Madame Witzeg, a new restaurant, in which people with Down’s syndrome are given the opportunity to work and thrive, has just opened its doors. A social project indeed, but above all, a gourmet and human encounter!
Nestled in the quiet surroundings of “Op der Waassertrap” in Belvaux, the restaurant Madame Witzeg has been booked out for the last three weeks since their opening on the 23rd of January, this year. Launched by the non-profit organisation “Trisomie 21 Lëtzebuerg”, the board mainly consists of parents with children with Down syndrome. The goal behind the restaurant? To promote the often underestimated potential and independence of people with Down’s syndrome by providing them with a suitable workplace.
The idea for an inclusive restaurant came about when Flore Lelievre, whose brother has Down syndrome, noticed that work opportunities were scarce for him people living with the same syndrome more generally. Emboldened to make a change, she created “Le Reflet”, a restaurant in Paris as well as Nantes, which mostly employs people with trisomy 21. Although Luxembourg offers inclusive workspaces such as the so-called “ateliers d’inclusion professionnelle”, people with a handicap do not interact significantly with other people. This is where Madame Witzeg becomes valuable as it not only creates a meeting point for everyone, but it also gives people with a handicap the opportunity to gather professional experience. In fact, they are able to do internships of six weeks in order to test different work positions, such as waitressing, cooking or working behind the bar.
With the help of Joël Schaeffer, an esteemed local chef who currently works at Bistro Quai in Grevenmacher, the restaurant was designed to meet the standards of the culinary industry. Through the support of the municipality of Sanem, the restaurant’s location was found and made available in October to enable them familiarise themselves with their new working environment as well as new challenges. On a daily basis, they are assisted by Karin Reding (manager) and Steven Kukawka (chef), as well as by the educator Manon Arent.
Treats for the eyes
The menu is made up of 10 suggestions (3 starters, 5 main and 2 desserts), which is slightly changed every two to three months. Taking orders here is done differently: Madame Witzeg offers a plasticised card, where you cross the box of the food you want to order or double-cross for a larger portion. Indeed, working with portions facilitates cooking and significantly reduces waste. As chef Steven Kukawka explains, “no food is wasted when working with portions and you are able to order a variety of meals.”
While various dishes are served, one Luxembourgish meal is always available: from blood sausage, Kniddelen to Gromperekichelcher, the menu offers something for all taste buds. The KACHEN team was able to test a few of their dishes, also known as “Witzegkeeten”, meaning “jokes” in Luxembourgish. The meal started with a chestnut soup that was rich in flavour followed by a braised beef cheek with mashed potatoes and shallot juice. Both were filling and delicious. For dessert, we enjoyed a tasty tiramisu. Chef Steven Kukawka is keen to point out that the restaurant relies heavily on regional products. While delivery is not yet possible, takeway is available if ordered beforehand. Coffee and cake can also be enjoyed from 3 to 5 pm. The restaurant is currently not open in the evenings but can be booked for private events.
A culinary insertion
The restaurant’s logo of a princess holding a lollipop reflects the spirit of Madame Witzeg – easy-going and welcoming. Rico Winandy, the artist behind the image, assembled all the brilliant paintings made by the members of the non-profit organisation to create this unique logo. The staff attire has also been chosen entirely by the restaurant’s team: a pink t-shirt combined with an elegant black denim apron. The restaurant itself has also been slightly changed to accommodate everyone’s needs. For instance, when overwhelmed or tired, staff members can also take a break in a so-called “chill room” specially set up for them.
Talking to Sandrine Messmer, who is a board member at Trisomie 21 Lëtzebuerg, is herself a mother of a seven-year-old with Down syndrome. This space means a lot to her as she enthuses that “my son could also one day work here”. Yet, the project does not stop here. The restaurant also includes a skittle alley (“Keelen”), where their direct neighbours from the CIPA senior home can join the staff to play, allowing for an intergenerational exchange. While the restaurant offers many ambitious social opportunities, chef Steven Kukawka hopes that people keep visiting above all, because the food is appetising. As for the KACHEN team, we have greatly enjoyed their Witzegkeeten and are delighted to have been invited with such generosity!
Address: 60, rue Waassertrap, L-4408 Belvaux
More information: www.trisomie21.lu