The Flemish Primitives 2010 (part 1)

Again I was lucky that all the practical details worked out so I could attend this year’s Flemish Primitives in Brugge. For some one who’s not attended, it’s not so easy to grasp the concept and ideas behind The Flemish Primitives (TFP). And I admit, even though I’ve been there twice it’s not so easy to convey it in a short way. First of all the name is rather cryptic (unless you’re into art) as it refers to early Netherlandish painting. The link to food is described as follows by the organizers of the event (my highlights):

In the 15th and 16th century, ‘The Flemish Primitives’ were masters in combining their talent with new techniques. Techniques they developed by interacting with other disciplines like manuscripting, sculpting, etc. This way of working changed the painting techniques in all of Western Europe forever. The event “˜The Flemish Primitives’ wants to continue in the same spirit. Respect for food products and beverages, the knowledge of the classic cooking techniques combined with a stimulation of new techniques and creativity. By promoting interaction between scientists, the world’s most famous chefs and artists, the event wants to deliver a creative boost for the food industry and gastronomy in Belgium and the world.

Considering last year’s sucess it was no big surprise that this year’s event was sold out (and the foyer of the Concertgebouw was equally full in the coffee breaks). And with the memories from last year I arrived in Brugge with great expectations. One main difference from previous years was that the scientific parts were much better integrated throughout the day. Scientists were on stage alongside the chefs, explaining their work. Also, contrary to last year’s back stage kitchen, they had now moved the kitchen onto the stage, flanked by a bar, some sofas and laboratory mezzanine. A good decision!

Flavor pairing (or food pairing as they call it) was the main topic of last year, but even this year flavor pairing was mentioned throughout the day by several people. It’s also obvious that Bernard Lahousse and his team have worked hard to get some of the sponsors of the event to incorporate the idea into their printed material (Belcolade and SOSA).

Flavor pairing diagrams like this one were incorporated into the Belcolade (= Belgian chocolate company) handouts. Similar diagrams for a great number of food items can be found at the food pairing website.

As I see it, one of the main objects of TFP is to find (or even create) new sources of creativity for chefs. And art, science and cooking can indeed be a fruitfull mix for creative exchange and development. Working as a chef is all about constantly finding new sources of creativity. Even among the very best, one can find signs of creative fatigue – it suffices to mention Ferran Adria who recently announced that el Bulli would close down for two years (2012 and 2013). He gives several reasons, but The Times Online reports that according to Spanish culinary insiders the “effort needed to keep dreaming up mouthwatering wonders, has worn him down” (more in a recent Q&A from WSJ). Ferran does however promise to be back in 2014!

TFP 2010 included presentations of five novel technologies and concepts. These included the use of very high pressure for processing of seafood and fruit. This is commonly done in the food industry for preservation purposes, but now it was used mainly for the textural and flavor changes induced. A second device shown was a combined vacuum and freezing chamber were the freezing was effected by liquid nitrogen, allowing virtually any temperature between 0 and -150 °C to be reached within minutes. Regrettably I missed part of the presentation of the third device (due to break out sessions that were running alongside the main program – more on those later). But from the pictures it seemed to be a microfluidic device for precise delivery of flavor essences (feel free to fill me out on this one in the comments!). The last machine presented was a kitchen emulsifier for preparation of emulsions as viscous as Nutella. I’ll post pictures and more info on the gadgets in a separate post.

In the preparations to this years event surveys with chefs and consumers had led to the forumlation of 10 statements on the identity of Belgian gastronomy, which in essence are not too different from the Statement on the ‘new cookery’ which was formulated by Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Harold McGee back in 2006. I think they are well formulated and it’s hard to disagree with any of the statements. I also belive that most of them could be adopted by many chefs world wide by substituting their own country into the statements. I bring the statements here in extenso for your convenience:

  1. Local ingredients. Work with regional products.
  2. High-quality ingredients. Work with products of the best quality available preferably in Belgium. Work with seasonal products in the right season.
  3. Producer orientation. Chefs have the power to control the quality of the ingredients by making specific choices and demands. Belgian chefs are partly responsible for the motivation of producers to supply the highest quality.
  4. Consumer orientation. Chefs have the power to broaden the palate and to revalue or upgrade specific products by paying attention to forgotten, seasonal and local products, or products with low intrinsic value.
  5. Inventiveness and openness. Be open to new techniques and products. Strive for innovation and improvement.
  6. Inventiveness and cooperation. Strive for intensive cooperation between chefs, the industry and the scientific community. Information exchange is particularily important, also between chefs.
  7. Innovation and tradition. Innovation and tradition are not opposites. Have respect for traditional Belgian cuisine by including this respect or tradition as such in dishes.
  8. Tastiness and well-being. Strive for food which is tasty above all, but also keep in mind to provide a state of well-being during and after the meal.
  9. Moral responsibility. Strive for the use of products that have been produced in an ethical, ecological and sustainable manner.
  10. Multisensorial tastiness. Strive for an optimum and ample stimulation of all senses of the consumer. Create a socially agreeable and exclusive experience.

Apart from all the journalists present this year there were also a couple of food bloggers present. You may already know the blogs which mainly focus on restaurant reviews: Very good food (Denmark), Food snob blog (UK), High end food (Germany), Food intelligence (France), Cuisiner en ligne (France) and Gastros on tour. I had a chat with some of them and they all have non-food day time jobs, just like myself. Like last year I plan to write several posts on various topics from TFP – and I will publish this as soon as time allows. But in the mean time, check out the blogs mentioned for a perspective and covering of TFP 2010 that will probably be different from mine 🙂

Update: There were more food bloggers present: Coolinary (Belgium), Der Kompottsurfer (Germany).

I also visited The Flemish Primitives in 2009. You can read more about that in my four posts from last year: The Flemish Primitives: A travel report (part 1), Chocolate surprise (part 2), Heston Blumenthal (part 3) and Glowing lollipops (part 4). Final note to readers: This year my travel expenses were covered by TFP and the tourism bureau of Brugge.


  1. On the Belgian television two demo’s were shown. One were roger Van Damme prepare a very smooth paste working with magenetic fields and one were food was prepared at 6000 bar!

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