The New German Food Culture Creative Pots and Pans

Enjoying food together – a part of food culture
Enjoying food together – a part of food culture | Photo (detail): private

Creativity in German cooking today comes in many forms, ranging from the inspired bill of fare and literature on the menu to underground supper clubs.

“How does bread with Nutella taste with Mozzarella?” This was a question posed by a schoolchild in an internet forum devoted to the theme of food and creativity. Less odd than the adventurous combination of the two Italian classics is the fact that the young man turned to an anonymous community to put this question about taste. Apparently, he felt unable to rely on his own experience. Had he forgotten how things taste? If you have been watching the spate of cooking shows flickering across German TV screens for years, you could hardly believe that. Given the countless food magazines, including those for people who will be spending their holidays in the Piedmont eating Slow Food, the question arises: Is the new German food culture merely an invention of the media?

You eat what’s in the book

When you mix food and culture, sometimes you get more than alphabet soup. When, for example, literature is on the menu. kultur, a Berlin organizer and restaurant headed by Birgitt Claus, specialises in events dedicated to literary delectation. A professional when it comes to catering for creative natures, Claus also operates the museum cafés in Berlin-Dahlem and in 2009 took over the cafeteria of the Berlin newspaper the Tagesspiegel. “It’s essential to make food not only healthy and delicious, but also to set it in its cultural context”, says the trained nurse, explaining her philosophy. “Culinary readings in keeping with the motto ‘You eat what’s in the book’ combine literature and food.” For example, Paul Sonderegger reads from Judiths Liebe (i.e., Judith’s Love) by Meir Shalev and kultur serves a Hanukkah menu. If Ingrid Noll’s novel Die Apothekerin (i.e., The Pharmacist) delivers poisonous reading material, kultur nurses the audience back to health again with rabbit stew and red wine cake. “Our guests”, Claus promises, “can enter Hell’s Kitchen, let themselves be seduced by Casanova or enchanted by the Little Prince.”

Composure through cooking

In the creative milieu, Jessica Lau has also made a name for herself. The trained physiotherapist is considered Frankfurt’s number one amateur cook. The 32 year-old Lau shares a flat with a designer, who likes to engage her as a cook for his friends. In such a circle she made contacts that led to her cooking, for example, in the Salon Noir, a meeting place for young artists and creative people in Frankfurt. Lau has also matched her cooking skills on a TV show with a professional cook and chatted about her recipes on radio. She has set up a buffet for 200 guests, to which 400 people then appeared. Through cooking, she says, she has learned composure – because for everything there is a solution, even for accidentally pouring the chicken stock down the drain. Creativity in preparing food means for her simply to keep her eyes open when strolling through the food market instead of slavishly following a recipe. At her food blog Jessie schmeckt’s (i.e., This Is What Tastes Good to Jessie), she informs her hungry fans about her discoveries.

“Here’s looking into cooking pot, kid”

Friederike Floth might also be interested to hear of them. She is a member of a private cooking circle in Munich, which may serve as representative of a thousand other private efforts in the area of creative cooking. Floth’s Cook Club has existed since 1999, founded before young, wild TV chefs made cooking “in”. The 35 year-old PR consultant remembers clearly the beginning: at a going-away party before leaving for a semester abroad, a friend cooked an Italian menu for four people. “It was the first time we’d eaten something other than pizza at a friend’s.” That was 13 years ago. The enthusiasm for preparing meals and enjoying them together has remained constant in the Cook Club. “The cook of the evening serves at least four courses”, says Floth, explaining the statutes. “He must try something new. He is the only one who may invite an outside guest for the evening. And every menu has a theme.” Creative ideas – for example, famous film recipes according to the motto “Here’s looking into the cooking pot, kid” – are very popular. For a New Year’s Eve dinner with the theme of Alpine cuisine, Floth served char caviar on mashed potatoes with sour cream sauce, spinach involtini with bacon filling, venison steaks with sweet potato-pumpkin biscuits, baked creamed pears with cinnamon and a lemon tart.

Underground supper clubs – dining in secret

That is a semi-professionally designed menu, for which many gourmets would pay – and increasingly do. Underground supper clubs, which reached Europe a few years ago from the United States, are turning more and more German living rooms into mini-restaurants. Especially in big cities, urban food hunters are thrilled by this secret form of dining on the edge of legality – for few of the clubs possess a license for operating a gastronomic business. Dates for the dinners are arranged discreetly on the internet. The amateur cook who is the host charges a kind of membership dues and converts his own four walls into an intimate gourmet temple. There he gathers together a wide variety of temperaments, all on the hunt for a culinary revelation, an unforgettable creation, which they could not have dreamed of in their wildest sybaritic imaginations. Which brings us back to bread with Nutella and Mozzarella.