Meet Wilfried, the grandson of the abbey's cook
“We celebrated New Year’s in the Maria Gate"
Wilfried Van de Sande has been coming to Park Abbey since he was little. He still enjoys walking there as much as he did back then. “It’s all thanks to my grandfather, who used to live in the Maria gate. I even thought of starting a restaurant there once!”
Wilfried (76) is walking in the abbey site despite the rain. “I come here regularly to enjoy the peace and quiet. I also like to have a coffee in the brasserie. I haven’t visited the House of Polyphony in the Mariapoort yet, though. That used to be quite a bit different,” he says.It used to be in the middle of the last century. “
I often visited my grandfather, Jef Van de Sande, here. He lived in the Maria gate. When you came inside, the living room was to the right, with a cast iron ‘Leuvense’ stove in the middle. The theatre was upstairs where the concert hall is now.””
Jef ‘Jefke’ Van De Sande was the Premonstratensians’ handyman and cook. He originally came to Park Abbey with the Abbot of Tongerlo. "That was somewhere around the end of the nineteenth century, I think. He married his wife Coletta here, too; she was a member of the monastery’s cleaning staff. I know, a romance between the cook and the cleaning lady,” laughs Wilfried.
“We would walk here every Sunday from the Naamsesteenweg,” remembers Wilfried. “My grandfather had a beautiful vegetable garden with leeks, celery, carrots, you name it, and a small farm where he raised rabbits. As a child, I would go fishing here – back then the Bellefroid fish farm owned the ponds. Yes, those are very fond memories.”
Grain from the miller
“We’d celebrate New Year’s with the family at the Maria gate. (Farmed) rabbit with plums was always on the menu. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but there used to be a niche in the wall along the gate. My grandfather kept his wine collection there. I was still too young, but many of my uncles and aunts enjoyed it,” winks Wilfried.
Jef stayed at the abbey until his death in 1960. “He’s buried here in the cemetery,” says Wilfried. “My godmother Jeanne, his youngest daughter, is also buried here. I often went to greet them. Sometimes in the company the woman who was to become my wife, which is how we ended up having our wedding photos taken here.
His own restaurant?
Wilfried himself retired from teaching years ago, but also trained as a chef. “So I still followed in my grandfather’s footsteps,” says Wilfried. “I even catered a wedding party here at the end of the 1970s. In the abbey kitchen, where Jef was still cooking. It was already incredibly well-equipped at the time. Almost an industrial kitchen, just like in a restaurant.”
I even thought of starting a restaurant there once, but it never happened. However, the abbey site has an attraction that was still there even when it was in decline. The landscaping, the water, the historic buildings… Really fantastic. Even my in-laws had an etching of Park Abbey hanging in their home. I will always enjoy coming here,” concludes Wilfried.