The Good Life Haute cuisine from the forest

4 minutes

Poetic in conception, purist in execution

Destination(s): Mullerthal

In the historic Bourglinster Castle, a stone’s throw from Luxembourg’s capital, René Mathieu conjures up star quality cuisine to enchant his guests. Plants and vegetables play the leading role – against a backdrop of imaginative stories in which the forest has a very special part.

René Mathieu is in his element in the forest. Within the first 30 metres, he has plucked four or five edible treasures from the forest floor redolent with the fragrance of fresh earth. And the constant refrain is: “Here, try this!” Deftly he divides the narrow stem into several tasting portions. It has a herb-like taste, fresh, reminiscent of a familiar vegetable – and for good reason: “That is wild celery,” the head chef in the historic Château de Bourglinster reveals.

Upon conclusion of the herb hunt, Mathieu will have presented a good dozen plants and herbs, very different parts of which will subsequently end up on the plate: sometimes he uses the sweet bitterness of the bracken fern root to lend aroma, sometimes flowers, leaves or stems are used.

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Woodland walk

It is seldom the obvious possible uses that interest the chef: woodruff, he explains for example, can taste very similar to tonka beans, heather can be reduced to a jus, which goes wonderfully with pumpkin. And hazelnut leaves? Together with button mushrooms, pear and hazelnut, they make an absolutely fantastic mille-feuille.

The woodland walk is integral to René Mathieu’s culinary philosophy. Several times a week and every day in summer he goes on the hunt through the hollows of the meadows and woods surrounding the castle. Or he stops at some of his favourite haunts on his way into work early in the morning. The regular mantra for the young chefs in his team as well is: the forest beckons! For Mathieu, the plant hunter and gatherer, each season has its own appeal. Many plants taste best in spring and summer, but the autumn also has treasures in store. And in the winter? The chef patrols the frozen fallen leaves in search of especially beautiful fir branches to decorate his dishes.

It was in the restaurant “La Distillerie” in picturesque Bourglinster Castle, approximately 17 kilometres east of the capital, that the chef found the right venue for delivering his vision of a “cuisine végétale”: “I use a lot of vegetables and herbs,” René Mathieu explains, “but I don’t dispense entirely with fish and meat.” Instead, he simply reverses the usual proportions on the plate – turning the side dishes into the main courses. As such, it can easily happen that guests sample several completely plant-based dishes at once, despite having ordered the regular menu.

Aroma symphony

In selecting his ingredients, he sets great store by regional products, which he purchases from nearby farms and gardens. Herbs and plants come from the nearby forest, only the fish has to come from Belgium, where a friend of Mathieu’s runs a fishery, and what is caught is what is used, as the chef is at pains to stress: for him there is no such thing as bycatch; a good meal can be made from everything.

The Michelin Guide inspectors regularly award Mathieu’s cuisine a star and attest to his “masterful technique”, with which he conjures up wonderful surprises on his guests’ plates. The Belgian King and Queen visited recently, and Angela Merkel as well, the chef explains, has twice had dinner in the castle with its wonderful views.

Michelin-starred chef René Mathieu
© Lemrich

He likes to sketch ideas for new dishes with crayons. This gives him an impression of how the ingredients’ colours, shapes and textures combine on a plate. At some point he had the inspiration, he who “loves to invent stories”, for a dish about perfume. For Mathieu at least, playing with aromas is an everyday experience in the kitchen. The chef is constantly developing edible creations with a fragrance reminiscent of their namesake, and which also tastes of their essences.

For René Mathieu, working in the kitchen enjoys equal esteem with his forest walk and pondering what it might be possible to create from the individual ingredients. His cuisine is purist in execution, but poetic in conception. “Food is simple, but it comes down to implementation!” Then, the head chef says, it can be downright magical.

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Cook like a chef

  • In Kachen magazine (in English: “Cooking”), aficionados of sophisticated and typical national cuisine will find a comprehensive range of recipes and articles on specialities, trends and personalities. The magazine is published online and as a seasonal print edition in three languages (German, French, English).
  • Want to become creative in the kitchen and buy the best regional ingredients? Visiting one of the country’s numerous weekly markets is the way to go.
Ramborn harvest 2019
© Véronique Kolber

Culinary traditions with soul

Luxembourg offers a wide range of flavours in a very small area.

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