[From Novemberber Issue 2014]
Paul De CONINCK
In Sapporo City, Hokkaido, Paul De CONINCK runs Paul’s Cafe, an establishment that specializes in beer from his native Belgium. This often prompts people to ask him the following question: “What is your favorite beer?” Paul replies: “I don’t have one. When, where and with whom will you drink beer with? That’s a very important factor. I choose completely different beer based on that information.”
It is said that there are over a thousand kinds of Belgian beer. While the Japanese tend to place importance on how it slips down the throat, the attraction of Belgium beer is that the way it is drunk varies greatly according to the brand. “When I drink with friends, I gulp down beer with a low alcohol content, but when it’s winter and I’m tired, I might choose a strong beer that satisfies after one glass,” Paul says. At Paul’s Café, there are always about seven kinds of draft beer available, as well as some 70 kinds of bottled beer.
Besides beer, the shop’s menu includes waffles, frites (French fries), and typical Belgian dishes that use ingredients such as mussels. Out of these, Paul’s chicken comes highly recommended. Imported from Belgium, this rooster is roasted whole.
Paul first came to Japan in 1988, as coach of a Belgian children’s baseball team. When he came back the next year, he visited Sapporo and loved it there. “I wanted to hang out in Sapporo for a year, so I took a leave of absence from the company I was working for,” he says. “Since then, for the past 25 years, I’ve been living in Sapporo.”
As a student at a hotel school in Belgium, Paul learned various things about the hotel industry; including food preparation, hospitality and management. From the age of 14, he was involved in food-related work for restaurants and catering services. Taking advantage of that experience, he worked at restaurants and hotels in Sapporo. In 2000 he set up a business on his own and started selling Paul’s Chicken – which even today is still his shop’s signature dish. Then, in 2003, he opened Paul’s Cafe.
Since his shop opened, the number of customers has been increasing steadily; these days beer lovers from Honshu (the main island of Japan) even visit. He has been asked to open branches in Tokyo and Osaka, but isn’t eager to expand, saying, “Only the shop I’m in can be called Paul’s Cafe.” Former employees of Paul’s Cafe have set up businesses themselves, so there are now more shops in Sapporo serving Belgian beer.
These days craft beer (regionally made beer) has been gaining popularity in Japan. Large-scale beer events are held in Sapporo, too. Paul’s shop has benefitted from the fact that more people are drinking a variety of different beers. Paul, however, is going to suspend a big Belgian beer event he has held annually since he opened the shop. From now on, he wishes to organize events to inform the public about other aspects of his native country, including its food and culture.
Belgium is located roughly in the center of Europe, and its capital Brussels has sometimes been called “the capital of Europe.” In the past, its convenient location unfortunately caused the country to be used over and over again as a battleground, but after each war, soldiers from the countries involved left behind something of their own culture. Paul thinks that the fusion of these influences created the gourmet culture of today’s Belgium. “I’m paying back the kind support I’ve received from the people of Sapporo by introducing them to the gourmet culture of Belgium.” He welcomes customers with a smile every day.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo