Jef Poppe

Jef Poppe is Gert’s right-hand man at Hertog Jan at Botanic and BABU.

If you were to list all the tasks that you have already carried out within the Hertog Jan Group, you would not be able to get by on one A4.

You could put it that way (laughs). After five years in another one-star restaurant, I decided it was time for a new challenge. Coming from a small kitchen, I suddenly found myself in a team of 15 people at Hertog Jan. I had to start at the bottom of the ladder with typical trainee jobs such as washing herbs. Little by little, I got more responsibilities and when Hertog Jan was going to move to Zedelgem, Gert asked me to assist him in the kitchen organization. That set the ball rolling. Afterwards, I was also involved in the launch of L.E.S.S. and Bar Bulot. Today, I spend two weeks a month in the kitchen of Hertog Jan at Botanic and dedicate the rest of my days mainly to BABU.

People even call you Gert’s right-hand man. How do you complement each other?

I have been working with him for almost ten years now and the two of us have already done many trips and events abroad. Before the pandemic, we travelled together almost every month. This obviously creates a bond. Moreover, we really are a very complementary duo. Gert is very creative but can also be a bit chaotic at times. Because I offer an organizational counterbalance, it creates more peace and space for him to let his creative mind run free.

BABU is actually a bit of the outsider of the group. How does this high-end street food concept fit into an empire of starred restaurants?

BABU was born from the idea that one day we should combine all the inspiration we get from our travels into a unique concept. Everywhere we go we taste surprising new flavors and chefs show us the most unique products. BABU’s slogan is ‘inspired by the world’ for a reason. Thanks to our bunners, a wider audience can now also enjoy them and we can prove that a quick bite can also be a qualitative one.

Do these bunners also still bear the typical Hertog-Jan stamp?

BABU stands for ‘baked bun’, the bun of our bunners that was designed especially for us; that’s what our restaurant group is all about. Unique, local quality products are a fundamental part of Hertog Jan’s story and BABU makes no exception. In addition, loyal customers will occasionally recognize flavors from at L.E.S.S. Eatery or Bar Bulot, but they will never simply find them in the store. We also aim to bring BABU to more cities in the near future. This ambition is undoubtedly characteristic as well.