumn Belgium is focussing on market favourites over here such as tomatoes, peppers, leeks, and quality top fruit including Conference pears. Chef Bart is also preparing a selection of choice meat dishes using Flanders-reared pork.
Belgian ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Bruno van der Pluijm, welcomed guests and said that Belgium, long renowned for waffles and fries, is becoming better and better known for its “fantastic regional cuisine”. He added that importers of Belgian fresh produce in the UK who had been asked routinely cite the high quality of Belgian product above all other attributes.
Chris White, Managing Director of Food Exchange based trade publication FPJ, which organised the event, also welcomed the group to the “most important fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Britain”. He said London is a “local market for Belgium”, as it is just 200 kilometres distance, and that Belgian exporters are actively targeting the UK wholesale market sector with quality fruit and vegetables, as well as lesser spotted Belgian exports such as asparagus, which is not currently in-season, and parsnips, which Chef Bart used in one of his dishes and labelled a “forgotten” vegetable.
Jo Breare, General Manager of Covent Garden Market Authority, returned the compliments, by welcoming everyone to the market. “Our tenants sell a large volume of Belgian product and we value the produce that you send over here,” she told the Belgian exporters. “It is consistently of the highest quality, which is exactly what our tenants and their customers demand.”
The group was able to watch Chef Bart and his assistant, food stylist Yvonne Poon, cooking the range of dishes from their tables, with sustainability being a buzzword of the evening, as FRESH FROM BELGIUM underlined its commitment to reducing energy and water usage, increasing biodiversity, tackling climate change and introducing alternative modes of transport into the supply chain.