by Cait Rohan | February 19, 2015 | Food & Drink
We caught up with Washington, D.C. chef Bart Vandaele in advance of his James Beard event next week to find out where he eats when he’s in town, why he thinks NYC needs more upscale Belgian food, and how to make a seriously decadent waffle.
Chef Bart Vandaele.
Chef Bart Vandaele will bring his Belgian-by-way-of-D.C. cuisine to the James Beard House next Monday (February 23, 7 p.m.; tickets: $130 members, $170 general public on jamesbearg.org). The Belgium native is cooking up an array of wildly creative hors d’oeuvres and dinner plates, including kelp-marinated Norwegian salmon with blackberry-yogurt push pops and Belgian bitter chocolate clafoutis with candied red beets and buttermilk anglaise—and that’s just two of the dishes inspired by his home country.
We sat down with the chef/owner of Washington D.C.’s Belgian-influenced Belga Café (514 Eighth St. SE, Washington, D.C., 202-544-0100) and B Too (1324 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-627-2800) to hear his opinions on NYC food and his truly over-the-top take on a Belgian waffle.
What is your favorite place to eat in New York?
BART VANDAELE: I do not have just one favorite place in New York. I live in DC, where I have two restaurants—Belga Café and B Too—and there are literally not enough hours in a day or days in a week to make it to New York often. All that said, Atera (77 Worth St., 212-226-1444) is at the top of my list of restaurants in New York I definitely want to try; chef [Matthew] Lightner does crazy things
In your opinion, who is a rising-star chef to watch in New York?
BV: I would say chef Bryce Shuman. I’ve followed the list of starchefs.com for years and they are quite often right in their choices for Rising Stars. I was one of their Rising Stars many, many years ago when they had their very first Rising Stars event in DC. Since then, I’ve become friends with Antoinette Bruno [CEO and Editor-in-Chief for starchefs.com] and stayed involved in the Rising Stars events.
If you could have dinner with any New York chef, dead or alive, who would it be?
BV: There are so many real good chefs in New York, who are still alive: Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert…. But I would choose James Beard—really! And it is not because James Beard House selected me as one of their guest chefs. I would love to hear his stories about putting haute cuisine on the American map, in a time when upscale American cuisine was almost nonexistent. Pioneer stories are always very impressive.
What New York City neighborhood do you think has the best food scene?
BV: For me it is still Midtown, with so many excellent restaurants like Le Bernardin, The Modern, and Le Cirque, to name just a couple of them.
What are you most looking forward to about the James Beard Foundation event?
BV: It is an honor to have been selected twice already to be a guest chef at the JBH. Being in the midst of very professional people in a kitchen with that much history is very inspiring. I feel it is recognition for what I have accomplished in these 10-plus years as a chef and owner of a couple of restaurants. When I opened my first restaurant in DC in 2004, I was the first Belgian restaurant in the city. At that time, some of my close friends thought I was crazy [for] calling my cuisine Belgian and not French. Until then, even Belgian chefs chose to call their cuisine French, [which was] a bit safer than the unknown Belgian cuisine. I proved them wrong. Three years after the opening, I must have appeared on the JBH radar [because] James Beard House invited me for the first time in 2007. I am really looking forward to working with them again.
Can you share one of your signature recipes with us?
BV: I chose one of my famous waffle recipes [SEE BELOW]. I started using waffles as a vessel for a lot of different dishes over 10 years ago when I opened Belga Café in Washington, D.C. The restaurant’s menu is a tribute to my Belgian heritage. Of course, waffles are a consistent part of it. To my surprise, lots of other chefs recently picked up on that idea. Waffles are definitely on the American food map now.
What kind of food does New York need more of?
BV: Upscale Belgian food, of course. There are plenty of Belgian bistros already. Belgium has relatively spoken [as] one of the most Michelin stars in Europe. You cannot really see that in New York yet.
Chef Bart Vandaele's lobster waffle.
Prep time: 15 minutes
2 cooked Maine lobsters
2 sheets of puff pastry 1 foot by 1 foot +/-
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
16 ounces lobster bisque or lobster soup
4 ounces heavy cream
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 piece of lemon
Cut the lobster tails in nice equal pieces of 1/3-inch each. Keep the claws for decoration at the end.
Bring the lobster bisque to a boiling point, add the cream, tomato paste, and reduce for 1/3. Use half of the reduced sauce for finishing the dish, the other half we will add to the cut lobster tails, along with parsley and tarragon, and finish with some drops of lemon juice.
Lay a sheet of puff pastry down and cut it into equal pieces—this may be round, square, or rectangle—just make sure the shape fits your waffle iron.
In the middle of each sheet, place some of the lobster mix, then put some egg yolk on the borders and close it with another layer of puff pastry. Let it cool down for 1 hour.
Bake the waffle in a very hot waffle iron until brown.
Plate as you wish—add a little salad, or finish the dish off with some lobster sauce and the claws, etc.
You can make this in any size you want to, and serve it as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer.
We even serve it as carb replacement with beef tenderloin, so you have a surf ‘n’ turf.
Makes 4 servings.
?PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT SUCHMAN (VANDAELE)