David Van Steenkiste
David Van Steenkiste is herbalist and independent gardener, specializing in fresh herbs, edible flowers and foraging.
This all under the name ‘HERBAS’. The cultivation happens in the gardens of former 3 star Michelin restaurant Hertog Jan a wonderful and mesmerising place in the fields of Zedelgem next to Bruges.
Gardens of Hertog Jan, Zedelgem, Belgium
Rather by accident, after the closure of the restaurant, and a couple of text messages back and forth with Gert De Mangeleer, the idea grew to keep on going with the cultivation of unique plants and herbs in the even more unique gardens.
Now, assisted by a team of people with disabilities and autism, my company ‘Herbas’ is exploited there.
They help me with the maintenance of the gardens, help I couldn’t appreciate more, especially from such an enthusiastic, unique, and cheerful gang.
My fiancé is an independent chocolate maker. We have been working together on several occasions, trying new fillings for her chocolates or combinations of chocolate with edible plants.
The gardens measure 1.4 hectares, a true jungle of more than 40 species of edible plants and herbs, a melting pot of the craziest and unique flavors. 3 hives keep us stocked with honey and make sure we have enough pollination.
We also work with an Urban Crops container, with its special lighting we can use this set-up for our cresses and more fragile herbs.
What motivated you to start cultivating edible plants as a career?
Foraging after the shift, during my 6 year career as a chef, was the ultimate outlet.
I never thought of it becoming my job, but when I was given the opportunity to become the herbalist of Pure C (Sergio Herman) and demand from other restaurants grew to do the same for them, the job became a calling.
After one and a half years Pure C, the obvious choice was to start as an independent cultivator.
That’s how Herbas was held above the font 4 years ago.
What makes the gardens at Hertog Jan special to you?
The Szechuan pepper tree and the red elderflower bush are just some of the unique herbs and plants you can find here. But especially the beautiful nature and the domain itself make this place special. I also can’t deny that mentioning Hertog Jan to restaurants and wholesalers opens doors. That’s how herbs and edible plants from the gardens of Hertog Jan somewhat became my trademark..
Are there any plants you have a special connection with?
Huacatay certainly has a special placer in my heart and is also one of the bestsellers.
It’s actually a kind of mint, with leaves resembling in form and measure the leaves of marihuana, and a very specific tatste.
Huacatay is very versatile. You can serve it with meat out in cocktails, but it’s also a winner in desserts.
When chefs taste it, they are always instant fan
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of foraging or cultivating edible plants?
To people who want to go into nature, my first advice would be to go as far from the civilized world as possible. Smog and pollution just aren’t my favorite flavorings.
If you want to discover new things, just start by tasting a little bit at the time, keeping a notebook always comes in handy to take notes and to dry little leaves in.
Especially don’t forget to absorb nature and try to discover as much as possible.
I especially enjoy foraging in summer, early in the morning. Nothing can beat the sight of a rising sun through the fields.
If you want to eat flowers, make sure you don’t buy any treated ones.
To people who want to cultivate, an advice is not to give the plants too much water after a period of drought. Just let the plants suffer a little bit. This makes sure the taste is more concentrated and less watery. Just inform yourself on what is edible and not, there are a lot of wonderful websites out there, or go to a connaisseur for more advice.
Aan mensen die de natuur willen intrekken zou ik als eerste de raad willen meegeven om zover mogelijk van de bewoonde wereld te gaan plukken. Smog en vervuiling lijken me nu eenmaal niet van de smakelijkste toevoegingen.
Who would most like to go for a cocktail with?
I would love to go and get a drink with René Redzepi. His unbelievable knowledge of nature and the edible garden appeals to me. Most of the time he doesn’t look too far, back and close to nature. According te me, something we all should be doing, better sooner than later.
What is your favorite season and why?
Summer, without any doubt. In summer all is blooming and the array of plants is just incredible, nature at its best.
What makes you truly happy when going out for dinner?
Pure passion is my weak spot. A good example is Willem Hiele. With him, you just know there is a viking cooking with the pure pure passion for everything in and around the sea and the raw nature where he likes to go and plow just to discover new tastes. A great guy, that Willem Hiele.
Surrounding yourself with nature is just fantastic, where is your favorite green spot?
A magical place that gets to me time after time is ’t Zwin, a nature reserve crossing the boarder of Belgium and The Netherlands.
Back in the days in went foraging a lot in that region. The things you can spot there early in the morning are just mesmerising.
But especially the abundance of wild herbs, seaweeds, salty plants,… is unseen.
Foxes crossing the paths and so many different birds you can’t even count them on both hands. A fantastic beautiful and quiet place, especially for the early birds 😉