Pine-Smoked Mussels

by ben van hoo

for 3 people
1 kg bouchot mussels
A 10 liter bag of pine needles
old wooden panks + a few nails
a good bottle of white wine
to enjoy with the mussels

On weekends at the Flagey market, Ben’s flower stand is hard to miss : it stands out due to its beautiful seasonal bouquets, simply wrapped in a sheet of kraft paper. Besides the Flagey and Chatelain markets, you’ll also find his gorgeous creations at Le Prélude, Racines and many other restaurants featured on Brussels’ Kitchen.

Pine-Smoked mussels

You need a wooden plank, bouchot mussels and pine needles. You start by hammering 4 nails into your plank to help the first mussels stand straight and keep them from falling. You then have to try working in circles, always with the open end of the mussels pointing downwards, very important. Otherwise, the pine needles will fall into them, and you’ll end up with tiny bits in your mussels. You then cover the mussels with a 20cm layer of pine needles and put a match to them. Once everything has burnt, it should be good. If you use too many pine needles, all your mussels are gonna break, and they will be overdone. And if you don’t use enough, they won’t be cooked. You then have to blow them clean, with a blow-dryer or yourself. The top part you can remove with a branch or a dustpan, then you have to blow until all your mussels are clean, then you can eat them.

Can you tell us more?

First, I studied at Saint-Luc a bit, and when I quit school, I “fell into” flowers. My parents used to have a flower shop. I do what I like most. I try to play with colors, with shapes. It’s something I find really interesting. I don’t do this to make money or anything, it’s a labor of love. I’m also happy to work in the markets because this also happened by chance. We initially wanted to sell organic flowers in organic stores. A farmer friend said to me, Ben, I’d like to try flowers as well. If you want to sell them, just tell me. We had deals with organic stores for 50 bunches a week. After just a couple of days, we saw it wasn’t working, none of the shops wanted the flowers, they were too expensive. So I said listen, I need to do something because I don’t have the cash to open a shop. So we started working in the markets. And I love it. I’d never have thought it could be so much fun. And now I’m super happy with the way things are, because standing around all day in a shop was never something I wanted.

Your strongest food memory?

I once went to Parma and ate in a restaurant – it’s since become a Michelin-starred place. They cooked with really sober and simple ingredients, while being very refined as well. Parmesan was used in many ways, raw, warm, even the crust. Things like that, I like. And it was also a beautiful place. They worked a lot with hot-and-cold and interesting taste combinations. Not overdoing it, everything so well-balanced. Perfect.

Your favorite place in Brussels?

My favorite place to eat, where I like to eat the most at the moment, is Racines. But that’s not because they’re clients. In my mind, they have good flavors, well balanced, not too much of this, or that. Exactly the way I like it. Last time I went there was one of my best food experiences. But we are becoming extremely difficult to please. Because we have so much choice, so many opportunities, and we can always eat better things. But sometimes you still get beautiful surprises.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *