Sam van Houcke is the “star of Belgian cuisine” – and that’s official.
Sam, aged 35, has just won a top competition to find the best young chef in the country – and that is before he opens his first restaurant.
He was adjudged the best of the crop at the “Star of Belgium Cuisine” contest at EXPO in Brussels on Sunday (21 October) and will now represent his country in the European finals in Rimini (Italy) from 15-19 February.
The European winner will enter the “International Global Chefs Challenge” contest of world chefs in St Petersburg next July.
After the announcement, a delighted Sam said, “I am overjoyed to win this prestigious competition. It’s been hard work but all worth it in the end!”
The contest, organized every 2 years, was part of the Megavino event at the same venue. One of the conditions of entry is that the chef must be aged 38 or under.
In the final, Sam, who will open his new restaurant in Gent in November, beat Archibald De Prince, a 27-year-old chef from Luxembourg.
Sam, who is based in Ghent, was one of four finalists who pitted their culinary skills again each other in the semi final and final at a crowded Expo. A panel of 12 judges, including specialists in chocolate and beer, carefully analysed the dishes prepared by each of the finalists.
During the semi-final, the candidates prepared a dish based on the recipe provided by the jury beforehand. The ingredients include some of the best Belgian products. In the final Sam and Archibald, who is from Belgium, were given a “secret box” of ingredients from which they had to work with.
Sam chose the following ingredients: veal, parsnips, giroles, shallots, red wine vinegar, garlic and thyme. For dessert, including and besides chocolate imposed, pear, macadamia nuts and a chocolate ganache. Archibald chose veal, cepes, gyrales, salsify, shallots and Granny Smith apples.
For his dessert Archibald used la mandarine, des noix de macadamia, fleur de fenouil et fleur de sel.Both were supported by a team including a junior chef, wine waiter and coach.Sam’s team comprised Simon Caboor (19), Stefanie Van Nieuwenhuyze (30) and Bross Tavenier.Each had to choose the ingredients for the dishes presented to the judges who included Frank Fol, president of the Association of Master Cooks.
One of the several prizes Sam received is a private coach to support his participation in the Global Chef Challenge. An oven worth € 10,000 and a cruise were among the other prizes.
The two other semi finalists were Benjamin Belot, aged 24, of Restaurant Louise 345 in Brussels and Xavier Van Hecke, of Restaurant Graanmarkt in Antwerp.
There have been three previous editions of the contest which is an initiative of Mr Fol and Pierre Wynants.
Frank said, “The idea was for the cooks and their respective teams to demonstrate, imagination, daring and courage.”