ELLEZELLES - As many as 34 years ago Jean-Baptiste Thomaes, at the ripe young age of 22, set up the prestigious establishment of Le Château du Mylord in Ellezelles, a village close to Ronse and Oudenaarde.
Nowadays he manages his two-star Michelin restaurant alongside his brother Christophe, the restaurant’s pâtissier.
For both, beer is close to their hearts. In spring they feature a hop shoots menu with recommended beer pairings and a beer menu is on offer throughout the summer.
“This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago,” the chef chuckles. “In those days, the only beverages on offer with your meal were red Bordeaux and white Burgundy.”
Both chefs are keen on the gastronomic beers made by Brasserie Dubuisson.
This brewery has launched innovative degustation beers: Bush Prestige, Bush de Nuits and Bush de Charmes, all the while avoiding any kind of fashion trend or hype.
As part of a brewery visit, chef Jean-Baptiste, sous-chef Wim Roelandt and sommelier Bart Lamon taste the recently introduced Bush de Charmes.
“I can smell mead,” Wim tells us. The aroma’s promise of mature white and yellow fruits with a hint of bitterness is delivered on. “I sense an undercurrent of wood with smoky touches that would make an excellent pairing with beef,” is the verdict of Jean-Baptiste.
The chef recommends enjoying this beer with a beef tartare with oysters. Or else, in tandem with freshly picked hop shoots accompanied by a fried egg and a mousseline prepared with Bush de Charmes.
This is the cue for Wim Roelandt to put the spotlight on the culinary challenges surrounding beer: “You are working with a living, fermenting product. Especially when reducing the beer, you need to know the level of bitterness required."
"But adding a small amount of beer provides lovely touches of bitterness that can be used to complement or contrast with the dish."
"An example is a delicate crème de foie gras with a jelly of Bush Ambrée Triple, giving a beautiful contrast between the bitterness of the beer and the sweet character of the goose liver.”
Whereupon the chef himself recommends a John Dory fish (called sint-pietersvis in Flemish), steamed with a Bush Ambrée. Want a crafty way to tone down the bitterness?
Serve it with a risotto, mushrooms such as morels, asparagus... Jean-Baptiste has had success preparing pigeon, duck and hare using the Bush beers.
We put these recommendations to the test with the gastronomic hop shoots menu that is on offer during the hop season in early spring. We try John Dory fish steamed with Bush de Nuits, bouillabaisse in a rouille, Chinese cabbage and fried hop shoots with the beer. “I prefer using the steamer to prepare the fish."
"In this way, the aromas are concentrated,” the chef explains. The touch of sourness from the beer, reminiscent of wine, ensures that the meal has a fresh taste and is easily digestible.
The use of hop shoots neatly builds a bridge towards beer pairing.
Sommelier Bart Lamon pours the beer with the utmost respect, in the same way you would treat a grand cru.
There are no prejudices here; Bart will suggest the wine or the beer that best complements the dish. Adventurous guests enjoy being surprised and the sommelier acts as their experienced guide.
It is time for our next course. We taste fillet of veal grilled at a low temperature, spelt risotto, a crème of sweet potato with goose liver, a Bush de Charmes gel and hop shoots with a jus of young garlic, once again paired with Bush de Charmes.
As the chef approves the dish and sends it is on its way to the dining room, I can see his eyes sparkle with joy and enthusiasm.
After the meal we compare our findings over a glass of Bush de Charmes. “Finally, beer is taking up its rightful place in gastronomy,” Jean-Baptiste is pleased to tell us. “Previously, you used to have a beer in your café, in a brasserie and at the chip shop, the frituur."
"These days, we leave it to our guests to make a choice. It is an unusual experience for many people. One they have to get used to."
"However, when we conduct blind tastings and don’t tell our guests beforehand which beverage we will be serving, they usually end up pleasantly surprised. ‘Is that beer?’ "
We do put a lot of effort into the correct selection, using complementary or contrasting flavours to their best advantage and generally ensure that the flavours build up in a way that is spot-on.”
When Christophe Thomaes tastes the Bush de Charmes for the first time he needs little convincing. The sommelier comments: “I am now exploring the rich Belgian beer world to my heart’s content."
"When I went to college, very little attention was paid to beer. I have been amazed to discover the complexity of some beers, often more complex than wine.” We are happy to agree with him.
Le Château du Mylord
Rue Saint-Mortier 35