Martijn Defauw & Esteban Casteur - landscape

Ambassador of GOESTING

Martijn Defauw & Esteban Casteur - portret
Martijn Defauw
Restaurant Rebelle

Martijn Defauw

On a typical Flemish cobbled road, an unobtrusive façade conceals a hidden gem. Rebelle is chef Martijn Defauw’s quirky, Michelin-starred business and can be found in Marke, a village near Kortrijk. He was not too surprised to be selected as an ambassador of Flemish food together with his sommelier Esteban Casteur. “Rebelle’s concept is somewhere between a wine bar and a restaurant. Esteban and I work together in close collaboration.”

Exceptional wines and expressive dishes

For every dish Martijn puts on the menu, Esteban carefully selects two suitable wines. One is an affordable, accessible wine that suits the dish, the other a more exclusive option that is normally only available by the bottle. In this way, Rebelle offers guests a chance to taste exceptional cellar treasures by the glass. “This Julien Meyer wine, for example, is only available to drink here and at one restaurant in Japan,” says Esteban. “It is enormously complex and continues to evolve in your glass. A whole bottle would be too much, but it’s a perfect complement to an expressive dish. I see it as a meditative wine. It invites careful attention.” Another very special wine on the list comes from only ten kilometres away. “The Lijsternest vineyard in Otegem is owned by winemaker Servaas Blockeel. Here he creates supple, almost velvety wines from local grapes. We are closely involved in this vineyard; we even helped to plant the first vines. His wines have since gained worldwide recognition. He has an unusual vision. He works exclusively with hybrid grapes, crossings between different varieties. Traditional winemakers look down on these grapes, but they are strong and resilient, allowing him to make wine without using pesticides in the vineyard.”

Pure terroir in the kitchen

At Rebelle, the wine isn’t always determined by the dish. Sometimes the chef and sommelier mix things up and the drinks dictate the food instead. For example, Martijn has created a dessert specifically to fit a certain lambic beer from the 3 Fonteinen brewery, which is aged in old sherry barrels. “I use the sherry the barrels originally contained to make the ice cream,” says Martijn. “I also add a little yoghurt as the fresh and tart taste refers to the lactic acids from the beer’s wild fermentation. The dessert is finished with a crumble that uses the same spices you can taste in the sherry.”

“The wines we pour are primarily natural wines, without much in the way of intervention in the vineyard or during vinification,” says Esteban. “The resulting flavours are free and pure. We can be flexible, though. We won’t reject an exceptional traditional wine just because it contains sulphites. Our approach is not rule-bound.” Their extensive wine list’s pure flavours combine wonderfully with the pure foods Martijn cooks up in his kitchen. “I like to compose my menus like a good playlist. There’s a natural flow and I alternate hits with lesser-known numbers.” “Pure terroir” is how the chef describes his cooking style. “If you order a tomato-based dish here, I want it to be the best tomato of your life. There should be nothing to distract you from the food’s pure taste. I mainly gain my inspiration from what local farmers have to offer. For example, if a farmer says he has a mountain of onions, I’ll put a dish with a compote of onion and mature Flandrien cheese on the menu. My goal is to turn humble ingredients into dishes that delight.”

Martijn Defauw

Mutual collaboration

"That collaboration with local farmers works both ways."

“That collaboration with local farmers works both ways,” adds the chef. “If I want baby turnips in spring, I ask our vegetable farmer to plant them and harvest them at the appropriate time. But if I get a call telling me they have a surplus of ripe tomatoes at the end of summer, I buy a couple of crates. By fermenting them, I can take those sweet flavour bombs in all sorts of directions. In this way we help each other.” His inspiration for the use of local ingredients comes from all over the world. For example, one of Martijn’s specialties is a preparation of langoustines with homemade XO sauce. While this savoury sauce originally hails from China, Martijn’s version is made with exclusively local ingredients such as Ganda ham, brown shrimp and scallops.

Michelin-starred but rebellious

Despite the Michelin star the restaurant received in 2022, Rebelle still has a casual style. “I’ve been dreaming of a star since I first decided to become a chef at the age of fourteen,” laughs Martijn. “When I did get one, I was overjoyed, but I also wondered if it would attract new guests with different expectations who maybe wouldn’t fit our style.” Martijn and hostess Tessa are determined not to change a thing. There are still no white tablecloths here, and we treat our guests with the same relaxed hospitality as ever. “We follow our gut feeling, we’ve always been a bit rebellious, but above all very welcoming. People feel at home here.”

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