Passion is the key to good cooking, says Xavier Meers of Belle Vie European Bistro. Beth Furgurson
When it comes to food, chef Xavier Meers sounds like a romantic. Maybe it's because he mostly speaks in French, or maybe it's that he can't stop talking about how much he loves mussels. His philosophy is simple: "If you don't have the passion, it will not come out the way it should."
A native of Brussels, Belgium, Meers is the head chef at Belle Vie, the new French-Belgian restaurant in the former Bookbinder's space off Alverser Drive in Midlothian. He says he inherited his passion from his grandfather, who cooked for the Belgian royal family: "He would always be whistling, coming back from work." Meers says he knew then that he, too, wasn't the type to sit behind a desk. The day he told his parents he was destined to be a chef, rather than a lawyer as they had hoped, his father said he was crazy because it's a job that requires you to work "while the other ones have fun." The lucky thing is, Meers says, when he's cooking, he's already having fun. "I'm never really working."
And so his cooking lessons began. Meers enrolled in the prestigious CERIA culinary institute in Brussels at age 14. His first real job? He laughs. "Being kicked in the butt," Meers says. He has worked as a dishwasher, a peeler and in other undesirable kitchen roles, but he believes his best schooling came from spending time as an assistant to a chef.
Now 32 and with a number of notable positions added to his résumé, Meers arrived in the Richmond area in May, after waiting for two years to arrange his papers, to start Belle Vie with his sister-in-law, Karine Vidal, the restaurant's co-owner. Vidal says the menu is mainly traditional Belgian comfort food. "Xavier can make fine-dining foods, but it's not his calling," she says.
Alternating between French and English, Meers says, "In Belgium, everybody knows my dishes by heart. Here, they can discover something new and fall in love."