Last week, chef Maxime Renard, from Liège, took part in the SIAL international food industry event in Paris, preparing tasters of products from Wallonia. This industrial engineer wasted no time in switching career paths to earn a living from his passion for cooking, a passion which has been passed down from generation to generation of the Renard family. I got to know this generous chef, whose ability to highlight the region's culinary treasures remains unrivalled. Local products, farm-to-table service, and a touch of creativity - these are the secret ingredients of La Table Conviviale, his table d'hôtes which also offers cooking workshops for children and adults as well as a home catering service.
Maxime, how would you describe your kitchen?
It's creative and local, it's classic and French at the same time but with a touch of originality. I combine cooking techniques from around the world (from Italy, Asia, etc.) with local quality products, most of which are organic, that come from producers who care about the earth and their animals. I have a Slow Food philosophy: it should be fair, tasty, and clean! The menu and concept on offer to my guests are designed to avoid waste, and have as small an environmental impact as possible.
What made you decide to swap your career as an industrial engineer for a life behind the stove?
I've always loved cooking, and I always knew that one day I'd follow in the footsteps of my father, who also owned a restaurant. I got my qualification from Cefor in Namur whilst I was still working as an engineer at Inbev, and in 2014 I started a side business as a caterer. I've been doing it full-time since 2017.
What Walloon products do you use in your kitchen?
Oh, lots of them. I buy my pork from Porc Qualité Ardennes, a farm-to-table Belgian cooperative supplying animals that were raised here in Wallonia. I get my beef and vegetables from La Ferme à l'Arbre de Liège, in Lantin, which was recently awarded best organic farm in Europe. That's also where Badjawe beer is produced through the Brasserie Coopérative Liégeoise, which I'm a member of. It's 100% local - the barley they use comes from the Schiepers Farm in Wanze, the wheat and hops come from La Ferme à l'Arbre, and it's brewed in Alleur.
I also cook lamb and salmon trout. The flour and bread I use come from the Cooperative Histoire d'un Grain on the Herve plateau, the juices and the cider are from Atelier Constant Berger in Battice, the mustard is from Bister, and the butter is from L&L Plaquette. Those last two I mentioned were also at the SIAL, as well as Millésime, whose chocolate I used for my pan-fried foie gras.
I work a lot with Graines de Curieux, too. They had a stand here as well, for cereals, rapeseed oil, and lentils. That brand supplies food products produced according to healthy, organic farming practices that have been certified by the Land, Farm & Men society.
And I can't forget the essential Sirop de Liège from Siroperie Delvaux, one of the last artisanal syrup kitchens.
What do you get out of participating in a show like this (SIAL Paris)?
This is the third food exhibition I've taken part in, after Anuga and a previous SIAL event. Every time I take part I make some very fruitful contacts, and I connect with Walloon companies that I can collaborate with when I get home. This time, I managed to establish a great connection with the Distillerie de Maredsous, for example. Going abroad to form relationships with other Walloons is a bit counterintuitive, but these fairs and exhibitions are a great place to do it.
Being able to create dishes with products that aren't always easy to showcase is also very satisfying, it's not something you normally see. I cooked oxtail and cheek that I'm trying to highlight as much as I can by using other Walloon products that are available in the exhibition, and the people who produce these products notice, they tell me that it really helps their sales. If I can make them happy, as well as entertain visitors who are potential foreign buyers, then I'm happy.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I'm about to launch my own line of jarred products. My veal rillettes recipe is doing great, it's in high demand. I'd like to finish off the range with some different seasonal dishes that could be put forward by other chefs. Things are well on the way!