Time to put the finalists for Best Sommelier of Belgium 2016 in the spotlight: Gianluca Di Taranto

Now we know who the  finalists for the title of Best Sommelier of Belgium are  it is time to get to know them better and have a sneak peak in their life as sommelier. The second semi finalist I want to put in the spotlight is my dear friend Gianluca Di Taranto. I met Gianluca a few years (I think about 5 years) ago during Apéro Vintage Leuven an event from Bordeaux wines and we’ve had lots of meals together ever since 🙂 :-).
At that time Gianluca still worked at his dad’s restaurant. Which I think that  was one of the reasons (next to our love for good food and wine and the fact that we’re both Italian 😉 ) why it connected between us…my dad also used to have a restaurant where I worked every weekend. After having gotten a good base at his dad’s restaurant (Spiga d’oro aka one of my preferred Italian restaurants in Belgium) for a few years it was time for a new challenge . This new challenge brought Gianluca to the 2 Michelin starred ‘t Zilte where under the leading hand of Sepideh Sedaghatnia that knowledge he gained at his dad’s restaurant was taken up to the next level. I personally think that ‘t Zilte brought lots of great opportunities to Gianluca (visits to great wineries, new styles of food, etc…)
Nowadays Gianluca is the head-sommelier of Sergio Herman’s Antwerp 2Michelin starred restaurant The Jane. Something I admire about Gianluca is motivation and dedication of wanting to achieve the maximum by giving the maximum. While other people go on holiday, Gianluca has done internships at top restaurants like Piazza Duomo ***,  Osteria Francescana *** or visit vineyards or give wine courses at his dad’s restaurant… basically everything is related to his work with maybe sometimes 1 or 2 days to rest…. then again if you do something with passion I’m sure it doesn’t always feel like work.
I wish Gianluca (just like all other 2 contestants) the best of luck on 16/10/2016 during the finals.
Let’s see what Gianluca answered at the 10 questions:
What is your favorite wine region to work with?
Immediately a difficult question! The answer really depends on my “mood” and on the season. My favorite region could very well be Piedmont (for both emotional and qualitative reasons) but I find it really, really harsh to not mention the incredible versatility of the Loire (my fav. region of the moment), the thirst-quenching whites of the Mosel, the fragrant reds of Beaujolais or the complexity of Burgundy..
What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?
A combination of passion, knowledge and understanding the guest you’re serving. The way you communicate and “feel” your guests is nothing to be underestimated, especially today. On the other hand, the financial side of our job and managing the stock in a successful way is no less important.
Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?
Perhaps it used to be but I think times have changed, or at least they are changing. The sommelier-scene in the USA is on fire (thanks to Somm the movie) and sommeliers are becoming as important as chefs and rock stars over there. We’re still some way from that here in Europe but I clearly feel sommeliers are being appreciated more and more since a few years. 
When and how did you get the passion for wine?
My father is a sommelier and he’s the one who took me to several wine regions and winery visits since I was little. He’s the one who pushed me to the studies of sommelier when I was 19, albeit involuntary back then.
Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?
Obviously a very special mention goes to my father. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Nationally I have a whole lot of respect for Steven Wullaert, one of the most talented people in our scenery here in Belgium. Internationally I’ve been following Arvid Rosengren both on Twitter and on his blog since 2012 now, even before he became the Best Sommelier of Europe in 2013. His talent is unparalleled and even while he’s on top of the world, he’s still very humble. I’d love to see him at work on the floor one day!
What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?
I don’t like making things too complicated. Usually the most traditional combo’s are unbeatable. When people have been serving a certain wine with a certain product in a certain region for decades, there must be a certain logic behind that.. But besides that I try to work without blinders and to be open to everything. Going wild and contrasting can be fun at times but I still prefer the old-school way of harmonizing wine and food. Or food and wine!
Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?
Piedmont, in autumn. A myriad of colors, vineyards and hills combined with countless aromas which prickle your senses. You have to experience at least once. Unforgettable.
For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
The 1982 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno. The Barolo which put Barolo on the world wine map.
What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?
Hotel management school? Which hotel management school? 🙂
A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?
The Etna. It’s a mysterious and dramatic place with a landscape which resembles to the moon. Even though it used to be a very important wine region in the 19th century it is now reinventing itself. We are witnessing a rebirth. Think of a cross à la Piedmont x Burgundy with a dash of the New California! The viticulturists/oenologist are only now starting to discover the huge potential all the different Contrada have to offer. Tons of vineyards which are more than 120 years old combined with uncountable different soil compositions and structures. It’s a region buzzing with life. Visit it now while it’s still “underground” and practically undiscovered. 20 years from now you’ll tell your friends that you knew that exciting DOC long before them..

Patience gets rewarded

After 3 months of impatient waiting it was finally my turn to try The Jane’s ‘regular’ restaurant.. For my friends reading this and don’t know The Jane:The Jane is one of the 2 restaurants from master chef Sergio Herman a former 3 Michelin Star restaurant owner(Oud Sluis)… although former??  If you make the sum of the Michelin stars from his 2 restaurants you also get 3, so technically speaking he still owns 3 Michelin stars 🙂 . Besides being a gastronomical temple The Jane is also known for its location in an old chapel that has been redesigned in a splendid way (for sure something to see for architectural fans)

The Jane 1

The Jane 5

Sergio Herman and executive chef Nick Bril by audiomediainternational.com

The last time I set foot in this restaurant it was to experience the Upper room bar that, to just say it with one word, was ‘excellent’!! Overtopping that last experience would seem difficult… or so I thought!! In their ‘regular’ restaurant they have, next to their great food, an extra secret weapon called ‘Gianluca di Taranto’ aka The Jane’s sommelier who’s enthusiasm about wine/drinks is contagious 🙂 (for as far I wasn’t enthusiastic ).  Gianluca knows I’m a big wine lover and he also knew that one of my table guests is a professional sommelier… So I think his enthusiasm must have gone in overdrive to have us taste more special things 🙂  Don’t worry my dear readers, at The Jane everybody gives and gets the same dedication at their table!

Gianluca di taranto by sternefresser.de

I think the key of The Jane‘s success is ‘enthusiasm/passion’. Every staff member seems to have that same drive/enthusiasm for the part he/she does and they all seem to seek the same goal, reaching the top and giving every person  that walks in for a meal the same unbelievable experience (no matter if they are eating a few dishes at the upper bar room or a 9 course meal, if they only drink water or they empty their whole winecellar) I know, that’s what most restaurants aim, but in this case every staff member seems to want the same thing or at least that’s my impression of the 2 times I’ve been at The Jane!! Two thumbs up for The Jane‘s team!!

The Jane Personnel by BE_Gusto

The big difference to me between the Upper room bar and The Jane is the kind of food they serve. The upper room bar serves more ‘comfort food’ served in a refined way, whereas ‘The Jane‘ serves gastronomical food… At the upper room bar you can choose your dishes ‘à la carte’, making the Upper Room bar more accessible for everybody and for everybody’s taste pallet (which is also the purpose from what I understood when talking with Nick Bril (executive chef) ). At the ‘regular’ restaurant you can choose between a fix 7, 8 or 9 course menu paired with the perfect wine, cocktail, beer or other drink.

The golden mean to my friends and me seemed to be the 8 course meal paired with whatever our friend Gianluca wanted us to try to get the ultimate The Jane experience!! A pairing journey taking us all over the world from the Champagne region in France through The Jane’s own Champagne blend… to the Andalusian coast with a glass of Equipo Navazos Fino Sherry as a perfect match with the North Sea Oyster. To bring us back to Belgium with a glass of Belgian pride aka a Triple Beer from a small brewery near Arlon called La Rulles


Just FYI, all dishes are served per 2 courses with little time between after every pair of dishes you get some extra time to enjoy, relax and look forward to what is about to follow 🙂

We started our evening with a nice selection of ‘amuses’ or ‘appetizers’ that were a feast for both the eyes as the taste buds!

Humus dav dav mde

We continued with 6 ‘first’ courses, as they were served per pair I display the pictures per pair :-). The first  served  dish was the Salmon with parsnip, buttermilk and mandarin with the mandarin being served as small balls in nitrogen… making the dish mystical :-). Immediately followed by a North sea oyster with Soy, JusJus and Yuzu

Salmon, parsnip, buttermilk and manderine

North sea oyster with Soy, JusJus and Yuzu

The dishes to follow were on the spot made ‘steak tartare’ (that was simply exquisite!!) and Mediterranean scallops with celeriac, Iberico and potato skin.

Steak Tartare 'Before'

Steak Tartare After

scallops with celeriac, Iberico and potato skin

Our journey continued with BBQ cabbage, mussels and bottarga.(Italian style, they made a small cannelloni :-)) Followed by cod fish, brandade and North Sea grey shrimps that look pretty simple to the eye, but it’s not 🙂 .

BBQ cabbage, mussels and bottarga

cod fish, brandade and North Sea grey shrimps

I must admit that vegetarians wouldn’t even be able to look at the main course because of the toes still being on the leg  , luckily I’m not vegetarian 🙂 As main course we were served pigeon with black salsify, beetroot and black pudding.

pigeon with black salsify, beetroot and black pudding

Just to give you an idea how much work and thought is put into each and every dish served at The Jane, it took over 3 months for Jaclyn (person responsible for dessert) to perfection the dessert we were served!! 3 months for only 1 dish!! Yet another example of enthusiasm/passion for what you do, if you don’t have it you wouldn’t put as much effort in it!!  Jaclyn’s effort definitely paid off as it was one very nice dessert 🙂 Only for my friend working at Huawei (previously at Samsung) wasn’t 100% convinced 😉 😉

When Adam meets Jaclyn

After this there still followed a load of sweets to fill the last empty spots in our stomachs..





Impressed that I remember all dishes 😉 I’ll have to admit that if it weren’t for the picture I had taken of the menu I wouldn’t have remembered as much… as I was too busy with enjoying my meal,company and the moment 🙂 Form all the dishes we were served the whole evening  only 1 small amuse was less our thing (for everybody)…

Guys, I’m sure that by now you know the reason behind my loooong long blogpost… the more enthusiastic I am about something, the more I want to share and the longer my posts become!! So I’m not gonna bug you with much more words besides the first ones that pop in my mind after this experience: perfect, full of flavor, very nice staff and an evening to remember!!

Hope to be back soon

The Jane:

Website: www.thejaneantwerp.com

Address: Paradeplein 1, 2000 Antwerp – Belgium

reservations online

Fucking perfect

It took me a long time but I finally found my way to The Jane. For most people it is the name Sergio Herman (owner) that makes them go, for me the trigger was Gianluca Di Taranto aka The Jane’s sommelier!! He doesn’t believe me when I say it, but it is true (he was also the trigger bringing me to‘t Zilte a few years ago when he used to work there). It was not the long waiting time for a free table (about 3 months) that made me wait so long, but rather the hype around The Jane. I had already been lots of times to Pure C (Sergio’s other restaurant), so I knew the food would be great… I just had experiences in the past with restaurants being hyped so much, but when you actually went it didn’t meet up with the high expectation/idolization and the fuzz made around it (Dinner by Heston for me is one of those, that’s why I didn’t write anything about it).  So I basically was a bit afraid I would be the same with The Jane. The second trigger (and in the end decisive trigger) was the fact that my wife told me out of the blue she wanted to go there 🙂 🙂 I was so surprised as she never comes up with stuff like this, usually it is me pushing restaurants 🙂  Strike while the iron is still hot was first thing that came in mind. The gods must have agreed with me, as the still had some free spots for the day we wanted to go… In the upper room bar that is, not in the actually restaurant. The big difference between both (in same building) is that in the ‘restaurant’ you sit at the table and it is executive chef Nick Bril (and Sergio Herman himself) prepares your meal. In the Upper bar room you sit a big bar and see the cooks prepare your meal right in front of you (you might call it show cooking 🙂 ). The upper room bar is also a good way to get familiarized with The Jane’s food style, but than in tapas style.

15-08-2015 10-32-44

I cannot get around it, I must mention the building The Jane is situated in as it is so special! The Jane’s first ‘project’ name when Sergio Herman started was “La Chapelle”, maybe this already reveals where I’m going? The Jane is located in an old church that has been totally redone and is a true architectural masterpiece!! The pictures below will give you an idea, but seeing it ‘live’ is even more impressive. I love the high ceilings.

The Jane 1 The Jane 6 

The Jane 5

The Jane 4

I won’t lie about it, once I made the reservation I was as excited as a puppy to go to The Jane (that’s how I become when I can try a new restaurant). I only had to be patient for 2 weeks between the reservation and the lunch itself. Which in The Jane terms is not long as sometimes it can take you months to find a free spot…

The jane 2

The jane 7 The Jane 8

The Jane Upper bar room

I cannot use another word that describes it better, ‘Perfection’. From the moment you walk in until the moment you walk out you get pampered by every single member of the staff you see during your meal. I know you might say this is normal as you pay for it… I agree, but you would be surprised how many places ask the same or more, but give less, or where the staff doesn’t feel like working and don’t give the same welcome feeling. The advantage of the upper room bar is that you can make your own menu or better choose your ‘tapas’ à la carte (between 5 and 20 EUR). So you don’t need to go for the tasting menu (basically a walk through the à la carte menu) if you don’t want to…. It was also our initial plan as after our lunch we still had to go to a wedding (you cannot go to a wedding hungry, can you?) . BUT the meat is weak and we took the tasting menu 🙂 :-).  As Gianluca had told his colleagues from the Upper bar room we had to go to a wedding… so they speeded up things for us… luckily we aren’t rookies anymore and we (yes my wife also, I thought her well :-)) can handle some food.

In the end I’m also glad I took the tasting menu as you get to eat things you maybe wouldn’t have picked yourself due to some ingredients in it…like the chickenliver’s with black pudding for example is something that would scare lots, but in fact it was one of the best dishes ever, and this was only the 1st dish we got 🙂 :-). Also remarkable that the oyster didn’t make me sick.  I like its taste, but in the past every time I had an oyster (also in very good restaurants) I was as sick as a dog afterwards… My favorites were the chickenlivers with black pudding,  the noodles, the lam stew, the sashimi, the buckwheat noodles with lacked duck, the steamed buns with pork belly … basically every dish was full of deep flavors  and had all elements in a dish you would want there to be and therefore had one or the other reason to love the dish… ok maybe the oyster wasn’t my preferred one, but again it didn’t make me sick for a change :-). FYI, I didn’t take a picture from all my dishes as I ate some to quick and only realized afterwards I didn’t take a picture 🙂 (I know I’m using this sentence a lot, but I think I’m getting more greedy by the year I get older 🙂 )


steamed bun_lacked porkbelly_peanut

sashimi maigre_jalapeño Salalmi_pâté_sausage_parsleycreme

Lamshoulder stew

It is also said a meal is only finished perfect if you get a good dessert, I can only say it was a fucking perfect ending of our lunch 🙂 my wife and I were supposed to share our desserts, but the plats were empty before we remembered we were going to share 🙂 🙂 but I was told the Raspberry with pistachio and chocolate tasted heavenly 😉

lemon_cheesecake_vanilla raspberry_pistach_chocolat

It was nice to be served cocktails, different types of sake or vermouths during my meal… Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a good wine pairing with my food (It might also be because of the sommelier 😉 )… I liked every drink, but for me the drinks were a bit too strong to keep up the whole meal, especially knowing after this lunch I still had to go to a wedding :-). There just has to be a next time to try it all again without having some event afterwards and I think in the evening would be a better plan 🙂


vermouth Saké for with porkbelly and sashimi

The Jan 3

It became a very long blog post and lots of smiley’s again, but you know that only means I’m very excited. I also got proven wrong, sometimes the fuzz and hype is just because they are just that good!!! Thank you Sergio, Nick and their The Jane team for the great (quick) lunch. So next time I won’t only come for the sommelier or because my wife wants to, but also for the fantastic food and to get Sergio Hermanized in the way it is supposed to happen (with more time)… even if that means I have to make a reservation at 8 a.m. …my 5 month old daughter will for sure help me to be awake in time 😉 :-)) like she did at 5 a.m. today to make sure I would have time to write this blog post 🙂

Restaurant The Jane

Website: www.thejaneantwerp.com

Address: Site ‘t Groen Kwartier, Paradeplein 1, 2018 Antwerp – Belgium