Issue Issue 109 January 2016
Since the company was incorporated during the 1970s Mestdagh Artisan has prided itself on creating artisanal frozen foods based on traditional Belgian recipes
Mestdagh Artisan was founded by the owner and head chef of the boat hotel ‘La Péniche’, Luc Mestdagh in Oostduinkerke during 1978. The company was formed in response to the overwhelming demand for the high-quality recipes available at the hotel, for example Luc’s shrimp croquettes and Soufflé au Grand-Marnier were so popular with his clients that they wished that they could take them home. Therefore Chef Mestdagh began to offer his house specialities in frozen form and eventually constructed a kitchen workshop in the cellar of La Péniche to better enable the preparation and freezing of the much-sought-after croquettes. The choice to prepare a very traditional Belgian dish with the finest ingredients proved to be a big hit with diners and as a result Chef Mestdagh’s shrimp croquettes achieved a high level of demand across the entire Belgian coast. Over time Luc came to prefer the creative environment of his workshop to the original aspect of the business and he soon expanded his range with appetisers and desserts, resulting in his iced Grand Marnier soufflé and his traditionally prepared vanilla ice cream becoming flagship products (twice winning first prize of ‘Best Ice Cream of Belgium’).
During 2004 Mestdagh Artisan relocated to a newly built property in Veurne (BRC High Level), upon which Luc handed over the reins of the business to his daughter, Hilde Mestdagh and her husband Marc Gombert. Together they continue to operate the company according to established Mestdagh tradition. As such, Mestdagh Artisan embodies a spirit of true craftsmanship and only uses only the finest ingredients in its foods. It works with natural products that give a rich and pure flavour to ensure authenticity and additionally no additives or preservatives are used. Today the company’s range of products includes savoury items including croquettes, gourmet foods, savoury bites and culinary aids. Its dessert range is comprised of patisserie items, ice desserts, ice cream and sorbets, as well as ice cream cakes. As the current Owner and CEO of Mestdagh Artisan, Marc Gombert presides over the business and is keen to ensure that it is run in accordance with its established tradition of quality and integrity. “We are not a typical firm. Ordinarily brand manufacturers will operate milk factories, for example that only produce milk products. Mestdagh Artisan is a horizontal manufacturer because we approach restaurants and the wider food markets, which are demanding exceptional quality in a range of products including croquettes and ice cream,” Marc says.
“Mestdagh Artisan is very keen about the quality of its ingredients. These are sourced from the farmer directly and the milk that we use comes from Jersey cows and that is relatively unique,” he continues. “In Belgium there are only two farms with Jersey cows and from these cows we can source milk, cream and butter with a special taste. We do not use any additives in our recipes and we make everything ourselves, which is important for Mestdagh and in quality management. We do not operate a simple assembly factory, we begin with sugar, milk and make our products ourselves.”
With its dedication to natural products that give a rich and pure flavour, as well as the highest commitment to delivering high-quality products, Mestdagh Artisan earned a leading reputation as a artisan bakery that provides wholesale frozen artisan baked goods and desserts to retailers and restaurants globally. “Our clients have respect for Mestdagh Artisan products and this is naturally important on the food market. However clients also recognise that we operate a quality food factory. The difference between Mestdagh Artisan and larger multinational companies is that the factories belonging to those companies produce the same product every day and not specialist products,” Marc says. “Quality for us is in the authenticity of using good recipes with quality ingredients; chocolate is chocolate and milk is milk, it is not milk powder. Commonly within multinational factories milk powder plus water is used to make milk. I say several times to new or potential clients that water and air are not an ingredient in our factory. A lot of multinationals use water and air as an ingredient to lower the price, the price is only of second importance to us. The first important thing is the quality of the products, the ingredients and the taste. This has allowed Mestdagh Artisan to win customers throughout the whole of Europe including England, Holland, Denmark, China, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Spain and also outside Europe.”
To meet the growing demand for its gourmet foodstuffs, Mestdagh Artisan has continually invested in both its facilities and baking equipment. While this has been vital in ensuring that its production remains on course with demand, the key concern for the company has always been to maintain the highest levels of quality. To this end, its core staff are all trained and qualified to work within the culinary industry to ensure that Mestdagh Artisan products meet the expectations for which the company has become known. “We have invested in a lot of capital into automation and machinery, allowing us to turn out about 2000-3000 litres of ice cream a day and furthermore we can make 50,000 croquettes a day. We employ the same philosophy towards producing authentic products as the company did in the beginning while working with machinery,” Marc concludes. “We will only buy machinery if it can have a positive influence on the quality. The machinery we also have allows us to manufacture products at increased volumes without any compromise on quality. We employ around 20 people and they need to have a diploma, attended culinary school, or trained as a patisserie or cook. We are not simply machine operators.”