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L'Air du Temps

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Rue de la Croix Monet 25310 Liernu
T+32 81813048




Chef's personal info

Name: Sang-Hoon Degeimbre
Date of birth: Unknown
Origin: South Korea
La Truffe Noire - Brussels Petit Versailles - Gosselies La Salicorne - La Hulpe L'Eau Vive - Arbre 
Degeimbre Sang-Hoon

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Articles - Laurent Feneau
A breath of nitrogen-free fresh air

A breath of nitrogen-free fresh air

Sang-Hoon Degeimbre

What is a chef of Korean origin doing in a tiny Belgian village? He wanted to both shake up and unite these - all too often - preconceived conceptions of world culinary cuisine and to build new bridges between a "formally-trendy" molecular cooking with a natural-oriented future...

L'Air du Temps is not the renowned woman's fragrance from the end of the 80's which men apparently described better than women …. but a restaurant. It is a small inn in the heart of the Walloon fields where the chef, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre challenges the age-long regional eating habits, bringing together culinary concepts worldwide, daring to blend and go beyond what has always been accepted.
San - as everyone calls him - is an experienced chef, inspired by the latest techniques, and is unfailingly successful on his searches, alone or accompanied, to find a unique touch. Each dish is the fruit of various ingredients which the palate savours via a network of structures, textures, and temperatures. But in this village of Noville-sur-Mehaigne, what counts surprisingly for San is the product he uses and not how or who made it. Having never done any culinary studies, he has spent the last 10 years understanding the pure essence of cooking, and learning about the physico-chemical food transformation process.

Wins with wines but losses with discipline
Sang-Hoon Degeimbre loves to remember that at 14 he began cooking for his nine brothers and sisters "by choice." This was a good beginning but was cut short after being dismissed from hotel school after three months - "I was apparently very undisciplined," he says with a smile. But the young San wasn't about to throw in the towel and returned to apprenticeship catering, always working either in the dining area or the wine cellar … As a recognized Maître d'hôtel and wine waiter, he worked successively at La Truffe Noire in Brussels, at the Petit Versailles in Gosselies, at La Salicorne, La Hulpe and even L'Eau Vive in Arbre, without ever touching an oven. In 1997 San opened L'Air du Temps and he went to work in the kitchen for the first time in his professional life! San admits that it was "The greatest challenge and gamble in my life."
With his original professional background, San-Hoon Degeimbre was able to retain the essentials to create his own cooking. Instead of rolling out the same spiel regarding creative cooking, his approach is much more personal. His natural love of wine is constantly being developed, and he loves recreating all the aromas and structure of a wine in just one dish.
San explains that, "Wine takes up two thirds of my menu." For example, one of his recipes, Le Saint-Pierre aux senteurs de Bourgogne allows the palate to appreciate all the subtleties of Pinot Noir … without drinking one drop of wine. Playing on his past experiences working in the dining areas, he wanders amongst his guests, trying to anticipate the expectations of each.

Basic molecules…
This Belgian chef also knows how to surround himself with the best suppliers. Whether it is regional fruit and vegetable producers, breeders or fish farmers, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre skilfully reveals the "personality" of their products in each dish he serves. "When you stick to one area, you can meet the breeders and farmers, understanding their products to then use them to their fullest potential." Basically, he produces a cooking-style adapted to the product origins, creates teamwork approaches with a sort of voluntary and cheerful interdependency.
San also works with Hervé This, a physico-chemist at the INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research) and inventor of molecular cooking, who simultaneously leads studies on olfaction at the Institut Meurice in Brussels. All of this aside, intuition is his primary focus. Proof with the example of the "kiwister" … "One day I sniffed a slice of fresh kiwi, and I smelt a slight fish odour which made me think of the sea. I spoke to Bernard Lahousse, a researcher specialized in "food pairing," which involves associating foods according to their molecular structure. He discovered that a kiwi has 14 aromatic molecules, like an oyster. This kiwi-oyster association has become one of the most popular dishes on my menu."

… and an ultrasound mixer!
After showing off his talents in food and wine, along with often unheard-of textures and molecules, this L'Air du Temps chef has managed to superbly recreate tastes with perceptible and refined symmetries. His success can also be attributed to his talent of knowing the exact length of time to cook a product. "For me, cooking time should be reconciled with the food texture and the time this taste lingers on the palate. It should serve to merely restore the essential part of the product, which is the taste." From low-temperature vacuum-packing, San passed through all cooking processes until he discovered the ultimate for cooking - immersion heating! This technology associates vacuum-packing with a constant temperature of circulating water, allowing to cook all foods according to the books, especially for his renowned egg at 63° C in truffle butter …
As you can see, there are new ideas constantly being thrown around in the kitchen and the chef is always open to what his "associates" (as he affectionately calls them) have to say. "A lot of talk goes on around the ovens where a new sort of creative energy is born every day."
His latest discovery: ultrasounds! To reveal all a product's abilities, the kitchen team use a mixing machine where the blades are replaced by an ultrasound detector. "This can extract the aromatic molecules without adding chemicals. Furthermore, this technology is very useful when working with very fragile products." It is obvious that if San-Hoon Degeimbre is having such a great time, then each of his gestures must have a very precise meaning and purpose. For him, "molecular cooking" has no real meaning as such. "Only molecular cooking can be justified as a science - an interesting concept as long as the chefs using it don't lose sight of the product."
To finish, "the future is not for technology. If technology rules over the products today, we are also returning to the more traditional and "natural" way of cooking, focusing on the product - a movement initiated by Michel and Sébastien Bras and today led by Andoni Luis Aduriz and René Redzepi." Just goes to show that each molecule has its place. - Laurent Feneau -
Interview de Sang-Hoon Degeimbre

Interview de Sang-Hoon Degeimbre

Retranscription d’un article paru sur un site asiatique suite au World Gourmet Summit tenu à Singapour en avril dernier, auquel participait San (ainsi que quelques autres chefs tels Alain Llorca).

CHEF Sang-Hoon Degeimbre, 37, is one of the top exponents of molecular gastronomy in Belgium.

Born in South Korea, he was an orphan who migrated to Belgium at the age of four when he was adopted by a couple there. He started his career as a sommelier at the age of 17. A self-taught chef, he opened his own restaurant, L’Air du Temps, in 1997 on the outskirts of Brussels.

It earned a Michelin star three years later. In 2002, he ventured into molecular gastronomy, which is a school of cooking that uses scientific methods to create food with unexpected tastes and textures. He had trained under Herve This, a French scientist who first coined the term molecular gastronomy. A seven-course degustation meal at Degeimbre’s restaurant costs about 75 euros (S$153). He is married to Carine, a Belgian who manages his restaurant. They have three daughters aged nine to 15.

The polite, mild-mannered chef was in town last week for the World Gourmet Summit. He presented his dishes at the Grand Hyatt.

How many molecular gastronomy dishes have you created?
More than 1,000. We change our menu every six weeks. We’re like children, always excited to create the next new texture.

What’s your signature dish?
The 63 deg C egg. You immerse an egg in water at 63 deg C and what you get is egg white that’s like jelly and egg yolk that’s liquid. We serve it with truffle mousse or morel mousse, depending on the season. We also have green apple cigar. You whisk 99 per cent green apple juice with 1 per cent methyl cellulose. It’ll become a mousse and we roll it up with a ‘leaf’ made of apple pulp. Then we wrap it all up in candy paper so it looks just like a cigar.

Do your customers actually feel full after a meal, or is it just fun food?
They’ve told us that they’re not bloated but feel satisfied because they had the real pleasure of tasting food. So, no, there’s no need to go out and eat something else.

What’s the most surprising dish you’ve created?
Liquid ravioli of yogurt and verbena. It looks like a reverse egg – inside is a white-coloured yolk made of verbena-flavoured yogurt and outside is a yellow-coloured egg white made of mango soup.

What’s the biggest disaster you’ve had in experimenting with new dishes?
Without a doubt, using the siphon for the first time in 1999. It’s a canister with a nitrous oxide cartridge inside that helps turn things into mousse. When I first tried it, it turned out either too hard or too soft. I almost threw it away. But now I have 20 siphons in my kitchen. You can make mousse out of anything – beetroot, foie gras – as long as you know what proportion of ingredients to use.

Do you eat normal food?
(Laughs) Yes. My favourite dish is Belgian meatballs in tomato sauce. I make it only once a year because I’m too busy. But when I make it, it’ll take 24 hours to prepare. You need to marinate the meat to make it taste good. I also like Asian food like chicken rice and curry. To me, it’s really comfort food.

What’s your favourite smell?
I love citrus smells like verbena and lemongrass. It’s so fresh and light.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
A bottle of champagne. There’s always an occasion to celebrate. Even the passing of each day. But I’m not an alcoholic (laughs).

What do you like to cook for your wife?
Very easy. I just shuck some raw oysters and squirt some hollandaise mousse on top. She loves it.

Describe the best meal you’ve ever had.
It was in Holland in a three-Michelin-star restaurant called Oud Sluis. The food was beautiful, technical and very impressive. I don’t usually like dessert but I loved the one I had there. It had the taste of lemon in different forms – foam, biscuit, mousse, cream.

What’s your favourite junk food?
Potato chips, salt and pepper flavour. But don’t tell anyone.

Going somewhere I’d never been before and eating something completely new. - - Trine
Haut Cuisine with touches of Korea

Haut Cuisine with touches of Korea

One of the most exciting places I have dined lately is the L’Air du Temps in Belgium. I was invited here in connection with my visit to The Flemish Primitives event.

The restaurant is owned and run by Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and his wife Carine and it holds 2 stars in the Michelin guide. It’s located south-east from Brussels. L’Air du Temps is an incredible story of Korea-born and Belgium-raised Sang-Hoon who first started to cook professionally the day he opened the L’Air du Temps restaurant. This was on the 1st of July 1997.


Sang-Hoon has his own style and signature and he mixes French traditions with modern techniques and spices the dishes with influences from the Korean cuisine. Experiencing San’s cooking, it’s incredible to think that he is in fact self-taught. Even though he is not trained as a chef, his technical skills are superior and he masters the latest, molecular-influenced techniques – this sets him free to explore his own paths. I had the feeling that each dish had sprung directly from San’s subconscious or fantasy, and even though I know it’s hard work to transform ideas into food, it just seemed so easy for San to project his thoughts onto the plate. That in it self is a huge accomplishment.

Okay, first the appetizers…

Jus de mandarine

Bulle de soju

Riz soufflé et mayonnaise de crevettes grises

Petit anchois soufflé

Couteau en voile d’eau de coquillage coriandre et gingembre, Norinaise

Praline de fois gras praliné, Concentré d’expresso passion, Parfum de sapin

The foie gras was especially delicious. The foie gras and the coffee flavours just suit each other so well and I love the combination.

Bread, butter and olive oil

Langoustine mouchoir de crevettes et daikon á manger avec les doigts

Serviette au Vétiver

And now on the the actual courses…

Bo Ssam
Lard bellota, Choux saumurés, Huitre, Mousseline

I loved San’s re-design of the classic Korean meat-wrapped-in-vegetables. Here, the meat was oysters, and they worked perfectly in conjunction with the Spanish lard topped with powerful Kimchi. The cabbage added bitterness and it all just came together in a most yummy way.

Lieu jaune á la cendre d’Aubergines

The pollock rolled in ash was pure and delicate and perfectly cooked. Simply of superb quality. On the piece of aubergine rested two crispy shrimp with an intense, almost nutty flavour, enhanced by the shrimp juice. Simply delicious – one of the highlights and really my kind of dish: Simple, balanced and with produce of perfect quality.

Korean inspired
Maquerau au doen jang, Broccoli et romanesco au colza, Dashi d’anchois séchés

More fish, this time a mackerel with broccoli and anchovies. The mackerel was very fresh and not fatty in the typical mackerel way.

Parfums de sous bois
Pomme de terre á la sphaigne, Curcuma et herbes sauvages

Baked potatoes with moss and herbs. To my taste, the potato was a bit on the raw side.

Oeuf d’asperges aux truffes

Green asparagus with eggs and truffles. Smooth, simple, tasty and balanced dish combining three ingredients that always goes together well.

Saint jacques et jets de houblon, Mousseline á la trappiste

Trappiste de Westvleteren (beer)

As scallops are everywhere, they are only fun when done perfectly. These were, and the combination with the hobs and the mousseline made from Belgian trappiste beer worked great. A clean, nutty taste – although the beer mousseline tended to overwhelm the delicate scallops. Could be balanced by eating less of the mousseline with each bite, though.

Ton rouge
Hommage par l’absence avec la couleur de l’urgence, Umami taste

Well, how to interpret this enigmatic title. A hommage to the absence of what – and with the colour of emergency? Maybe ‘Ton rouge’ is meant as a word play on ‘Thon Rouge’ and the absence is that of tuna? I even don’t know what to think of the taste. Definitely a refreshing dish, but mysterious and hard to define. Maybe the colour of the jus (changing from blue to red) made it hard for me to combine what my eyes and my palate sensed.

Chimère : l’oeuf de poulpe
Textures de noir

A constructed, poached-like egg and octopus with a rice crisp coloured black with squid’s ink. A visual black and white masterpiece that exploded in yellow as the egg was cut and the yolk poured out to add colour to the blackness. Excellent.

Agneau alterné de panoufles au citron et poivron rouge, Mousse d’ail des ours

Maybe the most delicious lamb’s meat I’ve ever had. I’m a bit difficult with lamb – I don’t like it too… woolly. This was perfect for me – like veal but with a tad of lamb and a wonderful and tender texture.

Purple duck
Textures de choux et d’oignons, Acidulé

The richness of the duck and the very intense sauce were harnessed by the acidity of the onion. To me, not a revolutionary dish, but very, very delicious – not to mention picturesquely beautiful.

Sugar paper
Sucette de fromage avec papier de sucre, Goutte d’uile de noix vierge

Lingot fumé
Ganache crousti pétillante manjari, Fève de tonka, Crème de Laphroaig, Glace á la crème double

I like smoky flavours and I like smoky whiskeys, so this dessert really pleased me. While so rich a combination of whiskey, smoke and chocolate could end up too overwhelming, but here the balance was perfect. The popcorn under the ice were probably meant to add crunch, but as they were more chewy than crunchy I wouldn’t have missed them if they hadn’t been there.


Chocolat pliable, Textures de citron et lime, Bulles de saké et citron caviar

The final dessert was prepared directly on a slab of plastic in front of us and was very amusing. It was fresh and with a lot of acidity. Loved it. I tried to catch some of the show on video – I’m sorry for the bad image quality.

All in all this was an unforgettable experience, full of completely new and surprising dishes for me. The wines were excellent and nicely matched with each course. San is a magician, he creates exciting and delicious courses. What I particularly liked about L’Air du Temps was the touch of the Korean cuisine in an authentic way. Many top chefs of today utilize Asian touches but it somehow makes more sense with a native background. Most of all I was struck by the fact that San seems to be able to create any dish that springs from his imagination by using modern techniques and I was touched by San’s dedication and devotion towards providing the best possible dining experience for the guest.

Thank you all so much for a fabulous evening! - Trine


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