Interview with PARTS chef Arnaud Tabary in Tanz magazine


Since the very beginning of the school in 1995, the macrobiotic kitchen has been an essential aspect of the training program and its philosophy. In February 2018, the German magazine Tanz published an extended interview by with Arnaud Tabary, who has been the chef at PARTS since 5 years. The text of the interview (in English) is below, you can download the German version here.


From the day she founded the dance school PARTS in 1995, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker provided for macrobiotic cookery for the students and her company. It is of course not exceptional for a dancer or choreographer to care about food as a way to stay physically and mentally fit. The iron consequence with which she put macrobiotic principles into practice in the school however is . This kitchen became almost a part of the school's identity.  An interview with Arnaud Tabary (°1975), PARTS's "chef" for the past four years. 

At the end of a long conversation, when I have already stored my notes, Arnaud Tabary makes a confession. ‘I don't like the word macrobiotics. It gives the impression that we are dealing with something unusual. It is not at all. Each child is born in a state of natural and stable balance between acids and bases, between yin and yang. At birth, these poles are still close to one another. They start to drift apart because of the food habits that a child takes in from its surroundings. Each body strives for balance, but food can greatly increase the tension between opposing forces in the body. If you absorb a lot of acids or sugars, you also have to compensate more.  Macrobiotics is simply another word for that initial natural balance’.

Tabary is relatively slim and small. The opposite of the putty, red-cheeked cook. He also looks surprisingly young. If it wasn't for his grey hair, which he wears in a long ponytail, you would never guess his age. His face shows hardly any wrinkles. His skin is flawless. A living advertisement for the virtues of macrobiotic nutrition? Certainly. Nevertheless, I notice that he is struggling to move his neck, as if the muscles were stretched. That is the result of a rheumatic disorder of his spinal column, he says. Around 2005, this condition and several allergies became so serious that, according to the doctors, he would soon end up in a wheelchair. Not so. 

Tabary had by then already a long career as a cook. French cuisine had no secrets for him. After the cook school in Metz, where he became a ‘traiteur’, a ‘patissier’ and a ‘chocolatier’, he worked several star chefs such as Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, Burgundy. But his back problems forced him to give up his career an brought him to adopt macrobiotics. ‘I didn't want to end up in a wheelchair, but the classical allopathy gave me no hope. Looking for alternatives I found a book by Michio Kushi on macrobiotic nutrition. He illustrates his vision of healthy food and life with enlightening examples. That was a way out. I left for Amsterdam to follow the ‘study training programme’ at the Kushi Institute of Europe for five years. As a result, because I got rid of my allergies and got the condition of my neck and back under control. That was my farewell to the classic cuisine'.  

It was at the Kushi Institute that he met Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. She herself was trained there and still passed by when in Amsterdam. They got along well and the choreographer asked Tabary to cook for her or the company while travelling. Finally, she invited him to become chef at PARTS. ‘That was a challenge. I admire her work, but also the choices she makes in other areas of life, such as food. She could just as well have installed an ordinary kitchen at PARTS. That had cost her less effort. But she wanted this. So when I arrived, I inherited a long history. I want to honour that tradition’. 

I immediately confess that I don't know much about macrobiotics. Tabary:'It starts with simple basic rules. The first is that you only use seasonal products. The second is that they are produced as locally as possible. 80% of what we serve here is of Belgian origin. Algae, a major component of macrobiotic cuisine, were initially taken from Japan, but now from France. Thirdly, we do not use animal products. Not that it is strictly forbidden from the point of view of macrobiotics, but the human body digests vegetal sources of proteins more easily. Moreover, we do not want to contribute to the pollution caused by the mass production of meat'.

I point out that these rules, to me at least, rather seem like a matter of common sense. Tabary readily agrees. ‘But macrobiotics is more. It is a philosophy. It translates views from Chinese science and medicine such as yin and yang to the West. Yin and yang represent opposing forces that complement and balance each other. We find them at every level of life. Day is opposed to night, male energy to female energy, but they are complimentary. The one cannot exist without the other. As common as this idea is, its application to dietary habits is less so. Each nutrient has a specific energy. It is important keep them in a stable balance. If you eat extreme yang food, you will be tempted to go for other food that is extremely yin to compensate. Those who eat a lot of meat and cheese, very yang, will also experience the need for alcohol and sugar, very yin.  In this way, the pendulum continuously sways from the one extreme to the other, instead of staying close to the middle. A macrobiotic diet, on the other hand, meets the body's needs equally well, but ensures that the organs perform at their highest level by avoiding those extremes'. 

Tabary is now teaching full on. ‘There are some basic ingredients. Complete grains because of the fibres and minerals in the fleece. Not always wheat, but also millet, spelt, rye, and full rice. Red beans, lentils, split peas, tofu, seitan and temphe are suppliers of vegetable proteins. They are perfect substitutes for meat, but contain fewer purines as well. So little waste is released during incineration in the body. Algae such as kombu, wakame, nori, arame, iziki are indispensable as a source of minerals. Concerning vegetables, we mainly use green ones, such as Chinese cabbage or green cabbage. It is important to use all parts of these vegetables. People usually discard the foliage of a carrot or the greenery of leeks. But those also contain valuable nutrients. For example, the green of leeks has a lighter energy and contains chlorophyll, which is good for the production of blood'.

Macrobiotics is not about the ingredients only, their exact preparation is as capital. With a lot or little heat, slow or fast, it matters. Take tomatoes for instance. According to Tabary, they have to simmer for hours to suppress their harmful properties. ‘Exactly the way Italian housewives prepare tomatoes. They are conscious of it’! Even the way you cut vegetables counts. A special technique is lacto-fermentation. The best-known example of this is sauerkraut: an ancient technique for storing white cabbage by covering it in salt and pressing it together. This creates lactic acid that promotes the intestinal flora, but also helps against ailments such as teething pains. 

This chef could go on for hours, I feel. It is as if he promises heaven on earth. I object that all sorts of rumours run about the PARTS cuisine in the Brussels dance world. Like: one always leave the table feeling hungry. Not my experience, but then I am not a dancer. Or: after the meal, students go grab  a pack of French fries or a coke around the corner. According to Tabary, those are but urban legends. ‘Of course, it is not easy for young dancers who arrive here to change their food habits overnight. You have to get used to desserts without sugar, for example. After all, sugar is taboo in macrobiotics. We replace that with rice syrup or raisins. It sometimes takes up to a year before students have adapted’.

Don't underestimate the tremendous impact of such a diet on the body. It makes your body clean itself. Your intestinal flora changes in composition. This can sometimes cause inconveniences. These effects are more pronounced among people who come from a different climate zone. On the other hand, after dinner you don't have a heavy stomach with macrobiotic food. You literally feel lighter. It may seem then as if you are insatiate. But that is nothing but a consequence of the composition of the meal. For instance: we don't give bread with the food. Bread blocks the intestines and slows down the digestion. Because of this, you don’t feel hungry soon again. But you feel heavy and tired instead. A body quickly learns the benefits of avoiding this: less fatigue, a light feeling, these are enormous advantages, especially for dancers'.

Tabary continues:' We force the students to nothing. At the beginning of the year, however, we are teaching macrobiotics. We explain the principles and show how it works in practice. How to make a broth, how to cut up roots, etcetera. They discover that the macrobiotic cuisine allows variation and creativity. I still experiment every day. I can enjoy it artistically. In this way, students are tempted to explore this cuisine themselves. I hear they often cook together. At least, they often ask me for advice. I don’t often see students drink Coke either. On the contrary. In Amsterdam I recently met a dancer who studied at PARTS. Over the years she had become less and less attentive to her food because of the touring stress. She got here more and more exhausted. She lacked energy until she returned to macrobiotics as she had come to know it here. Now she’s  back on her feet again'.   

A few days later, I have a talk with Guy Gypens, now director of Kaaitheater but ten years ago the general manager of Rosas. In a way, he confirms Tabary’ s story. ‘I love this job at Kaaitheater’, he says, ‘but even after ten years  I still miss those meals at PARTS. Unfortunately, we don't get it done at Kaaitheater: to organise such a kitchen really takes a lot from an organisation'.  

But at PARTS, they do. And it pays off, it seems. 

Pieter T’Jonck

photo Bart Grietens

photo Bart Grietens