Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Kris Lismont

We have and are still interviewing top sommeliers from far and wide, but it bring us great pleasure to finally be able to add the following sommelier to our list!! Please meet our very own brand new president and benchmark for Limburg hospitality Kris Lismont.

Kris is classical trained at the hotel school of Koksijde which is considered to be one of the best hotel schools in Belgium as most Belgian top chefs/restaurateurs have studied at this school. This training prepared Kris for a job at, at that time one of THE top restaurants in Belgium, the 3 Michelin awarded restaurant Bruneau. A job he kept for almost 3 years and give him enough baggage and maybe even more curiosity for the culinary world then he already had. The next stop in his career was restaurant Biessenhuys that was known for having one of Belgium’s nicest and most interesting wine lists (is closed now). After working many years at the top of Belgium’s culinary scene, Kris together with his brother decided to open a restaurant called Ambrozijn. A true success story as for many years their restaurant was advised and promoted in the Bib Gourmand . Sadely after 14 years Kris’ brother felt the need to share his knowledge and started teaching. Kris decided to stay in the restaurant business, but build a whole new concept and open up a wine shop where you can eat called Mondevino which resulting in become one of the sommelier and winelovers hotspots in Belgium. A place where you could find your perfect wine & dine experience with Kris (and his wife) as an even more perfect host! No surprise Mondevino also found its way into the Bib Gourmand and got lots of national and international recognition for its wine list.

But after over 20 years Kris thought it was a good time for something new with a focus getting the right wine to the right person by selling wines, consulting in wine and teaching in wine both privately as at the students of the Hotel school Ter Duinen in Koksijde where Kris’s journey started many years ago (not that we’re implying that Kris is old ;-) ). Kris is literally travelling the globe to gain more knowledge about wine, visit more wineries, etc… basically all to be able to help people better in their search for the perfect wine to fit their need.

What definitely should also be said is that in 2010 Kris also won the title as Best Sommelier of Belgium and is also a WSET graduate! We are very grateful that Kris took over the torch from our honorary president William Wouters and lead the Belgian sommelier in the good direction for next years to come!

Please join me in getting to know this wonderful person (a true gentleman) a bit better.

What’s your favorite region to work with?

Burgundy is a region where I come at least 1 to 2 a year. It is simple in one respect, but on the other hand it has a lot of interesting complexities.

Chardonnay can be at its best... Pinot Noir too. But not always. It's just the fact that in a vineyard with the same grape, the same harvest, different producers can have a totally different wine. I can also appreciate the determination and stubbornness of most winemakers. I'm also curious how an important quality region like Burgundy will deal with the changes in climate in the (short) term. Since we are in a cool climate region anyway, there will be some changes. Can they still have fine pinot within 20 to 30 years, and will the chardonnay of e.g. Puligny still have its finesse? These are all questions I'm curious about.

Of course, there are other regions like Bairrada. The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, the presence of a great grape BAGA. The knowledge and love for the winemaking profession of the Pato/Wouters family ensure that this region has a special place in my heart. Of course there are also other countries and areas, but we will be holding these for the next interview.

What does it take to be a good sommelier?

Quite a bit, actually.

We need to have some qualities in this great job. A very important one for me personally is the psychological aspect of our job. You often get different "type" of guests on the floor. Everyone has to feel good. Wine, and drinks in general, are a matter of taste. And it's really hard to argue about tastes. Personally, I never find discussion good in our job. Without having to deny yourself, of course. There is also a lot of study work involved. As a good sommelier, I am convinced that you have to be well informed about all areas, styles of wine you work with. Travelling to the wine regions is essential for me. You must have literally seen, tasted, smelled, felt the region. Let your senses speak on the spot. It's actually going very fast in the wine world, all the evolutions and changes follow. Also what will the climate do in the future? In our job we really have to follow everything closely. Definitely tasting on a regular basis. But also, and especially the product knowledge of the dishes is very important, in order to find a perfect match between wine and food. Always difficult and something where teamwork between "kitchen" and "service" is important. It's not 2 worlds like it used to be. Finally, it is important that you do your job with passion and love. Because a good sommelier normally does a little more than the normal hours a week.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Unfortunately, I'm afraid to say that our job is undervalued. Reducing the number of people who choose this profession and staying in the profession for a long period of time is, and remains, a problem. The training courses are essential, and fortunately this has improved a lot over the last 5 to 10 years, especially internationally. I can only speak for the Belgian labour market, and I notice that many really good restaurants, hotels, but even wine bars are hopeless and always looking for suitable staff. And let this be the most important thing, to find well educated and motivated (young) people. I am positive and really believe that better times are coming. That our profession will be appreciated, and that the terms of employment will improve. To such an extent that more people will choose this profession again, there is also a need for girls in this respect. Because I personally think and think that ladies are just as well, or even better, suited for this job.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Actually, that went in a few steps. First there was the period during my training in the hotel school on the dunes where we had a regular group of boys who once a week chose a bottle of wine from the wine list. Then there was a modest discussion about the quality, how we personally experienced the wine and so on. Furthermore, the real wine microbe jumped over during my period of employment at my first employer Restaurant Bruneau ***. Very nice bottles were sold every day and regularly we had the opportunity to taste these exclusive bottles. We tasted the top wines and were able to get a good idea of what and how. By regularly tasting these wines, there was more and more hunger for better knowledge. Also to learn to appreciate other wines of a more modest level and above all of a different price. Since then, the passion for wine and its knowledge has never gone away, and the desire to go on a quest remains.

Who’s your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

First of all, my good friend William Wouters (Mr. Pazzo). Because he especially encouraged me to take certain steps in my career. He brought me into contact with many very interesting people so that I continued to evolve little by little, step by step. And above all, he has shown me that there are no limits in our profession. Also that more than once it's best to put things into perspective ourselves.

Secondly, certainly MW MS OBE Gerard Basset. a man I've never been able to meet in person. His merit for the sommelier world is so great that we can only say that he is THE example for every sommelier. Above all, what I take from him is the humble way he was in his professionel life and also in his competition career.

Last but not Least every sommelier wordwide who’s working everyday on the field. To every colleague around the world who reappear bet every day for this great profession. Not always easy hence definitely my respect. Also and above all young people who mainly want to and are able to grow a career in this job.

What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?

Very important here is tasting together and consulting with the kitchen team, with the chef. Consult well and taste together. For the sommelier it is important that he understands the "style" of the cuisine and feels it well. A refined kitchen is more likely to go together with a more refined wine style. Remain critical and understand the taste and aroma components well. Also consider the intensity of the dish and wine. In any case, always put it to the test and put you in the place of the guest. also when the choice is made explain to the guest what he can expect and why the choice is made that way. Then he can already empathize. Is not an easy task but oh so satisfying if the match is correct.

Which wine region would you like to recommend everybody to visit and why?

Here I would really like to be chauvinistic and say that everyone should go to the beautiful Haspengouw, Flanders, Belgium. It is certainly not yet the very best wine region in the world. But there is certainly a good potential, certainly for the sparkling wines! It is all relatively in its infancy, but the quality is improving year after year. The knowledge and potential are growing, especially now that the climate is giving a nice helping hand for this very cool region. Most winemakers also realize that there is still a long way to go, but they put a lot of effort into working step by step. If you now also see that serious investments are being made in several Belgian wine regions that is certainly a very good sign. We also have excellent restaurants where you can eat well. The Flemish / Belgian likes to eat and drink. Is definitely up to date and can taste what is good and bad. So only quality will survive. So all welcome to Haspengouw.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifise to be able to taste?

Without a doubt DRC La Romanée-Conti 1989. A wine that I could taste once, long ago. Was not at all as trained as a critical taster but this wine made such an incredible and unforgettable impression. The wine was then still very young. So, after all these years, I would very much like to have this bottle once again subjected to a crystal analysis. I am actually convinced that despite aging and a much larger frame of reference, the wine would, in a different way, certainly appeal to the imagination again.

What’s your most wonderfull memory of Hotel magangement School or viticultural studies?

The moment we received our WSET DIPLOMA a few years ago in the guild hall in London. After a few tough years of study, there was a short moment of reward, and also a clear awareness. In the presence of some very important people in the wine world realize that you are still lucky to be able to learn something new, every day of your life. Because the wine world is a never-ending story.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc…?

I wish everyone the right bottle at the right time in the right setting with the right company. This does not necessarily have to be the most exclusive bottle. That can and may be in a top restaurant or bar that can be in a wine cellar or vineyard. The moment will be engraved in the memory, and will never come back. But the fact that you have experienced such a unique moment is the reason why so many people are in the wine world. Fortunately not only to earn money but also and above all to distribute happiness.

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