The terminology is diffuse. The statement but clear. Whether it’s New Nordic Cuisine, Nova Regio, new regional cuisine or simply “brutally local,” a new generation of creative chefs is putting the product first. And yet cooks more and more intelligently than is often claimed.
Cooktank 12 is once again an exchange of ideas and creative experiences among star eaters. This time he brings together restaurateurs, chefs and sous chefs at Billy Wagner’s Nobelhart & Schmutzig. The rough thematic framework was set as “hunter-gatherers”, and the focus of all the dishes presented and discussed was clearly on the regional product cuisine described at the beginning.
The first court sent Dylan Watson-Brawn. In a few months, his project Ernst (my report on the visit to his supper club can be read here ), together with Spencer Christensen and Christoph Geyler, will finally be transformed into a restaurant of its own. Titled Apple in Ernst Style, he combined three different apple varieties sliced raw with a split of an intensely cooked apple. Plain. Purist. Fresh. What else Dylan has to offer in terms of culinary dexterity, he will impressively show us later in the day.
Stefan Franzke, sous chef from the Essigbrätlein in Nuremberg, then presented a small culinary sensation: rutabaga with lime leaves. Cooked for a long time in the oven and combined with mint whey and mushrooms, it brings intense powerful autumn flavors to the plate.
One can see the many years of experience and the high level of craftsmanship that the Essigbrätlein has achieved with its cuisine, which is close to nature and primarily focused on vegetables. The level of complexity of many dishes is deliberately high. And is constantly being driven forward. Despite simple products, the combinations should always be unexpected, surprising and new for the guest.Already in the run-up to the Cooktank I met Sebastian Frank from Horvárth to learn more about the philosophy of his cuisine. Similar to the other protagonists, Horváth is always about the best product. It doesn’t have to be fancy, rare or expensive. Only of outstanding quality. And, of course, this is best achieved when the producer devotes himself to this task with dedication. This is another thing that unites the day’s participants: close contact with farmers, gardeners and growers is essential for a cuisine that relies so heavily on individual, regional content. Not only to get access to the best products, but also to get daily relevance of the hard work for the top cuisine back and to convey again and again.
When the product is perfect, it often doesn’t take much in the way of culinary craftsmanship to stage it. This can be the perfectly ripened apple of Dylan Watson, or the tomatoes from Sosein, which are stored until the last reasonable minute to reveal so full, almost overripe, all their intensity and sweetness.
And then there are always the more elaborate ways that turn a good base into a sensational dish. Sebastian Frank presented pheasant, roasted bleu. The intense aroma is obtained from the wild shot bird through a 14-day maturing and resting period. At about 2 degrees, the meat lies tightly enclosed in smoked lard in cold storage. Texture and powerful aroma justify the effort. Here combined with anchovy, pumpkin seed oil, white chocolate and tiger nuts. Frank grows the latter on his Berlin roof terrace. Actually a grass plant, it formed a solid, almond-sized and also taste reminiscent of their namesake tubers.
For Sebastian Frank’s second plate, a simple product was also elaborately elevated to a new culinary dimension: celery. Dried in salt dough for a year. During this process, the pastry shell is turned regularly so that the tuber can move freely inside it and the salt is released evenly. The long drying process shrinks the celery to a third of its original size and makes it extremely firm and salty. Like a bottarga, it can now be used and planed over other components. In this case, about a combination of pumpkin, Jerusalem artichoke and cabbage vegetables.
Wenzel Pankraz from Forsthaus Strelitz in Neustrelitz served testicles of lamb. Only very lightly cooked under the heat lamp. Combined with grapes, parsley, walnuts and smoke oil. An absolutely underrated product. And according to the philosophy of the forester’s house completely equal to any other piece of meat from the lamb.
Host Micha Schäfer served a duck from the Prignitzer Landhof in two stages of maturity (unsurprisingly: matured is also better here, even more aromatic) combined with a raw slice of beetroot from the Hofgemeinschaft Marienhöhe.Here, too, one can argue perfectly whether a raw vegetable slice with a touch of salt represents the Olympus of culinary art. But is that what you want? Beet is soft, highly aromatic and full of sweet freshness. Great. The pure product thus moves into focus. The real craft takes place a few centimeters away: the duck is perfectly cooked and the skin is sensationally thin and crispy.
Felix Schneider from Sosein in Nuremberg perfectly implemented the motto of the day and brought a large basket of sensational mushrooms from his Franconian homeland. The spicy sautéed mushrooms were served with a mushroom stock. Insanely aromatic, full of power and by far the best mushroom broth I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.
The day closed with a wonderful dessert by Andreas Rieger from EinsUnterNull in Berlin. Together with his team, he took on the task of creating a Mizu Shingen Mochi. The dish, also known as Raindrop Cake, is a traditional Japanese recipe. Water (in this case from the Black Forest) is gelled with agar-agar. Many experiments were required to achieve the right consistency and the difference is in a few micrograms of the texturizer. In the original Japanese, Mizu Shingen Mochi is served with a flour of soybeans and brown sugar syrup. Andreas Rieger relied instead on elderberry, in the form of liqueur and dust.
Visually magnificent and melting in the mouth an exceptionally exciting recipe especially for its great simplicity and restraint. And a perfect starter for discussions about the usefulness of texturizers, on the one hand, and regarding expected reactions of guests to a dish that is defacto only water.
Some of the participants have recently opened their restaurants or, like Dylan Watson, are even about to take that step. Some are already highly decorated (Horvarth: 2 Michelin stars, Essigbrätlein: 2 stars, Nobelhart & Schmutzig: A Michelin star) others are yet to receive these awards. For one or the other, probably even shortly before.
The dishes and products on display were consistently excellent and showed creative ideas, but never lost sight of the central task. Perfect products (hunted or collected) carefully staged in the ideal setting.
Once again I learned a lot and thank the star eaters for hosting the event and of course Billy Wagner and the team at Nobelhart & Schmutzig for the extremely gracious hospitality.