After discovering the rose and herb’s garden of the remarkable castle Heks/ Hex in Belgium I decided to participate in a cook course led by Claude Pohlig. But before sharing my wonderful experience with you I’d like to introduce you to the history of the castle:
The Hex Castle is situated in the village of Heks, about halfway between Sint-Truiden and Tongeren, 3km south of Borgloon (Looz in French). It is a classical castle built for a Prince-Bishop of Liège. It is renowned for its French-style gardens and English-style park.
Private residence of François-Charles von Velbrück (1719-1784), Prince-Bishop of Liège between 1772 and 1784, Hex is a jewel of Rococo style almost unrivaled in Belgium.
François-Charles von Velbrück was born near Düsseldorf. In 1735 he became canon priest of the cathedral of Liège then in 1756, Archdeacon of Hesbaye. Between 1757 and 1763, he served as prime minister under Prince-Bishop Jean-Théodore of Bavaria.
As a ruler of the Principality of Liege, Velbrück was remembered as an enlightened philosopher and humanist, a nature lover, a patron of the arts, and an exponent of free education. He endowed Liège with an academy of painting, sculpture and engraving, a free school of drawing for mechanic arts, a free school of surgery, as well as free courses of mathematics and public law. All this, combined with a lasting time of peace during his whole rule made of Velbrück one of the most beloved prince-bishops of Liège in history.
In 1770, François-Charles started the construction of his château in Hex, on an estate where his father François-Joseph had erected a hunting pavilion. François-Charles was struck by the beauty of the Hesbaye region, in the County of Looz. Upon his death, as the castle was a personal possession, it didn’t go the the Principality of Liège but was inherited by François-Charles’ family, passed to the Marchant d’Ansembourg, and eventually to the Counts of Ursel.
Completed in 1772, Hex castle was built in the middle of an exceptional natural site, covering 5 hectares (12.5 acres) of formal French-style gardens and 60 hectares (150 acres) of English-style park. The terrain is hilly, with 60 meters of difference between the highest and lowest point.
Most remarkable of all is the collection of roses, which includes a variety not found anywhere else in the world: the Rosa Velbruck Indica Centifolia, named after the original owner of the property. Let’s also note the Chinese garden and the potager (vegetable garden).
The park was inspired by the works of the celebrated English landscape-architect “Capability” Brown, and was on of the first of the kind on the continent itself. It has the status of natural reserve. The castle is U-shaped and has a front façade of 19 windows in length (on two levels). The interior of the castle was designed in opulent Louis XV and Louis XVI styles. Some rooms have Chinese decoration. There are no less than six living rooms, each of a different colour. The main dining room is decorated with magnificent wood panelling by Liège artist Tombaye.
The castle itself cannot be visited, but the gardens and park are open to the public for the Festival of plants twice a year (2nd weekend of June and 2nd weekend of September in 2020). Guided tours start every hour. Admission is 7.5 € per person (dogs are not allowed).
The rest of the year, group (max. 35 people) tours can be arranged through written request, 3 weeks prior to the visit. The tours take approximately 1h30min to 2 hours, and can be held on weekdays between 10:00 am and noon, or between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. The individual fee is 7.5 €, with a minimum of 150 € for the whole group (so if the group is composed of only 10 people, the fee will be 15 € per person).
Cooking with Claude Pohlig:
It was a carless Sunday in Brussels, when a large part of the square in front of the royal palace was clad with grass and food and information stands about agriculture and organic food. Some bought sweets and were elegantly clad. Some stood in line to eat ice cream. Some took time to be handed information about all sorts of things, such as tap water or traffic in Brussels or different types of organic cheese. Of course there was a lot of tasting to be done. Soon I hit upon some heirloom tomatoes that looked very familiar to me. Indeed, I had hit upon Claude Pohlig’s temporary, but professionally run food court! I wandered on, to the information stand of the Brussels Slow Food movement, and next door I met Anne, from the blog Les jardins de Pomone, whom I was happy to meet in person. She and her husband know a thing or two about real food too: that’s food coming straight from a garden. Anne made me taste the leaves of the stevia plants, never had before. And Brussels was just the beginning! After I tasted the Pohlig’s dishes, I decided to take part in his training at Hex Castle! And I did it in September.
Visiting Mr Pohlig in castle Hex: The middle-aged, lean, good looking master chef himself was digging in boxes, but his assistant chef was preparing the lentil flour crêpes. As a starter I took a soup made with orange-colored tomatoes, quinoa and purple basil. Next, I chose the beef hamburger dressed with a pumpkin patty, and a mayonnaise with fresh herbs, served with a salad featuring pale yellow carrots. Taste bombs. In short Claude Pohlig, Michelin star chef does catering with what Michael Pollan calls real food! Here are two recipes of mr Pohlig:
Lavender pancake with salmon
Ingredients: 25 ml milk, 2 eggs, 100 g flour, 2 lavender twigs, 4 slices smoked salmon, 25 cl tick cream, pepper, flowers and herbs
Preparation: Make pancake dough with the flour, milk and eggs. Add the lavender flowers and leave the dough for 24 hours rest. Bake the pancakes in cleared butter or in a mixture of half butter, half oil. Place a slice of smoked salmon on each pancake and a spoonful of thick cream. Add flowers and garden herbs to your own preference. Season with some freshly ground pepper before serving.
Rosehip cake with nuts
Methods: 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper, next finely chop the rosehips and almonds and set aside.
2. Using a hand-mixer, whip the vegan butter. Add the sugar and whip until it is fully integrated and fluffy. With the mixer on a low setting, add the flour, rosehips and almonds half a cup at a time until it has all been added.
3. Scoop the batter onto the baking dish covered with parchment paper and use your hands to push into an even layer across the entire pan. Make as smooth as possible, or use a fork to add texture- the cookies will not smooth in the oven. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until it has turned more golden but not brown- they will still be fairly soft but will harden as they cool.
4. Use the edges of the wax paper to lift the cookie dough from the hot pan and place on a cutting board. While still hot, cut down to the desired size and shape and then allow to cool completely before serving.
5. I prepared cream with Philadelphia cream cheese, adding sugar and whipped cream to it. I decorated with rosehip marmalade and ground hazelnuts.
Claude Pohlig is a Michelin star chef, works for Cuisine potager as a caterer and gives cooking lessons in the castle of Hex etc.