He came to Chennai, India, on a mission to introduce people from India to the exquisite cuisine from India and they couldn’t get enough. Chef Vincent Tibau literally cooked up a storm at Hyatt Regency in Chennai recently. In this quick chat about Belgium specialties and more.

How different is the food in Belgium as compared to the rest of Europe?

This is not an easy question to answer. I think our major strength vs the rest of Europe is that we have a lot of typical local products. Sometimes the name says it all: Brussels sprouts and Belgian endives (also known as chicory or witloof). We are also known as a beer country. It’s impossible to say exactly how many different beers we make as it is constantly changing but it is well over 1,000. This figure may not seem a lot but Belgium is only about 30,000 km² in size with just over 11 million inhabitants! Of the 11 trappist beers brewed worldwide, 6 are Belgian. We are also able to pair most of these 1,000+ beers with locally sourced cheeses. A match made, not in heaven, but in Belgium.

What are some of the special dishes in Belgium?

We have many special dishes. Belgium is a prime destination for food lovers. On the savoury side, we make steak with sauce béarnaise and fries (which are Belgian fries, not French!), beef stew with beer, grey shrimp filled tomatoes, asparagus Flemish style, individual chicken and mushroom pies, mussels with fries, oven-baked endives with ham in a cheese sauce, meatballs with cherries … The list is endless.  As to sweet dishes: most visitors will have tried our Brussels waffles and we simply love chocolate. Our Belgian chocolates (‘pralines’) our renowned the world over.

What are some of the dishes you are showcasing in Chennai?

My dishes highlight the variety of fresh ingredients we have at our disposal in Belgium. We made cream of cauliflower with herring eggs and a parsley coulis, asparagus Flemish style (asparagus are called white gold in Belgium) and North Sea shrimp croquettes. As India is often seen as the place of origin of vegetarian food I also made a veggie version of a traditional stew using white button mushrooms filled with cream of carrots and parsnip in a Belgian brown beer sauce.

For after, I prepared a granita with cherry beer and raspberries and last but not least we made ice cold coffee served with whipped cream, using Twenty Two Coffee, a blend created by Simon Mignolet, member of the Red Devils  (the Belgian national soccer team) and, maybe better known to football lovers in Chennai, goalkeeper of the Liverpool squad.

Belgium is known for chocolates. Is it used a lot in cooking as well?

Not really. Chocolate (be it white, milk or dark) is used mainly in sweet desserts such as chocolate mousse or in a cup of hot cocoa. As to its use in savoury dishes, chocolate gets added occasionally as a special touch in beer or wine sauces as accompaniments to e.g. a winter vegetable stew.  I think we prefer our chocolate fix in the form of the occasional Belgian ‘praline’ (or 2).

Tell us about your cooking style.

I consider myself to be a contemporary chef who takes his culinary ideas from all over the world. I am very grateful we still have 4 seasons in Belgium, each with their own seasonal typical produce. For instance strawberries in spring-summer, tomatoes in summer-autumn, endives in winter. You will never see me prepare strawberries in winter as they usually lack the flavour and the sweetness they normally have when they are in season.

How has your stay been in Chennai?

Simply wonderful! To be honest I had never heard of Chennai before; I’d heard of the old name Madras, being a chef, but it has been a novel experience. This was my second visit to Chennai and I have fallen in love with this part of the world. It has so many assets! My trips have been a challenging voyage of discovery for me, meeting lovely people, tasting new ingredients and being immersed in a culture that is totally different to my own. It is a winner I can recommend to everyone wanting a first taste of India.

Any Indian food you like?

I don’t think I’d be a chef if there wasn’t. I like paneer and I really loved the pav bhaji and nan I had during this recent visitto Chennai. And I asked for the recipe of the sweet coconutand cinnamon rice pudding I got for dessert one day. I’m sorry but I do not remember its name. We also make rice pudding in Belgium but this tasted so much more creamy and spicy than our version. I am a huge fan.

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