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A salmon smoker surfaces at Molenbeek

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The trappers used to do this in their log cabins right on the riverbank. Today, Made in Molenbeek fish smoking takes place in closed rooms, spotlessly clean, with all aspects of the process precisely dosed at all times. A visit to the new business that has opened on Chaussée de Ninove.

2014-10-30 – Is it the proximity of the Canal that inspired him, or the restaurant tables in the centre of Brussels? Who knows? What is certainly true, though, is that Serge Mantovani is a passionate and talented entrepreneur. His passion has led him this time to revive an activity that had disappeared in Brussels and is dying out in Western Europe: artisanal salmon smoking.

His extensive workshop on Chaussée de Ninove has been completely renovated. In one part of it, our artisan, who also has a flair for DIY, has put up partition walls, tiled the floor, and furnished and equipped an area for cleaning, smoking and processing salmon. It has taken months of work to gradually make his dream come true. That dream was born during his training as a chef, and he put it to the test at home by gradually developing his personal smoking recipe. The feedback was so positive that he decided to make it his new profession.

Artisanal and ethical product

The challenge he has taken on, starting in autumn 2014, is that of artisanal and ethical production. Product quality takes precedence over everything else. This has an impact on the choice of salmon supplier, delivery speed – freshness is of the essence – and the control of the smoking process. The Scottish Red Label will obviously be a preference, although it is sometimes hard to obtain. In any case, his salmon will be of superior quality: this is a constraint that he imposes beyond all other considerations. He is also avoiding involving too many intermediaries: both upstream in order to ensure the prompt arrival of reasonably priced fresh fish in Molenbeek, and downstream in order to be closer to the consumer.

The first fresh salmon arrived from a wholesaler based not far from the smokery, in Anderlecht. The fish, newly delivered to the premises on Chaussée de Ninove, are cleaned, washed and filleted. They then go into the cold room at 2 degrees for the first time. The next day it is time for salting, to a personal secret recipe. After another washing, the fillets return to cold storage. On smoking day, the fish are hung by the tail and brought into a special room which will soon be completely filled with cold, fragrant, dense smoke that gradually fills the entire space and gradually moistens the fish without cooking it.

The art of smoking lies in knowledge of the products and in apportioning the various processes accurately: salting, leaving the fish to stand, and smoking (the quality and amount of smoke produced and the length of the operation).

Other plans already forming

The smoked products are then vacuum-packed and offered for sale, including via the company's website (, to cooks wishing to use good products, to traders with high quality stalls, and even to private individuals. They will also be ideal for buffets at functions. Purchasers must plan carefully, as production takes place in real time and the products are distributed as soon as they are ready. There are no frozen products in this sector.

At the end of the first day of smoking in his new workshop, which has just been approved by the Federal Agency for Food Chain Safety, Serge Mantovani is starting to dream again. He is already considering the possibility of smoking other fish. He knows an organic trout producer that he definitely plans to contact. The smoking of scallops is another tempting prospect. Fish or shellfish could be immersed in the cold smoke. There are plenty of possibilities for the delight of refined and inquisitive palates.

Serge Mantovani also sees an opportunity to expand his workshop by adding an oven. Ultimately, his ambition is to offer his customers ready-prepared dishes, based on fish of the highest quality. A space for this already exists at the entrance to his workshop: the basic facilities are there, and all he is waiting for is the time and resources to get started.

The first orders

But first it is time for the tasting. Some guests have been invited to test the first Made in Molenbeek smoked salmon. It is the moment of truth, after months of preparation and waiting. The first impressions are very positive and convincing, says the artisan. Improvements are already being considered. The test has also led to improvements in the organisation of the preparation and smoking of the salmon in terms of both space and time. Delighted with what they have tasted, the first testers have already placed orders for the first four salmon. He's off! Production can begin.

At Chaussée de Ninove in Molenbeek, dreams sometimes come true that put the Canal area in a different light: a link with fresh- and saltwater products. As Serge Mantovani's business grows, both locally and throughout the city, his first tasters will remember the effort it took for a chef's dream to become reality.

Jean-Pierre Borloo