Can you describe what you do?
I am the owner and chef of the Antwerp-based restaurant Graanmarkt 13. Although our menu is not strictly vegetarian, I have a preference for vegetables and we try to keep our dishes as eco-friendly as possible. I work with fresh and local, seasonal products, and we have our own rooftop garden where we grow more than 100 different vegetables and herbs. We even produce our own honey there. Apart from that, I experiment with different pop-up concepts to bring healthy and conscious food to a broad audience.
A couple of years ago, I participated in an event to celebrate the legendary botanist from Mechelen, Rembert Dodoens. I was born and raised in Mechelen, so it was a great match. I would love to do more of these projects there.
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?
I still have a soft spot for the city. Even though I’ve travelled a lot and now live in Antwerp, whenever I visit Mechelen it feels like coming home. Because it has been developed and looks so much better now, coming here kind of feels like bein on a small holiday.
The city council made all the right choices to bring the population together. The Grote Markt used to be full of cars and rather dreary, but now it has turned into one big and inviting place. They also organise lots of events like Maanrock to connect people.
Every inhabitant is happy about the state of their city, which is really quite remarkable. No one will deny that the city has been improved immensely, I only hear positive stories coming from Mechelen.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
I think it’s the unique vibe that you don’t get anywhere else. I wouldn’t call it a village mentality because Mechelen is very much a fully fledged city, but there is an easy-going intimate vibe that is hard to describe, but which is very addictive.
I love Antwerp, don’t get me wrong, but people here tend to be rather distant towards each other. It is a unique accomplishment of Mechelen to retain that sense of intimacy while at the same time proudly showing an international and multicultural character, and I say this as someone who visits a lot of places around the world.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Even though I left many years ago, I still call myself a ‘Mecheleir’. We still have the best soccer club in the world (even if they now play in second division). I still love the local accent, and at family parties I still can’t help but adopt it only seconds into a conversation.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
I think Mechelen could use some more places offering progressive gastronomy. With all respect to the people who already serve great food and drink, the city lacks a place that dares to make a bold statement that resonates on an international level.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Maybe a personal anecdote which nicely illustrates the Mechelen vibe. Our family has a house in the South of France where everyone can go for a day out. Over the years, everyone has contributed something to the interior, and I swear the living room has just been transformed into an ode to Mechelen: a map on the wall, a traditional crest above the fireplace, a miniature St. Rumbold’s tower… everyone has brought a piece of Mechelen, just to show how proud they are of their city. I think that shows how deep our love is.graanmarkt13.com