Cooking Trends

The Regional dressed up as the Post-modern – Cooking Trends in Germany

Dieter Müller and Nils Henkel. Copyright: Schlosshotel LerbachDieter Müller and Nils Henkel. Copyright: Schosshotel LerbachNils Henkel is head chef at the three-star restaurant Dieter Műller in Bergisch Gladbach. He was voted “Chef of the Year 2009” by Gault Millau Deutschland. In the following conversation he talks about the relationship between Germans and their cuisine.

Herr Henkel, it is said that you were originally inspired by the “down-to-earth” dishes cooked “with much love” by your mother. Is this still noticeable in your cooking today?

Sometimes for sure. One is inspired by many things - by trends, by international cuisine - but sometimes a little earthiness is important and every so often makes its presence felt in my cooking.

How would you describe current trends in gourmet cooking in Germany?

Avant-garde cuisine – I do prefer this expression to “molecular cuisine” - is still very much of the moment. However this trend is starting to wane.

Gourmetlunch im Schlosshotel Lerbach. Copyright: Schlosshotel LerbachIs gourmet cuisine at all different from country to country nowadays?

Yes, it has international differences. Although parallels can be found everywhere – mainly, because many chefs eat at their colleagues' places abroad and then bring individual ideas back home.

What role does regional cooking play in Germany?

I think that over the next few years regional cooking will come to the fore once more. There are several restaurants in Germany that are specialising in regional cooking at a very high standard. Today, for example, Sven Elverfeld or Harald Rűssel are putting old dishes onto the plate in a completely new way. There's still a lot to be learned.

Are there international trends that originate in Germany?

I think that can only be answered in a few years' time. Spanish cuisine has become more important over the past few years. Yet the Spanish don't do anything other than present their regional dishes in a post-modern way.

Unfortunately German cooking has never had a good reputation. If you asked an Italian about German cuisine then he would turn up his nose. Many people imagine that the only thing eaten in Germany is sausage and sauerkraut - which is terribly sad.

It is not generally known that today we have an excellent cuisine. We have nine three-star restaurants in Germany and so rank just behind France. It is only now, and very slowly, that colleagues from abroad are beginning to be interested in what we do here. That was not the case for a long time.

Do trends in gourmet cooking – such as “molecular cuisine” - have an effect on what is cooked on an everyday basis?

Molekularküche. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpaYes, they do. You can see that quite simply in the way the whole texture-providers are being marketed for the end-user. There are already construction kits with various binding agents that can be used to magically produce spheric wrappers out of liquids. Nice gimmicks!

Do the Germans cook differently now to the way they did before?

That's very difficult to say. I don't have a perspective on what is happening in general. What happens in the home is very, very different. We have many guests who come to the restaurant and who cook very ambitiously at home – but they are not representative of Germany in general.

With all the ready-made meals available on the market, are the Germans cooking less than before?

I don't think so. At the moment the interest in cooking is greater than it has ever been. You can see that from all the cookery programmes on the television. There is no doubt they inspire many Germans to really cook for themselves – using ingredients rather than ready-made meals.

Are there typical German eating habits?

No, I don't think there are. The German feed themselves with dishes from curry sausage via pizza to heaven knows what – partly in a very confusing way. But that is not typical - you will find the same thing in France. In the course of globalisation everything is becoming more and more blurred as so many influences play their part. But I think that if gourmet cuisine does have some influence, then it will definitely be possible to maintain tradition.

One problem is that over the past few years many eateries that provided good honest food have simply closed. As a result, the divide between fast food and gourmet cuisine has grown ever bigger, the section in the middle is missing.

So there's no such thing as a typical German taste?

It's difficult to say. A German guest is bound to eat differently to a Spanish guest. The sort of avant-garde cuisine you get in Spain cannot be directly brought over here - the German guests would simply go on strike. In comparison, the eating habits of the Germans are slightly more conservative; yet the demands of the Germans with regard to quality and the produce itself are very high.

It must be said that the relationship to cooking in countries such as France, Italy or Spain is much greater than in Germany. In those countries value has always been placed on cooking and eating well. And that meant being prepared to pay for it. In Germany there are other values that play a greater role. Here it's more important to go on holiday or to have a great car. In Germany there has been a 'cheap food boom' for a long time, and now this is beginning to turn up in other countries.

What dish do you enjoy cooking the most at present?

At the moment it's steamed cod in a Caldeirada-style shellfish stew with fennel gnocchi. This is a typical Portuguese dish - a holiday memory brought up to our gourmet standard.

And which dish do you like the most from regional German cooking?

Pears, beans and bacon. Copyright: Andreas BemeleitI come from the north of Germany, from the Baltic coast. There are many dishes from there that I still enjoy eating today. Pears, beans and 'speck' (bacon) is particularly delicious. That's one of the many combinations of salty with something sweet which is typical of regional cooking from northern Germany. Then of course there's beef with horseradish sauce and home made beetroot – that's what my mother always cooks for me when I go home.

In conversation with Dagmar Giersburg, who works as a freelance publicist in Bonn.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online Redaktion

February 2009

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