#CHEFSSECRET – Viki Geunes, Zilte, Antwerp

“A pure gastronomic experience at a breathtaking height, with the skyline of Antwerp as a culinary backdrop”, that’s how the new Zilte presents itself. Although many elements in that description are already well-known, the place has been completely transformed. In addition to a 180° flip of the restaurant’s orientation, resulting in a whole new city view, the minimalist concept of yesteryear has made way for a warm, stylish and tranquil interior with a cosmopolitan feel. On the plates we still find Geunes’ refined and tasteful classic cuisine, as always beautiful, contemporary and extremely elegant in presentation, plus an extra touch of passion that comes through in the dishes. We recently visited the new Zilte, together with The Best Chef.

Stylish, intimate setting with international allure

The familiar faces are still at the helm- chef Viki Geunes and hostess Vivian Plaquet—who have recently also welcomed their daughter Gitte Geunes into the business. The latter will ambitiously take care of the events branch of Zilte. In their One Eighty conference and event room, they will host private meetings as well as special events such as brunches or Asian-inspired evenings—often in collaboration with other well-known local hospitality partners. Thus, the business is growing into a real roof-top concept on an international level.

The almost youthful enthusiasm with which Geunes and Plaquet talk about the changes to their restaurant demonstrates just how excited they are. They are bubbling with the energy and desire to let their guests discover the new concept. While Geunes shows us around, he explains how the design departs from the different facets the natural environment has to offer. “With a location on the top floor of the MAS, you have a sense of Antwerp’s maritime setting and the influence of the river Scheldt. It was therefore decided to completely change the restaurant’s orientation, so that guests now have a view of the city centre and marina, where they previously had a view over the harbor. The maritime theme also recalls the origins of the name ‘t Zilte—now abbreviated and more powerfully renamed to Zilte—which refers to the salty oysters from South Africa whose image on a postcard has always stayed with us and provided inspiration for our name and logo,” explains Viki Geunes.

“Beautiful marble walls and elements in wood play the lead role in the interior design. All in well-considered balance with earthy, soothing tones that enhance the characterful setting and where a soft ‘female’ touch is subtly perceptible. All this to create an intimate atmosphere where guests feel completely at home and enjoy memorable moments with their friends,” says Geunes.

In order to deliver an add-on experience, guests can enjoy various artworks such as the Guardians by Matteo Pugliese or Blabla by Delphine Boël. Each art piece was carefully selected by Viki Geunes himself, in collaboration with WM Gallery Antwerp. The aperitif and hors d’œuvres are served in the elegant, cosy salon that receives guests in a gentle, delicate and welcoming way. The experience then continues at the table, where the room’s layout and lighting create compact but spacious cocoons that reinforce a connection with the dishes themselves, the service, the guests and their party. For tastings or special occasions, guests are invited to also take a look in the wine room ‘inspired by sommelier Aaron Moeraert’, situated on the upper floor.

Aesthetics in taste and shape

Awarded by numerous culinary guides, chef Viki Geunes represents the very best of Belgian gastronomy. As an self-taught chef with extraordinarily refined tasting skills, he restlessly explores the boundaries of culinary possibility to offer his guests a unique gastronomic experience. Passionate about his craft, searching almost obsessively for perfection in all its details, Geunes stands for a creative, generous, contemporary and refined cuisine that excels in the harmonious interplay of texture and taste. But the reason he cooks is his guests. “The appreciation I get from my guests is my source of energy. When you get—so to speak—applause from the customers, it gives you enormous satisfaction,” says Geunes.

In conversation with chef Viki Geunes

In a quest for the motivation of the driving force behind restaurant Zilte, we took some time to chat to chef Viki Geunes. We discussed passion, a love for the profession, and ambition.

The Best Chef & Hungry for More (Chef’s Secret): You haven’t taken a classic route. How did you get into the business?

Viki Geunes: I didn’t have a classical education, as I actually have a degree in Industrial Sciences. Nevertheless I’ve always really enjoyed eating. A love for good cooking and enjoying a meal together with friends and family has always been there, since my childhood. My mother was very good at cooking and loved to prepare tasty meals from fresh, quality products. On Sundays it could be a bit more elaborate, with a glass of wine and excellent company. That conviviality at the table is something that has created great memories for me. And that’s exactly the feeling we want to recreate for our guests, so they can fully enjoy their culinary experience.

So, given my love for great food and hospitality, there came a certain point when I decided to follow my heart and started to make phone calls looking for a job in gastronomy. I strongly believe that when you really want to achieve something, you can. And I had that drive and motivation, so I totally went for it. I’m not an exception by the way. You often see entrepreneurs achieving success in another sector. And given that I love the beautiful things in life and that gastronomy is also part of those wonderful things, I went down that road.

Chef’s Secret: How would you describe your own cooking style?

Geunes: I myself would call it a creative but recognisable kitchen. In all my dishes, the produce should be prominent, complemented with other influences. We Belgians simply love recognisability in our elaborations. A good piece of meat or fish which you can cut is a necessity in my opinion. Now, there are many trends that I follow with great interest. But we will always see if they fit in with our style first. Then we’ll decide whether or not to apply them. Creating your own identity does take a while, but once you’ve found a certain direction, you head straight towards your goal. Of course your cooking always evolves, but the more your style takes shape, the less likely you are to be influenced by things that do not fully fit that identity.

Chef’s Secret: As well as taste, aesthetics are one of your strength. You’re known for your beautifully presented and well thought-out dishes. Can you tell us more about that?

Geunes: Maybe it has something to do with my background in industrial sciences. I often start with my creations with the end result in mind. I then think carefully about what I want to achieve, both in terms of taste and looks. And with that image in mind, I do everything I can to create it as perfectly as possible.

Chef’s Secret: How do you bring variation to your menus?

Geunes: Depending on the seasons I adjust the menu. The menu changes about four times a year, and in the meantime some temporary dishes are served which revolve around certain seasonal produce. We don’t have real signature dishes. We’d rather have the freedom to work with new things we come across and integrate these into our dishes. So it is ever-evolving. However there are of course some products that I love to work with and have a love for. I’m thinking for example of langoustine, squid—a very underestimated product in my opinion, seafood… but also meat or fish. I enjoy working with products that people can’t cook at home so readily. That way I can surprise and pamper them. But at the end of the day, it’s creativity that makes the difference. For example, we now serve quail, which may seem banal to some, but the way it is prepared really makes it something special.

Chef’s Secret: And where do you find the inspiration to keep creating new dishes?

Geunes: I find inspiration everywhere. Products or suppliers always give me new ideas. But most of all, moments of rest are crucial. At times when you’re not cooking and you’re able to let things go, you might suddenly see something that provides inspiration. I’ve also noticed that objects can also form the basis for new creations. For example, we are currently serving a dish with caviar in the silver ‘ramsar’, where the presentation method provided the inspiration for the dish. It’s great if you manage to put an idea into practice and at the highest level.

Chef’s Secret: Why do you all do it?

Geunes: It’s great when you can express your creativity in your concept. When guests see what you’re trying to achieve and what you stand for, it gives a lot of satisfaction. With our new concept we want to serve those top gastronomic dishes in a setting that evokes warmth and a sense of cocooning. And if our guests appreciate that and feel it spontaneously, then we have succeeded. After all the changes to the restaurant, everything now feels right but we still want to continue to evolve at that highest level.

Menu Pure Zilte

At Zilte, they are convinced that their pure, culinary experience is best translated into a menu featuring several courses in rhythm with the seasons. ‘Zilte’ refers to the taste and smell of the sea. Fish, shellfish and crustaceans form the basis of the menu. This is complemented by terroir products from their carefully selected, trusted suppliers. Guests can choose between 3 or 4-course lunch menus, 7 or 9-course Pure Zilte menus, the Pure Vegetarian menu and a range of à-la-carte dishes.

The menu starts with a broad range of snacks, of which a tartlet with potato, salicornia, king crab and celeriac is up first, together with a broth made with potato, land caviar and shiso.

Next, flatbread with courgette flower and fennel flower, as a crispy snack to accompany the rest of the appetizers.

Then: the rich flavours of crispy onion with tarragon, mustard seeds and silverskin onions.

This is followed by a taco with potato, mushroom, pine nut and pickled quail egg yolk.

A crisp of spelt is combined with mussel and lovage.

Finally there is a mousse of tom ka kai with cockles, palm heart, fennel, sesame, peanut oil, coconut and spices.

Zilte’s rich, refined style can also be sensed in the bread, with on the one hand brioche and on the other fougasse bread.

The first dish revolves around North Sea crab. This is combined with raw string beans, soft-shell tempura and jelly from the carcass of the crab, dried barilotto and finished off with a green tomato and string bean gazpacho.

Lightly pickled mackerel is central to a dish featuring kombu, hijiki, kumquat and goose liver, topped with horseradish ice cream and a ponzu vinaigrette.

The beautiful way the caviar dish is served matches its taste. The Imperial Heritage Caviar ‘Foudrayante’ is known for its nutty flavours that go beautifully with cevenne onion and soubise, with a buckwheat toast on the side.

Line-caught sea bass is served with ragout of squid, courgette and lemon salad, fresh almond and a sea urchin-based gravy.

Young turbot comes with pork leg and Australian winter truffle, whelks, a salad with girolles and a sauce with vin jaune.

Over to the meat dishes: quail, furikake, kimchi, XO and a gravy of mirin and soy.

A perfectly cooked piece of venison finishes the series of main courses. This is served in combination with apricot, turnip, hemp, tamarind and a croquette of lentils.

As a first dessert there is a millefeuille of pineapple with macadamia, tarte Russe, white chocolate and an ice cream praline of amontillado.

The second dessert is an interplay of bitter chocolate and cherries in various arrangements, finished with the fruity flavours of samba tea and vanilla.

The menu concludes with a very careful selection of pastries and sweets, from fresh to rich in taste.

In short

Restaurant Zilte has reinvented itself with a particularly stylish, intimate and warm interior exuding cosmopolitan allure, combined with the best of chef Viki Geunes’ generous, refined and very nicely presented gastronomic cuisine.

Practical information

Restaurant Zilte, Hanzestedenplaats 5, 2000 Antwerpen | +32(0)3 283 40 40 | info@zilte.be | Website | Zilte on Instagram | Zilte on Facebook

Photography: Adriaan Van Looy

Text: Sarah De Hondt

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