High Performance Chef – Episode 3: Jan Tournier

A Quintet of Tastes for Two Stars

Belgian Chef Jan Tournier is renowned for his Japanese touches on European cuisine. We meet the meticulous star chef in his restaurant, Cuchara, to learn more about his interpretation of Asian traditions, unique culinary customs, and fascinating family history.

The streets are empty in Lommel, a small Belgian town in the Flemish province of Limburg near the Dutch border. Scattered flashes of light illuminate the November grey. Occasionally, the sun casts a pale and listless glance through clouds.

The 39-year-old chef Jan Tournier, an imposing figure, welcomes us in front of his tastefully designed restaurant, "Cuchara". The friendly Belgian laughs when asked about the origin of the name. He tells us about a time he walked down a street with the word "spoon" in its name while thinking about what he could call his restaurant. A fan of Spanish cuisine at the time, he had his answer: the restaurant would be called "Cuchara" -- Spanish for "spoon". Given a do-over, today he would simply call it "Jan".

For Tournier, the name "Cuchara" is both a challenge and a tradition. "Our visitors expect a restaurant awarded two stars by the MICHELIN Guide to offer the best products, great preparation, and creativity without being too complicated," he says. "It has to be easy to eat!" That's why every menu’s opening dish is eaten with a spoon.

The restaurant consists of two areas on the first floor of a two-storey building the Tournier family built more than a century ago. The front area serves as a kind of lounge, complete with a bar, pool table, and cozy seating. The dining room and open kitchen are in the back. 

Designed with atmosphere in mind and furnished with organic elements such as moss, a glass tree, and clay pots on the tabletops, the dark-toned restaurant radiates calm and comfort. The mood is complemented by warm electronic beats flowing softly from the speakers. Being here is a deceleration; after a warm welcome, visitors are guided gently through the evening. "From the moment service starts, it's quiet, without any distracting sounds," Tournier says. "You can compare it to the Japanese kitchen. Everything is quiet and under control, just like me. I have created a place that is very zen, a personal living room. It's a place where visitors can talk to each other and not be disturbed. In the end, the food has to be really exquisite, but so does the atmosphere."

Tournier’s affinity for Japanese cuisine and traditional concepts like zen and wabi-sabi -- an aesthetic grounded in the acceptance that all things are transient and imperfect -- manifested during a trip to the Pacific island. His unique combination of European cuisine and Far Eastern flavours earned him two stars from the prestigious MICHELIN Guide. While the first star, in 2014, came as a surprise, the second was hard-earned. "At the beginning, I didn't know what to think," Tournier says. "It's a big deal. People now have more respect for what I do. The success gives me the freedom to have more creative ideas and execute them."

During the awarding of the second star, in 2019, Tournier said he would book a table at his restaurant and sample the entire menu. He told us there is simply no better way to experience his dishes than as a guest. "It's a little scary to eat as a chef in your own restaurant and experience your own creation," he says. "Usually, I'm satisfied.“

"As a team, we need to focus at the highest level to take something that is already great to the next level. The same is true for AMG. The brand strives for perfection and then takes it up a gear."

The basis of Tournier's cooking is a fifth flavor called umami, which can be roughly translated as "savoriness" and is experienced as such on the European tongue. Umami isn't exclusive to Asian cuisine. According to Tournier, its deep, earthy notes can be found in foods ranging from crisp tomatoes to fragrant mushrooms. Much of his cooking is made with fresh ingredients; his dishes often combine fish and seafood with typical Asian spices, plankton, and sauces such as miso and yuzu. The all-important crunch comes from sesame seeds or bonito flakes, among other ingredients. Pairing Asian ingredients with classic vegetables like asparagus and eggplant allows the Belgian a range of flavor possibilities, much like a palette in the hands of a master painter, the rich colors of which he brings to life on a culinary canvas. 

Driving through the autumnal countryside around Lommel, Tournier blossoms behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S 4MATIC+ (Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert: 8,4–8,3 l/100 km, CO2-Emissionen kombiniert: 192–190 g/km | Emissionsangabe [1]) and reveals his inner car fanatic: "I love cars. The elegance and unbridled power of an AMG is very exciting." As in the kitchen, vehicle design can be greatly impacted by tiny adjustments: "Sometimes small details, like fresh, local products, result in mind-blowing taste sensations," Tournier says. "As a team, we need to focus at the highest level to take something that is already great to the next level. The same is true for AMG. The brand strives for perfection and then takes it up a gear."

The initially reserved chef thawed over the course of two days of production and he began to talk about his family. He spoke about his grandmother, who worked as a private chef for a prince, and about his uncle, who was also a good cook with his own restaurant. Originally, Tournier had no interest in the kitchen. This changed after his trip to Japan and the discovery of special preparation methods such as molecular cuisine. Today, his restaurant stands in the very rooms where his father, Edmond, ran a world-renowned pigeon farm with 10,000 birds. "My father used to breed pigeons on these premises. Today I prepare pigeons for my guests here," he jokes with a laugh.

Meanwhile, the sun sulkily retires after having lost its battle against the now changeless grey. From the street, one sees the warm kitchen of a cozy and elegantly furnished restaurant. In it stands a young man bent over a notebook, lost in thought. He is probably working on new courses, the first of which is always eaten with a spoon.

Recipe Download

Exclusively for AMG Private Lounge members: Download Jan Tournier's "Tuna Dish" (from the video) and "North Sea Crab with Koji and Green Asparagus" recipes. Have fun in the kitchen!

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  • Energieverbrauch gewichtet kombiniert: 22.2 - 11.7 kWh/100 km plus 6.9 - 4.6 l/100 km | Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert bei entladener Batterie: 11.8 - 10.5 l/100km | CO₂-Emissionen gewichtet kombiniert: 156 - 104 g/km | CO₂-Klasse gewichtet kombiniert: F - C | CO₂-Klasse bei entladener Batterie: G | Emissionsangabe [1,2]

  • Energieverbrauch kombiniert: 13.4 - 8.8 l/100 km | CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert: 306 - 200 g/km | CO₂-Klasse: G | Emissionsangabe [1,2]