Gastronomy Steinfort
© Hadrien Friob

The Good Life Steinfort, the gourmand

4 minutes

The terroir on the plate

In the gastronomy scene of the commune of Steinfort, the concept of “terroir” and seasonal cuisine are of central importance. Two chefs, just thirty years old, want to challenge the status quo. They are pushing boundaries... and to great effect.

Representing the same generation, Thomas Murer and Mathieu Van Wetteren opened their restaurants a year apart. Mathieu’s “Apdikt” came first, in 2017, and as its name suggests, it is located in a former pharmacy. He has fun with this theme, and the decor includes old glass flacons, chests of drawers, and green tiles to which he adds antique lighting, tables made from old train car doors, and hand-made plates and bowls.

At the end of 2018, “An der Villa” by Thomas Murer followed, located in the Villa Collart. The two chefs know and like each other. They do not hesitate to send each other customers when their restaurants are full, and to share intel about where to get their hands on good products.

© Hadrien Friob
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In tune with nature

We find the two “in the garden” one October morning when the mist is slow to lift over the fields. The herb garden is a haven founded in 2016 by Claude Petit, Max Epstein, and Jean-Marc Parries, who are trained in botany, agronomy, landscape ecology, and the environment. The last the summer vegetables have been harvested, giving way to autumn and its earthy delights: swedes, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, turnips, and marrows.

For both chefs, it is vital to remain close to the products and the seasonality: “We must listen to nature, and this is what these vegetable farmers do, with a real philosophy to their approach,” said Thomas, loading crates of vegetables that he will include on the week’s menu.

Respect for vegetables

Beginning his apprenticeship at the age of 14 in his native Alsace, Thomas trained at some great restaurants: “Jean-Luc Brendel of La Table du Gourmet, a Michelin-starred restaurant, gave me a love of plants and introduced me to vinegar and its subtleties. At Haeberlin of L’Auberge de L’Ill, which at the time had three Michelin stars, I was able to work with great products, in a classic and respectful way. With Patrick Jeffroy in Brittany, then two Michelin stars at the time but retired since 2019, I discovered my respect for vegetables,” he said.

Thomas developed his passion for gourmet cuisine, but, moving in his own direction, he opted to leave the pressure of Michelin stars to offer a simpler menu, his sights set on so-called bistronomy: “Working as though in a bistro, but with gourmet quality, and remaining accessible to a many people without making any compromises on quality.”

In order to succeed at this, you have to be inventive and bold: “Dare to use the less noble parts of animals and make them interesting through cooking, marinating, and accompaniments. But also, work with the entire product while throwing away as little as possible. We must always challenge ourselves.” Cabbage fermented with cumin caramel is on the menu at the moment: a nod to Thomas’s home region, plus a twist with new flavours.

Krautgaart Steinfort
© Hadrien Friob

“Sourcing the products is half the job,” confirmed Mathieu, who “does not want to cut corners on quality, whether for a carrot or a Norway lobster. The simpler the product, the better it should be.” He also chooses to source locally as much as possible and, for example, to elevate common river fish such as trout and pikeperch, which are not often used in gourmet cooking.

“I spend a lot of time with producers in the area to find as many local products as possible. I look for products that have flavour and that can be served on their own, because my cooking is pretty minimalist.” For instance, his daily special uses fermented plums, or revisits the mashed potatoes with buttermilk from his childhood. “Techniques like smoking, fermenting, aging, pickling, using vinegars... these are not to show off, they are ways of bringing emotion, of diving into memories,” he said.

Keep learning, keep moving

Mathieu also started young: “When I was 14, to buy myself a PlayStation, I worked in the kitchen and discovered this universe. I got hooked, and I never left,” he recalled. He has gained experience at several places. “At Wohlfahrt, a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the Black Forest, I learnt rigour. At Yves Mattagne, a one-star sea grill in Brussels that has since closed, I learnt how to cook meat and fish.” Without a doubt the chef who influenced Mathieu the most is Sergio Herman at Jane in Antwerp, known for his exacting standards and bold pairings.

Never tired of learning and beeing exposed to other cultures, the Luxembourger often travels to Japan (where he acquired a custom-made knife) and Scandinavian countries. “I want to continue to allow myself to go away several times a year, to keep discovering and improving.’

For Thomas, it’s about “refocusing on the right product at the right price.” To that end, he has recently switched from offering menus to simply displaying a blackboard that lists the day’s dishes based on market availabilities.

Awakening feelings

Both chefs agree when it comes to one thing: the importance of their teams. “I want to make sure that my people are happy. Working in harmony with my staff, enjoying my family, staying healthy…” said the chef of “An der Villa”. “I’m so lucky to have a small team that I can count on.” “Their well-being, their work rhythm, and respecting everyone’s voice are as important as what goes on the plate,” added the other.

A meal is not only what you eat and when you eat it. It is the memory that you keep and the impression it leaves. In Steinfort, these chefs make sure that the emotions they create will make you want to come back.

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Seasonal terroir cuisine

New concepts, fresh ideas: attentive gastronomy in Luxembourg.

  • Apdikt
  • An der Villa
  • In the restaurant La Table de Frank, Chef Frank Steffen serves fresh delicacies “from the butcher straight to the plate”.
  • De Gudde Maufel: Chef Frank Manes reinterprets traditional Luxembourgish cuisine in an exciting new way.
  • Aal Schoul: In the restaurant of the well-known butcher Guy Kirsch, high-quality beef is the order of the day!
  • Luxembourg’s earth meets France’s sea: Le Jardin de la Gaichel by Breton Erwan Guillou. 
  • De Bräiläffel was founded by Aloyse Jacoby, formerly head of the national cooking team. Today, a beer sommelier is also part of the team.

More stories: Poetic in conception, purist in execution

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.

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