Interview – About the secrets behind the restaurant Racines

A talk about food, culture and secret tips for Brussels with Udo and Francesco from Racines, yesterday at the eat! Brussels food festival. It’s open until today evening, so don’t miss your chance to try some delicious dishes from many great chefs!

Kaja: Hi Ugo, hi Francesco! You’re from the well-known Italian restaurant Racines. What brings you here today?

Francesco: We’re participating at eat! Brussels since two years, to represent the culinary scene here. We also take it as a chance to speak about the restaurant and the history. And events like this are a good opportunity to get to know other chefs.

Kaja: What do you like most about the Brussels food scene?

Francesco: That chefs connect, meet and talk to each other. In Italy this is different. In Italy every other chef than yourself is an enemy and you avoid sharing tips and thoughts. This is a pity, because it’s this networking that’s a big strength.

Kaja: That’s interesting to hear. I also realized this when talking to some chefs here. Everyone knows each other. And where in Italy are you guys from?

Francesco: Ugo is from Capri and I am from Tuscany. 2,5 years ago we opened the restaurant. We met in Florence.

Kaja: Why did you get engaged with cooking?

Ugo: I was born in a cooking family. My mom cooks a lot although she is not a professional cook (Francesco interrupts:) She is the best cook!! (Both laugh)

Ugo: She always prepared dinners for a big group of friends in our kitchen, so since I was 6 years old, I always helped her with this. Also, we have a strong “culture of the dining table” in the South of Italy, so as a small child I was obliged to be at the table. And during summer when I didn’t have university classes, I worked in a restaurant to earn some extra money. Then, I somehow decided to become a sommelier.

Kaja: And how did you get back to cooking then?

Ugo: When we decided to open Racines (roots in French), I wanted to go back to my roots and cook Italian food. Because it’s innato, inborn, and I did this forever.

Kaja: What about you Francesco?

Francesco: I am not a chef, I am managing the place, working on the menu and taking care of the place to make sure everything runs smoothly and that all the dishes work well together.

Ugo: He probably knows my cooking better than me, because we have been working together for so long. Also, it’s hard to explain our menu, because it changes every day and we don’t have it written down anywhere. I get a call from my fish supplier in the morning and it’s then when I decide what I will cook in the evening.

Kaja: It’s also great that Racines is so well known and recommended by everyone in Brussels, even though there is a whole bunch of other Italian restaurants. There is a big Italian community in the city. What is special about your restaurant?

Francesco: Everything in our restaurant is homemade. The pasta is homemade, the bread is homemade – everything. The only thing not produced in the restaurant is our cheeses, like Mozzarella and Ricotta. But even those, if we have time, we sometimes produce them ourselves.

Kaja: That’s impressive. How is that possible?

Francesco: We have a strong crew. One person is only responsible for the pasta for example. And we also don’t have meat on the menu. By this we lower our CO2 footprint by 37% a year compared to other classic restaurants. We import everything directly from Italy and also, we try to use only local and seasonal vegetables. Except for some things that you simply can’t get here. All the fish is from Bretagne and Saint Jean de Luce in France from small boats. Nothing is industrial. No fridge, no freezer.

Ugo: Yes, we are in the kitchen at 6 in the morning and we are there until 12 at night, so there is always someone there. But we also value our people and of course everyone has families and duties, so no one works more than 7-8 hours.

Francesco: We are traditionalists. Not rigid traditionalists, but we try to do things like our moms did. Still, we try to bring in modern things, that’s something our generation needs to do. Please. (Francesco points at the filled pasta) Please, try!


Kaja: Thanks!!

Ugo: Having good food is especially important in a city like Brussels (Kaja: mhh!! This pasta is delicious – laughs – sorry, please continue!), where everything needs to happen fast and many are inclined to eat fast food.

The interview gets interrupted for a second, because of a man approaching the two: Best food, man! Best food on the festival! Udo and Francesco laugh nicely: Thank you so much!

Francesco: We are also part of the slow food movement. A movement where local, responsible and good food is valued. For us it comes naturally, we don’t see it as a brand, but we trust it as a philosophy. Unfortunately, sometimes, when you have such a movement, everyone wants to join because they think that the movement can give success to their projects. But slow food approached us at some point, which is really nice.

Kaja: This all sounds like a very promising concept you two! It was a great pleasure talking to you! One last question: What’s a secret place in Brussels that I have to try?

Francesco: Le Comptoir des Galleries! The chef is Benjamin Lagarde and he’s also present here today. You have to try the food it’s phenomenal! Also, we are organizing a Jazz evening on the 26th of September in our restaurant, paired with a menu. You Should come!

Kaja: I will! Thanks for your time and good luck with the rest of the festival, I will continue eating myself through it now.