City wanderings - and a pilgrimage to some of the best eating and drinking spots in Brussels. Or maybe not eating or drinking - ah, oh well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


"To be honest, at the start of my training, I was only at Arpaije to pass the time; but gradually my supervisors inspired me to work in this profession, and now I'm completely immersed in it and will never want to leave".   (Diaby, trainee)

I've never been a good cook.  For one thing I lack the precision and patience to present dishes imaginatively; not to mention my inability to manage several bubbling pots, an angry spitting frying pan and hold a conversation at the same time.  Cooking for others is worse.  Perhaps that explains why I don't host dinner parties - or get invited to them - very often.  And why I have a healthy respect for people who choose to work in busy kitchens - and emerge at the end of the day, not burned, not scalded - unscathed!  

In Arpaije, I notice that I am savouring my food more than usual; taking time to admire the little details of presentation.  It makes a difference to know that the people in the kitchen preparing my food might not have taken to cooking at first: they might have tried various professions: waitressing, bed-making, washing up hundreds of dirty plates.  They might have come from overseas; have been excluded from traditional training programmes through their lack of formal qualifications.  They probably have spent some time unemployed.   Fortunately Arpaije is there, training its recruits for the demanding work in restaurant kitchens.  It's like Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, without the benefit of a famous face and all that publicity. 

For the selection it's "un petit test, rien de compliqué".  The supervisor chef has been watching me as I enjoy my three-course lunch, and particularly today I have no desire to take photos, to ask questions, to draw attention to myself in this calm setting.  But I feel strongly that this little restaurant deserves to be written about - and the chef  needs an explanation as to why I am taking pictures of every single dish that arrives on our table....  Arpaije has been running for about 11 years - and you only need to read the testimonies on the website to see that it has been successful in helping young people find jobs.  "It's just a shame you're not open in the evenings", I say, thinking that the customers would stream in.  But the chef is firm: the recruits are in training from 8:30 until 16:00, and that is enough.

La suggestion du jour (very good, said Becinbrussels' friend)
People of Brussels, if you're free of a lunch-time, or can sneak out for a longer lunch than usual, flock to enjoy one of the best value three course meals in Ixelles!  A princely 12 euros 50 for a three course meal to rival anything you'll eat in a mid-price restaurant; served with the knowledge that yes, you're assisting in a non-profit training programme, but you're getting a very good deal out of it as well....  Our three course meal with an apéritif comes to just over 30 euros.  Arpaije, forget La Truffe Noire, your tables should have a waiting list!  Instead, I reserve the day before and the restaurant is only half full.

We are gently shepherded through our lunch by a calm, serious, smiling waiter.  He tells us about the sister traiteur and café on Malibran, but here it is "plus gastronomique".  All the recruits are professional: I find myself trying to be more polite to match the patience of the trainees; patience being something that for people in this industry, it is all to easy to lose.  I only see one of the trainers intervene once to show a recruit how to pour red wine the sophisticated way.  We praise the food regularly and fully, and that's because it really is very good.  Particular highlights include both the fish tartare and mozzarella tomato tart starters; the main courses (particularly the delicious honeyed sauce to accompany my cochon de lait); and the desserts - aaaah, that pain perdu!  The coconut milk and mango rice pudding is delicious, but that pain perdu with strawberries wins the Battle of the Desserts.  Actually, that's the whole menu, the highlight: "magnifique à tout point de vue", we agree.  

That pain perdu
rice pudding
Arpaije's menu changes every two weeks (check the website for the current offering).

Becandbrussels and friend ate:

Gâteau de tomates-mozzarella & crumble d’olives
Tartare de dorade royale sur écailles de pommes

Cochon de lait grillé aux asperges, sauce miel aux oignons nouveaux, gratin dauphinois
Filet de bar printanier poché
Suggestion du jour

Pain perdu aux fraises, boule de glace
Riz au lait de coco sur coulis de mangue

However my final word on Arpaije must come from the trainees themselves.  

Rosiya writes: 
"Je voudrais remercier tous mes chefs d'avoir cru en moi et de m'avoir donné le courage de rester jusqu'au bout".
Kaly writes: 
J’ai choisi de faire une formation de cuisine pour la simple raison que je n’arrivais pas à préparer ma nourriture! (...)  C’est grâce à un formateur d’ARPAIJE que j’ai trouvé mon premier travail à durée indéterminée dans une brasserie bien connue de Bruxelles."  

Grégory writes:

"Ça fait 4 mois que je suis en formation ; la journée se passe bien, mes collègues sont sympas et peu importe si on n’est pas tous de la même nationalité, car on apprend tous les jours quelque chose. J’espère finir ma formation, vite, pour commencer un job en cuisine et gagner ma vie !"

As well as the testimonies of previous trainees, the website also includes the CVs of young people who have recently completed their training.  I hope that someone reading this will be able to help one of these recruits find their next job.

Open 12:00 - 14:00 Monday to Friday.  For reservations call 02 646 21 31.
50 Chaussée de Boondael
1050 Bruxelles

Siège Social, Cafétéria, Service Traiteur & Service Catering
Arpaije asbl
49 rue Malibran
1050 Bruxelles
Tel: 02 644 59 57

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