Chef Chat, Part 1: Catherine Duwez of The Broken Spoke Cafe

Eating Our Words ventured out to Belgian café The Broken Spoke (1809 Washington Avenue) to speak with owner/chef Catherine Duwez, formerly of Café Montrose. In addition to satisfying our stomachs with a plethora of delicious dishes, she also enlightened us on the differences between Belgian and French cuisine, and explained why she probably never will serve waffles on her brunch menu.

Eating Our Words: Hi Catherine. We have heard so many good things about the Broken Spoke Café from friends around town, so we just had to come visit for ourselves. Please tell us the story behind the restaurant.

Catherine Duwez: I was born in Belgium and came here in 1994. In 1999, I opened Café Montrose with the help of my father, who is a classically trained chef. Belgian cuisine is a cuisine in its own right - it is not a derivative of French cuisine.

EOW: How are they different?

CD: In Belgium, we cook with beer. We make beer and we cook with beer. In France, they have the vineyards and the wine, and they cook with wine, but in Belgium everything is with the beer. We use the beer that is native to the region. In Brussels, we use the Lambics. In Chimay, they use Chimays. Each one is different and lends its subtle differences to the cuisine.

EOW: Where do you get the inspiration for your dishes?

CD: My father was sent off to become a chef at age 12. He learned all the proper techniques, the French style of cooking, wines, pastries. He helped me open the restaurants.

EOW: And did he do the cooking at home, as well?

CD: No, home cooking was done by the women. All the women would cook traditional, classic Belgian dishes every day. My grandmother would begin cooking dinner at 8 a.m. Belgian cuisine is a family cuisine. The recipes and cooking is passed down through the families.

EOW: So you had the best of both worlds: a classically trained chef as a father to help you with all the serious restaurant cooking, as well as a strong background in how to prepare and serve loving, comfort food.

CD: Yes. Every afternoon at four, my friends and I would come home from school, and my grandmother would have a huge stack of homemade crepes waiting for us. A little butter and sugar, and that is what we would eat at four, and then dinner later in the evening. We do not eat waffles for breakfast in Belgium. They sell them in the street carts, and you buy them and eat them while walking around.

EOW: So they're more like a traditional street food snack than the hearty breakfast food Americans think of?

CD: Exactly. That is why I do not serve them on my brunch menu. Because they are not eaten for breakfast in Belgium.

Check back tomorrow when we find out more about what Catherine likes to eat on her days off, as well as what food makes her wistfully happy.

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