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The rise in culinary accolades in Germany could be connected its economic stability and position as one of the few European countries where patrons still frequent restaurants.
Stuffed pig’s stomach (saumagen) or horse’s meat in vinegar (sauerbraten) may not cause most gourmands to salivate immediately. But European diners are being encouraged to try such German delights after a record number of German restaurants won Michelin star status.
La Belle Epoque restaurant in Lübeck-Travemünde became the 10th German establishment to earn the three-star status in Michelin’s 2013 guide. Kevin Fehling, the Baltic restaurant’s 35-year-old chef, created dishes that the guide says “typified the best of modern German cuisine”.
Fehling was praised for giving a modern touch to established dishes, earning accolades for his eisbein mit sauerkraut (salted knuckle pork with pickled cabbage).
Michelin authors said Germany’s youngest three-star chef “skillfully combines intelligence and maturity in his blending of flavours, while also adding a distinctly personal touch”.
His secret? “I don’t copy anyone , not even the top chefs, and I set myself goals. My stomach is my guide,” Fehling said, adding that his main aim now was to hold onto the star, “a hard enough task in itself”.
Michelin says Germany is now ranked only behind France in Europe in terms of top restaurants, with its top chefs producing extraordinarily varied and experimental food that is “very open to the cuisines of the world”. It has some catching up to do France has 26 three-star restaurants compared with 10 in Germany.
Food critics say a more telling sign of Germany’s culinary rise was the number of restaurants in the very respectable two-star category, which has doubled to 36 since 2010. Germany now has 255 restaurants listed in the Guide Rouge.
Other star chefs include Harald Wohlfahrt of Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn, in the Black Forest, who earned his three-star status in 1992 and has retained it ever since. Wohlfahrt is seen as something of a spiritus rector of Germany’s Michelin-star chef scene having trained five of the current three-star cooks.
There’s also Douce Steiner, the first female chef in Germany to earn the two-star status. Steiner, who runs a restaurant with her husband in Sulzburg, south-west Germany, learned from her two-star chef father. She is known for her delicate sauces.
Berlin’s Tim Raue was upheld as the chef with the most international outlook, having wowed inspectors with his dim sum. “The best I’ve ever tasted anywhere between Hong Kong and Berlin,” said Michael Ellis, the Michelin Guide’s international director.
“They are highly qualified, motivated and have an intuition for taste,” said Ralf Flinkenflügel, Michelin’s editor-in-chief and top taster, adding that one of the secrets to German success was that they were not afraid to go their own way and were not tempted to follow every trend. “None of them is copying anyone – they are unbelievably diverse,” he said.
Wohlfahrt, who as head chef at his restaurant for 32 years has closely observed the ups and downs of German cuisine, said developments in German kitchens were a logical consequence of the country’s growing wealth. “Where people have money and time, it’s clear that a culinary culture will eventually evolve,” he said, adding that the status of chefs had risen in Germany, as they had elsewhere. “When I started cooks had no public recognition. Now it’s a much more attractive career.”
So, who’s for saumagen and sauerbraten now? Or maybe some Schnüsch (a ham and vegetable stew), Kohlwurst (lung sausage) or Stippgrütze (barley groats in sausage juice)?