A family business ‘avant la lettre’, restaurant ‘t Kreukeltje in the Flemish town of Gooik is run by the Heylens family and situated in the beautiful area of ‘Pajottenland’, to the west of Brussels. Father Herman and son Bram press out every single drop of creativity in their kitchen, while wife and mother Monique welcomes each guest in the most hospitable of ways. A culinary household that’s devoted to serving up the finest fare that Flanders has to offer.
TEXT: BAS VAN DUREN | PHOTOS: ’T KREUKELTJE
Herman Heylens opening up a restaurant was a long time in the making. The chef worked at several restaurants in Brussels before he started a business as a traiteur in the early ‘90s with wife Monique, who also works as a teacher in the local Hotel School in the field of hospitality management. While the name ’t Kreukeltje has been in use since then, its choice as a restaurant name came in 2005 when the family opened up shop in Gooik in a tastefully restored farmhouse. Son Bram joined the fold back in 2010 and is now a part of Visit Flanders’ selection of Flemish Kitchen Rebels, that encompasses 64 exciting top chefs under the age of 35.
Having to share the kitchen with his dad is not a problem for Bram: “We work completely in tandem, bouncing ideas back and forth and sharing that feeling of inspiration when, for instance, something like fresh pheasants arrive. We both have our specialties: my father works miracles with fish, I’m very much into desserts, like my classic lemon cake or a combination of caramel chocolate, coffee and hazelnuts.” Asked about what his favourite dish is made by his father, it doesn’t take long for Bram to answer: “His signature dish, pan-fried sole, ‘slibtong’ as we call it. He cooks it to perfection and it’s one of many reasons why people from all over the country come to ‘t Kreukeltje.”
Bram stresses the restaurant is more than just a place for good fish and desserts. “We love to serve quality meat and have lots of herbs and spices that are homegrown. We always give priority to local suppliers and local produce, we do a lot of our shopping at wholesale markets and find inspiration from different places. Both my dad and me get a kick out of taking an already exciting recipe and making it our own, letting our ideas ripen over time and presenting nothing but the best.”