The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Axel Colonna-Cesari

Axel Colonna-Cesari

Michelin-starred chef at Centpourcent (1973)

Can you describe what you do?

I grew up in De Panne at the Belgian coast, and as a kid I was taught my first culinary skills at the restaurant Le Flore that was run by my parents. I had my formal training at the hotel school Ter Duinen in Koksijde, then worked as a chef in Brussels (the 3-star restaurant Bruneau) and Leuven (Couvert Couvert).

In 2003, I got my first Michelin star at the fine-wine restaurant Folliez (Mechelen), and a second one in 2007 for Orangerie of the Auberge du Pêcheur (near Ghent), where I also met my wife Anneleen. Together we combined our skills to open our own restaurant Centpourcent in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, just next to Mechelen. Within a year, we earned our first Michelin star, which we have maintained ever since. We aim to offer our customers a culinary experience that engages all their senses. The interior design of the restaurant is minimalistic, and I have a preference for pure tastes and local products.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

In Mechelen, the people are the heart of the city. Diversity, culture and especially the love for their city is very palpable wherever you go.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

From the first day I was here, I felt welcome in Mechelen, and the city has supported me in my career. It has been most important for my own development as a chef.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Mechelen has a need for more gastronomic culture, be it restaurants, brasseries or culinary shops.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

From the first moment to the last, a weekend in Mechelen offers an experience that is full of adventure. You can start by climbing St. Rumbold’s Cathedral, explore the rooms of the Tower full of stunning panoramic views over the city. It’s also nice to visit a museum like the Hof van Busleyden or the Horlogeriemuseum. If you visit between April and September, I would highly recommend a boat ride on the Dyle river, and a walk along the water over the unique Dijlepad is a must in any season.

If you still have some time left, go see the animals at Planckendael park. And of course: don’t forget to visit our restaurant Centpourcent!

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

25 years ago, KV Mechelen was the last Belgian club to win a European trophy. They defeated the Dutch team Ajax in the European Cup Final II thanks to a goal by Piet den Boer. That is still a legendary feat in my book.