Time to put the finalists for Best sommelier of Belgium in the spotlight: Stéphane Dardenne

Last but not least we have look into the world of the 3rd finalist for the title of Best Sommelier Of Belgium 2016  Stephane Dardenne. Stephane is sommelier of the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime where I was already fortunate enough to have passed a wonderful evening!!  Unfortunately back then Stéphane was not yet working there, but if he was I’m sure my meal would have been even more mythical!!

Just like Gianluca for Stephane it is the first time in the finals of Best Sommelier of Belgium. Not that I want to discourage them, but until now not too many people or non for as far as I remember have won Best Sommelier of Belgium at their first participation… so maybe it is up to Stephane or Gianluca to write history 🙂


Stephane is, although he has done 2 years of hotel management school in Namur, a man of the practice. He has learned by doing… so autodidact in a way. Before starting to work for the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime he has gained lots of experience and knowledge at the Michelin starred restaurant Zur Post in the little town of Saint – Vith.


Just like with all the other sommeliers here are the answers to the 10 questions I asked him:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I always prefer saying that I give preference working with a particular wine estate rather than with a region. Every region has its artists that try every day to transcend their terroir. Estates  that take all measures needed to make a wonderful end product, that prefer focusing on quality instead of quantity, who experiment in terms of winemaking and participate in the variety of wine. A great wine is in my opinion nothing without the hand of man.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

It is a job that is very complete.  It requires both an incredible amount of knowledge but also a lot of physical and organizational skills. The sommelier is somehow an extension of the culinary art in the restaurant and is always first in line to learn about the feelings/comments of customers towards their meal. He must also show a lot of psychology while remaining discrete and humble. He must constantly put in question his own knowledge and to learn and be informed about changes, evolutions in the world of wines.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I think a bit of both. In the kind of restaurant I work at, a sommelier is sometimes overestimated by customers that forget that the pleasure and experience of a restaurant is the work of a whole team not only 1 individual.  On the other hand he is underestimated by chefs on their ‘”intellectual” and artistic approach. Only very few customers dare to trust them fully and be carried away in the ‘adventure’ that is offered to them

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I’ve always been looking for the good and the beautiful.The wine somehow presented itself as it always should have been there…  I remember when I was a child, a friend of mine’s dad had a very beautiful cellar where I always loved to go to admire the bottles 🙂 .

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

In terms of wine, I am self-taught. I always considered things with my own sensibility. However, I appreciate the humility of Serge Dubs and approach to wine-food pairings Alain Senderens.


What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

This is without any doubt the most difficult question!  First I mostly take into account the preparation rather than the product as such. Only after having understood its preparation I try to associate it with wine. I try to give the least possible importance to the ideas and ‘obligations’ proposed in textbooks but rather respecting as much as possible the customer’s taste. That’s always why I take the trend of « nature » wines in consideration from the distance.  A detail I love to work  with is the visual aspect ! Its importance of the visual aspect of a wine or the label are often diminished.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

I’m of the opinion that every wine region has its  treasures, heritage and is worth visiting. One that I’m thinking of in particular is Wachau.  It is a small Austian valle somewhere along the Danube and is a UNESCO world heritage site. In this region they produce some of the best white wines in the world and the region is rich in heritage and architecture. At the summer solstice, all residents light up the hills with thousands of torches and ride on boats to party while each village takes fireworks. Magical!!


For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
In that case I’ll have to make lots of sacrifices:-) 🙂 At this moment I’d love to taste old vintages both red and white from Clos Rougeard.


What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

I only did 2 years of hotel management school in Namur … so I don’t have too many souvenirs. I did appreciate the courses on cigars that I had with a few friends, we all always used to chip in to be able to taste the « big models » on evenings at boarding school.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

The current offer is so big that it is impossible for me to remember a particular experience. This is probably what makes the richness of the wine and gastronomy. I just want to say that I’m open for new experiences, knowledge and diversity. Also always keep a cool head and avoid following “fashion” to much.

One year older

The fun part about celebrating your birthday is getting gifts (no doubt about that!). When my fiancée asks me what I want for my birthday, my answer is usually the same… having a nice meal 🙂 FYI having a nice meal doesn’t mean it has to be a fancy restaurant, if it is that’s a bonus. For me the most important is that I get to eat/drink well and this in her company!  And ok, she spoils me a lot as she always gives me some extra presents on top of the meal. What did differ from last year was that this time I gave no tips on where I wanted to go, I just gave her the names of a few friends who could advice her where to take me (in case she didn’t know it herself that is), this way it stays a bigger surprise than when I give her a list of places…. It got proven once again that I’m a very lucky guy, she took me to “La Table de Maxime” in a little town near the Luxembourg border called ‘Our’. Even though it was ‘only’ for 1 day and night we were gone, it felt like much longer. La Table de Maxime is located in a green relaxing oasis… talking about the full experience: good food, nice drinks, great company and the outdoor silence. Some people might find it hard to believe I like complete silence, because I have the tendency to talk A LOT (I hate awkward silences)… but believe it or not I do love the sound of silence from time to time and I enjoyed every minute of it! I find it unbelievable that there are still places in Belgium where you hear NOTHING!! Like most restaurants in places like this, La Table de Maxime also has a few rooms to spend the night. Either you stay in one of the few rooms attached to the restaurant itself in the “La fabrique du pré maho” or alternatively in one of the rooms in a house they have 1km from the restaurant (that’s where we were) also known as “Les Jardins de Maxime” as this is where he also has a little vegetable and herb garden.







I can strongly suggest a nice walk, bike ride or visit to some of the little towns in the area like Rochefort, Bouillon (some nice cheese and beer makers in this area) or maybe a kayak sail on the “Lesse” is more something for you? ( I have already done it twice, the sunny day had my preference).

As if the fact that we were in such a relaxing place wasn’t enough, drinking a glass of a grand cru Blanc de blanc from Pierre Moncuit and getting our appetizers served in La Table de Maxime’s garden (or terrace, depending on how you see it 🙂 ) gave us an even bigger “on holiday” feeling as this was beautiful sunny day… I was also soooo glad my hay fever/allergy didn’t ruin the moment!!









La Table de Maxime either serves a tasting menu (3 – 5 course menu) or either you can choose ‘à la carte ‘ (with also other dishes than on the tasting menu)… Although I did feel like going the whole way, I decided not to as I’m trying to eat less (Not on a diet, but just watching out with my quantities 🙂 )… so we took the 4 course menu with wine pairing. There were a few Jean-Luc Colombo wines on the wine list that did catch my interest, but I always like to see and taste the wines the sommelier pairs with the dishes. We were served the following menu:

Trout fillet from the Ardennes with zucchini parfait, cucumber flower, a fennel gazpacho and puffed Beluga lentils. Served with a 2011 white Bordeaux (Chateau Penin)


Birch syrup lacquered cod, poached Rhubarb with hibiscus, barigoule style artichoke, minted peas and dried ham. Served with a 2012 Riesling (Dirstelberg)


Local veal with a wild garlic crust, green asparagus, morille mushrooms, capers, parmesan and fried Gnocchi . Served with a 2012 Sancerre (François Crochet)


Wépion strawberries, lemon sorbet and emulsion, almond cream and Japanese pearls (FYI, no real pearls that is 😉 ). Served white an everybody’s friend a glass of Cremant dAalsace (Jean-Marc Bernhart)

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Overall a very refined meal with local products playing the main role in all dishes with lots of them grown in his own garden (I like, compliments to Maxime Collard). It is very satisfying when chefs are proud of their local/own products, especially when they have so many good ones!! BTW, I’m not sure what the sommelier’s name was, but for what I could tell he really seemed like a perfect “Best Belgian sommelier contest” candidate! (You could just feel his passion for wine when he was talking about them) He reminded me of some of the candidates from previous years and I think he would make a chance… nothing ventured, nothing gained I’d say…

I finished my meal with a nice tea to set the mood for a good night sleep…to eventually wake up with that same nice sound of silence (not taking the birds into account that is, I love the sound of birds in the morning)

People who have already met my fiancée will know that what I’m about to tell is true… I always look forward to my breakfast when I go to sleep, even more when I’m in a hotel!! Maxime’s breakfast met to ALL my expectations (I even didn’t want to take the time to take pictures). Something I must absolutely add is that La Table de Maxime has very hospitable people working for them that make on top of the good food and location this weekend get-away even more harmonious and worth a going/coming back place 🙂 (too bad I only have 1 birthday a year).

Thank you woman of mine for yet again a perfect birthday gift (on top of having you in my life every day that is….)

La Table de Maxime

Website: http://www.tabledemaxime.be/

Address: Our 23, 6852 Paliseul – Belgium

Phone n°: +32 (0) 61 23 95 10