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Pieter De Volder

Pieter De Volder

Dark chocolate mousse, crème brûlée and vanilla mousse are layered onto a speculoos-spiced olive oil biscuit, with salted cocoa nibs for a crunchy bite. Pastry chef Pieter De Volder’s signature sweet treat is called BCN in reference to his time in Barcelona, where he learned the finer aspects of his craft at famed pastry makers Bubó.

“Back home again, I began working for Belgian master chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. That’s where I met David, my business partner. A year later we decided to open our own place in the centre of Leuven. Our shop is called ZUUT, local dialect for ‘sweet’. I make the pastries and ice cream and David creates bean-to-bar chocolate that he turns into bars and pralines.”

Accidental love at first sight

Pieter’s journey was unusual. It began by attending a cookery course at night. At his first restaurant job, he accidentally ended up doing the desserts. He had planned to advance to hot meals as quickly as possible, but then the spark struck. “The chef had once worked as a pastry chef at iconic three-star restaurant De Karmeliet. He ignited my love of pastry.”

Pieter’s creations are straightforward. “I don’t like a lot of fuss.” Every element of a pastry is carefully considered. “I’m more likely to leave something out than to add another layer of complexity. I like airy confections with a hint of salt. That balances the sweetness and leaves you eager for another bite. My pastries are personal. Many have a story behind them. For example, I created the Theoreo for my son Theo’s fourth birthday. It’s a twist on Oreos, his favourite biscuits. My version uses mascarpone, vanilla and chocolate made with Madagascar cocoa beans from David’s workshop.”


Honestly artisanal

"I don’t like a lot of fuss.” Every element of a pastry is carefully considered. “I’m more likely to leave something out than to add another layer of complexity."

ZUUT has since grown to be an elegant pastry shop that now includes a contemporary version of an old-fashioned tearoom. “We’ve grown nicely in recent years and it’s now time for us to enjoy our success. In the tearoom, I can indulge myself with new creations. We always have two dessert recommendations, and in summer we transform it into an ice cream parlour where we serve our own interpretations of classic sundaes. Examples include our ‘Kaffe’ sundae with coffee ice cream, orange and chocolate crumble and an amaretto espuma or a ‘Banoffee’ with banana and stracciatella ice cream, vanilla cream and pieces of shortcrust pastry, which we also use in our lemon tarts. It’s important to me that the ice cream we make be truly artisanal. We start with milk, egg yolks, sugar and cream. Too many ice cream parlours rely on pre-made mixes and powders. Customers are amazed by our pistachio, which tastes nothing like the bright green chemical version that has unfortunately become ubiquitous. We grind the nuts into paste ourselves and use this as the base for our ice cream. The difference is huge.”

Endless inspiration

Pieter gets much of his inspiration abroad. “Only last week, we took a train trip to Paris for example. We spent a day wandering around in the city and ordered pastries from all our favourite pastry makers. After such adventures we are always brimming with new ideas. I also use social media to follow various pastry makers and chefs in Barcelona. That city will always be my gastronomic Valhalla.”

Pieter and David are also planning a series of “ZUUT Sundays”. “We pick a different theme each time. We may transform the tearoom into a dessert restaurant, with a three-course meal consisting entirely of desserts. Or we’ll make our own pastries and put on a breakfast with homemade croissants and pain au chocolat. These Sundays are a chance for us to play and challenge ourselves.”

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