How did you get into cooking? "When I was eight years old, I vacationed at my aunt's bed and breakfast on the coast. I really enjoyed helping her in the kitchen. I loved touching the ingredients and thought it was a lot of fun.

"Later I studied sports, but at 16 years of age, I decided to work in a restaurant. I worked in two small restaurants in Belgium and then the Hilton for seven years, in Brussels and London, then two Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. I worked for the Radisson [in Brussels] for 20 years, which had the [Michelin-starred] Sea Grill restaurant. I bought it from the company and have owned it now for seven years. I also have brasseries, create new dishes for supermarkets, host TV cooking shows and design menus for Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways."

How do you do it all? "I have a good team [laughs]. I have chefs everywhere. I'm passionate about cooking and create all the recipes."

Where do you get your inspiration? "Today, chefs need to know new technology in the kitchen and, when you are travelling you learn, too. When I go to a new place I like to eat at local restaurants and then make my own interpretation of the dish. I also keep in mind the fashion of the times, what is happening in the world, the design of plates, tableware."

Today, chefs need to know new technology in the kitchen and, when you are travelling you learn, too
Yves Mattagne

 

 

How has the food scene evolved? "Gastronomy is changing everywhere because chefs travel so much. Before, hotels in big cities used to do food promotions of a country, like Thailand or Vietnam, but they can't do that anymore because there are these kinds of restaurants in most cities and people can travel relatively inexpensively. Next year I will open three restaurants in Crete, Greece. The coastal economy is OK. One of them is in a hotel that has rooms for 1,000 guests. It's going to be a big-scale restaurant."

Tell us about your television shows. "I started this show 1,000 Seconds 20 years ago, and the concept is that I have 1,000 seconds, or 17 minutes, to make three dishes. There's a woman co-hosting with me but she doesn't know much about cooking and is a klutz so we argue all the time and the viewers love it. She has to help me chop things and such but then she'll drop bowls or break things. I enjoy being in front of the camera - in fact, I'm so busy I don't have time to look at the camera.

"My other show is La Grande Balade, which I've been doing for five years and where I visit different towns along the Belgian coast and cook with chefs. We eat local dishes and then I do my own interpretation of them. The show isn't only about cooking - we also visit museums and other attractions."

I like to have three nice flavours on the plate. When you have 20 flavours, your mouth is totally overwhelmed and you don't feel anything
Yves Mattagne

 

 

Have you had a chance to eat in Hong Kong? "I've been to Hong Kong five or six times, but each time I'm in and out. I hardly have time to explore, but one time I did eat at the China Club."

You talk about "natural food". Can you explain? "I like to have three nice flavours on the plate. When you have 20 flavours, your mouth is totally overwhelmed and you don't feel anything. When you have three products that go together, I like to have them as natural as possible. Fifteen years ago it was about manipulating the product, but now people like to come back to a more natural state, like with Scandinavian food."

What do you do when you're not working? "Sleep! I'm very tired! I like to play sports like padel, a cross between squash and tennis that you can play with four people. It's very popular in Spain and is coming to Belgium. I like golf, too. I'm good - sometimes. Before, when I had time, I would play 18 holes, but now, no way - in between lunch and dinner I'll squeeze in nine holes."

Do you have advice for young chefs today? "You need to love this job. You need to have passion, discipline and a good feeling with your team."