“Kom at home”, the links simmer in the kitchen

Camille quietly steps through the door of the restaurant. Hair a little messy, fanny packs around his neck and waist, the middle-aged man lives in the neighborhood. “Do you want to settle down for a little coffee?”, launches Christina Lescot, co-founder with Alix Rijckaert of the “participative and united” restaurant “Kom à la maison”. Camille nods and sits down at one of the three long tables. “This place restores balance in societyhe said. It restores social cohesion and solidarity in a city where we are anonymous.”

Cause the meeting

Sitting at the next table, Pierre is chopping onions; Mohammed takes care of the potatoes; Nam and Theary sort through the fresh spinach that is still good for consumption, picked up the day before from unsold produce at The Barn organic store, not far from there. Tongues loosen over the minutes. “Cooking with unsold food is a lottery”comments Vincent, “kitchen animator” of the day. “But we can count on the strength of the group.” And everyone’s creativity. “Each cook of the day has skills to promote and therefore something to offer”adds Christina Lescot.

At “Kom à la maison”, located in the Chasse district of Etterbeek, the cooks are not professional: they are locals – from the district or not. And if – to hear the customers – what is prepared there is excellent, “cooking is a pretext for encounters”explains Vincent. “By cooking together all morning, we create a bond”, continues Christina Lescot. The bond, or at the very least the dialogue, between people that life would probably not have brought together otherwise. “We are looking for this mix – social, generational – and the inclusion of all audiences”, she explains. A quick glance around us attests to the success of this objective!

©Jean-Luc Flemal

“For me, who is introverted, it takes a bit of effort to meet otherslips Khadija, present every opening day for six months as part of a Citizen Service. I attended a school in which there were practically only young people with an immigrant background. Here, I meet Belgian-Belgians”, explains the young woman. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Vincent is discussing football with Ronit, the dean of the “brigade”while this one crumbles feta.

Kom à la maison is inspired by its French counterpart “Les petite cuisines”. Here, “it is carried by a citizen collective of about ten people”specifies Christina Lescot. “We started by organizing large banquets”, she continues. Their success has validated a model proven elsewhere. Today, the restaurant is open five lunchtimes and one evening a week. “We serve about fifteen covers per service, but we are aiming for twenty-five in the long term.” “When I heard about the project, I said to myself that it was a great idea, idealistic but peppered with far too many uncertainties”, admits Vincent. However, he got caught up in the game and, two years later, still does not seem to be coming back from “Kom’s social impact at home”.

At noon, the cooks set the table, put the stuffed peppers in the oven and mix the soup. Khadija puts the finishing touches to the mandarin rhubarb pie. Mohammed enjoys a well-deserved rest by typing on his phone for a few minutes.

©Jean-Luc Flemal

The marketplace revisited

If Kom at home has set its sights on the Chasse district, it is not without reason. “We wanted strong local roots in a mixed neighborhood that we know well.explains Christina Lescot. And then, there are few projects around food.” The street corner, occupied by the restaurant since 2020, is a place of passage. Several people will also cross the threshold of the restaurant during the morning, asking what is going on behind the large bay windows on which the major concepts of the project are presented.

“Can we have a coffee?”asks Edith. “I saw that there was life… I was intrigued”she explains as she settles down, saluting this “excellent initiative”. “Warning, it’s vegetarian cuisine!”, Camille warns him. “Oh, that suits me very well!”replies the lady.

“We recreate a market place, a meeting place between neighbors, regardless of social and age categories”comments Alaric, member of the citizen collective, who came for the lunch service. “It also creates solidarity”in line with “desirable future” which he calls for. And to sit down, a few minutes later, with three people he has just met.

“These are large tables, we share the meal, we serve our neighbor”, explains Ms. Lescot. When we’re done, we help with the dishes. “It’s very friendly”, comments Isabelle, seated at the end of the table with her daughter. She, who has no family in Belgium, rents “the spirit of welcome and without judgement” of this restaurant. “We also come to feast!”, she smiled.

©Jean-Luc Flemal

Access to healthy and sustainable food for everyone

“Healthy, sustainable, organic, fresh, local and seasonal food should not be reserved for a category of people but the right of all”insists Christina Lescot. “Access to quality food is considered part of the dignity of the person”, continues the co-founder of Kom at home. This restaurant is therefore struggling to democratize its access, in particular to the most vulnerable audiences: by cooking these products on the one hand, by making them financially accessible on the other.

Thereby, “there is an awareness component on waste, short circuit and healthy food”, explains Christina Lescot. “Kom à la maison” is mainly supplied by a small market gardener in Flemish Brabant and collects, once a week, unsold produce from the organic store which is located a few hundred meters away. This is part of the model the restaurant advocates and the awareness it wants to trigger. “I discover vegetables that I did not know”comments Miranda, a regular in the kitchens and large tables of this Brussels restaurant. “I appreciate being able to do something for the less fortunate”she continues.

©Jean-Luc Flemal

A solidarity price

Anyone who can taste the dishes prepared and “is asked to pay according to his means”explains the co-founder of this solidarity restaurant. “The price is free: everyone puts in what he can and knows that if he puts in more, he pays for his neighbour.” The challenge, however, is to find a balance that allows the structure to cover its costs. “For the moment, the model does not work without subsidies and other financial support”, she admits. But the objective is to be able, over time, to do without it.

The restaurant currently benefits from the support of the 4wrings foundation and a subsidy from Brussels-Environment won as part of the GoodFood call for projects. In this context, “we participate in bringing out other citizen projects by sharing our experience and our model”, explains Christina Lescot. A model that still needs to be refined, she concedes, so that others can appropriate it.

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