Lessons from a top chef – my brother :-)

I’m so proud of my brother Jan and his wife Ann. They started their restaurant ‘D’Oude Pastorie‘ almost 15 years ago. They received a Michelin star in 2014. I shouldn’t explain you that this type of job is extremely challenging: quality, speed, pressure, … every day. Now I have my own business, a completely different one though, I pay much more attention to other entrepreneurs and their lives. Especially the ones with spectacular outcomes. It was time to interview him. I wanted to know what drives him and his wife. What are the challenges they face. What the future trends are. I visited him over noon, as his restaurant is just 15min driving from the Ghent city center, where my office is located.

My brother’s life motto is the following:

Enjoy everything. Don’t search for misery, because it finds you automatically.

How his business changed over the past 15 years

Once somebody told me: “every 10y someone pulls the cover from the table”, (figurally). It means, if you do not evolve in a decade, your business is probably dying. It was no different in my brother’s restaurant. He has to keep evolving, reinventing himself. For example:

10y ago, it was all about being special: powders, special jelly, fancy molecular cooking, chemistry on your plate. You could hide a lack of cooking talent with chemistry or sauce.

Now, it’s all about the real ingredients. People want to recognise what’s on the plate, they want to feel the real taste and texture. It’s the jus of the fish instead of a heavy sauce. It’s doing spectacular things with basic ingredients. It’s about technique and talent. Simplicity in everything.

Hence, perfectionising the cooking is more important than ever. No chance to hide anymore, you just have to prove that nobody can reach the same level at home. I shouldn’t tell you that this comes with excellent ingredients. Hence, much more time now goes to choosing top ingredients. Preferably of local produce.

If the Michelin star impacted his business

Definetely yes. It’s a recognition that is important for many clients, and the restaurant became even more popular. I know it was never their goal in the beginning. But let’s call it a byproduct of excellence. Right before receiving this recognition, major investments were planned. The restaurant was going to be revamped completely. They could have chosen to cancel this project and try to ‘squeeze the star as much as possible’. They also just faced the economic crisis. However they went ahead with the project. Investing, continuous renewal and training is what counts in the Champions League. It’s that or degrading.

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The biggest myths of top restaurants

A first one is that you might go home hungry after visiting a top restaurant. That’s complete nonsense. And I can agree. It’s designed as such, that both small and big stomachs can go home happily. A second one is that not all restaurants would be welcoming all types of people. That’s a second myth to direct to the dirt bin.

Happy customers is what makes you happy

What makes you happy? This is such an important question for a business owner. If you don’t have a clear drive, if it doesn’t make you happy, it’s just too much investement to go ahead. My brother and me both love it when customers ‘go home’ happily. In his specific case, he loves it when people clean their plates with a piece of bread. When they sincerely enjoy.

You have people that come to enjoy the food, and others that come to judge. It’s the first categorie that goes home happy, and makes me happy.

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What advise would you give to your 15 year younger self?

Without any doubt he replied: do your own thing from day one. As a starter, you are much more influenced, uncertain and avoid risks. However, being unique is so important, and it is something we really did by gaining experience. It is being unique that brought us the star, that made us still exist today. It reminds me to the following quote:

The only way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition
(Blue Ocean Strategy)

We had a very interesting side conversation on this topic, blending in our own experience with our children.

  • Kids dare to be open and share opinions very strongly. Their uniqueness is very visible.
  • It’s when they grow up that they are being influenced by the group and become ‘uniformised’.
  • At around the age of 30-35, you turn more back to your initial state: you get to know yourself, become more confident and dare to do your own thing more. There are many people around this age starting an own business.

So if you start a business, you have to do your own thing to be unique.

The big trends that will affect restaurant business

Allergies and food intolerances

This has become a clear observation during the last decade. Much more customers have special diets or cannot tolerate certain ingredients or components. My brother gladly adjusts the cooking, but it happens much more than in the past.

Healthier living

People drink much less. Especially for Belgians, this is an important observation :-). Healthy cooking with more local ingredients is also much more valued nowadays. Especially the younger generations tend to pay a lot of attention to health.

The war on talent and regular business hours

The days of slavery in the restaurant are over. Luckily. But my brother and his wife both experienced it. It becomes, however, more difficult to find people that are willing to work during evenings and weekends. And due to the war on talent, cooks are extremely well paid. My brother expects that restaurants shift towards ‘regular business hours’ more and more.

The restaurant business model

A trend that’s already ongoing, is the integration of restaurants in other business activities such as shops. The ‘regular’ restaurant visit is expected to become more exclusive, and more expensive.


It’s always interesting to ask a cook about his favourite food. In his case, it’s food that was served when he was a kid. It has memories attached to it. In our home town, Lokeren, we have a special sausage dish with tomato sauce. Our mother made excellent ones. Our grandmother used a lot of tarragon vinegar. He now uses it a lot in his kitchen.

He is 8 years older and I see so many similarities. The biggest one I would say is the continuous urge to excel. Delivering quality is what drives us.

You never want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Don’t forget to visit his restaurant when you’re in Belgium! https://oudepastorie.be. Let me know your thoughts!


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