Willem Hiele

Ambassador of GOESTING

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Willem Hiele
Restaurant Willem Hiele

Willem Hiele

“My soul is like the sea. At times it’s tempestuous, but it can also be dead calm.” Willem Hiele is a child of the North Sea. He grew up in the shelter of the Ostend dunes, spending weekends at his grandparents’ old fishermen’s cottage in Koksijde. Last year, his restaurant moved from that selfsame cottage to a brutalist mansion in Ostend. Time for a new chapter.

Moving in its simplicity

“The clean lines, rough concrete and views of the fields further inspire me to pare things down to the essentials. I like to serve mackerel still warm from the smoker. No sauces or other unnecessary frills. Taste it and you will be moved by its simplicity.” Willem’s grandfather was a fisherman.

“As a little boy, I sat with him on his horse as it dragged nets through the water to catch shrimp. The first shrimp I ever tasted was freshly cooked and straight from the net. That’s my benchmark, so I’m strict about what I have the fishers bring in. I want only the best.”

Willem Hiele

North Sea caviar

“Want to get to know me? Have a taste of my shrimp bisque, a nostalgic item that occupies a prominent place on my menu. That bisque tells you who I am and where I come from. When I taste it, I’m back in my grandparents’ house. My grandmother is peeling shrimp without needing to look. She considered them the caviar of the North Sea. My grandfather plays cards as he alternates sips of coffee and brandy. On the stove, shrimp shells are simmering into a soup. All those scents and flavours are recreated in my bisque. The cream from the coffee floats on top, the butter is flavoured with brandy and the shrimp – caught for me using a horse-drawn drag net – are in the soup. I serve it in my grandma’s old blue and white cups. I tell my customers the story and it creates a moment of connection. That’s why I’m doing this.”

Exceeding all expectations

“Cooking is about love, about honouring tradition and craftsmanship,” says Hiele. “Our kitchen team has a lot of love to give, both to each other and to the food, and our customers can tell.” The kitchen is also the first thing those customers see. Everyone who enters is personally welcomed by the chefs. “We also invite people into the kitchen during their meal. When people go out to eat, the experience, the feel, is just as important as the food itself.”   

“People who come to my restaurant have high expectations. I don’t want to meet those expectations; I want to exceed them. Everything should be exactly right, from how their coats are put away to the meal’s timing and the music that’s playing. I have it turned up a bit louder than you might expect. I like to put on film music. It’s a good match for this magnificent, theatrical setting.”

"Cooking is about love, about honouring tradition and craftsmanship,” says Hiele. “Our kitchen team has a lot of love to give, both to each other and to the food, and our customers can tell."

Representing a place's soul on your plate

The sea and all its treasures are important elements of Willem’s cooking, but his menus always start with vegetables. “We’re surrounded by fields here. I tell our guests about this place, about the art on the walls, the crops growing in the fields and the bunnies hopping among the plants. To understand what you’re eating, you need to know where you are.”

After eating, guests gather at the bar. “There’s coffee and biscuits, a cheese cart makes the rounds and our cocktail man mixes drinks. We don’t want the night to end so soon, it’s only just begun. I love it when I see guests engage each other in conversation. That’s more of that connection I’m aiming for.”

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