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.

Pieter-Jan Van Den Bon

Pieter-Jan Van Den Bon

Wandering foodie (1985)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m basically a foodie who pays a lot of attention to concept. As a chef, I float from pop-up to pop-up. With every new project I start, I try to create a link between the cultural and the culinary. I love the transitory nature of these pop-ups, it’s what keeps me on my toes and inspires my creativity.

A few years ago, I opened my first pop-up restaurant in a very old villa. I tried to create a cosy living room restaurant with local sustainable and seasonal products on the menu, and decorated with artwork by local artists. Another successful temporary project in Mechelen was Komeet. It started out as an idea for a food truck festival, but we ended up with a large beach bar cum restaurant with lots of activities for young and old. There were gigs by local bands and DJs, sport events, children’s theatre and much more. We ended up doing a second edition last year. Whatever I do, I want to keep it interesting and edgy, both for the customers and myself.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

Mechelen is no longer the ugly duckling in the pond. In earlier days, our city struggled with its identity, but recently it has grown into a fun, enterprising and very energetic city with a huge historic background. We have also struck a perfect balance between a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit and a huge cultural diversity. As I was born and raised here, it makes me happy to see it has become a worthy link between Antwerp and Brussels. A lot of young talented entrepreneurs are finding their way to Mechelen because of its huge potential.

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

‘A city in transformation’ is a slogan that is used too often, to the point of becoming a political cliché. But I can’t find any better way to describe Mechelen. The constantly changing landscape is what gives it its edge

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

I really think Mechelen has stimulated my personal development and progress as well as my career. It is a city where new initiatives and entrepreneurship are stimulated. But I am equally inspired by the people I meet here, as well as by my friends and family who challenge me to push boundaries and explore my opportunities.

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

As a foodie, I would like to see more originality and more personality in the local kitchens. I’d rather see menus consisting of just a few options that are creative and seasonal, prepared with local ingredients from our region, than a list of hundred dishes from all over the world. There is a lot of potential in Mechelen and you can already see an evolution, but we haven’t arrived at the pinnacle of this evolution yet.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?

I would visit the market on Saturday, go to one of the many food happenings that take place all year long, or have a local Tripel beer at the Vismarkt.

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

For me, the absolute local legends are craftsmen like the cheesemaker Schockaert, the pastry chef Vanderbeek, the brothers D’Hoogh of the eponymous restaurant… all these people have inspired me with their craftsmanship.