A great idea made its debut at this edition of Cooktank (a creative think tank for chefs): to capture the stories behind the creations of the participating chefs in more detail, a journalist or blogger was invited to visit each participant in their kitchen and document the preparations and creative process.
That’s how I find myself aboard a Rolls-Royce Ghost on Sylt shortly before eight in the morning. “The car is not so ideal for the dirt roads” Jan-Philipp apologizes casually at the flounce. The advantage, however, is obvious: the trunk is generously sized, lined with pleasantly soft cloth and offers plenty of space and protection for all the herbs and ingredients that we will harvest together that morning.
For a long time it was still cold on Sylt. It is only in the last few weeks that early summer has really arrived on the island. Accordingly, the vegetation is not yet as far as on the mainland. Especially the salt marshes still need a few weeks to give the first products for the kitchen price. However, in the herb garden in Morsum, which I was already allowed to visit once last year, there is already a lot to see. And to harvest. This time I get to roll up my sleeves and work. 60 flowers from the kale is necessary to collect. And the first asparagus. As much as the bed with almost a hundred-year-old roots just ready to give. But we also collect at street crossings, behind a church and also next to the delicatessen of Johannes King we stop, fill numerous plastic baskets and load the Rolls-Royce. In the dunes we search in the undergrowth for isolated, still very tender and hidden plantlets of the wild pea. The warm morning sun above us slowly rises higher, behind the dunes you can hear the North Sea surfing. It’s an arduous undertaking, no question. Finally, the last station takes us to a small forest, the spruce shoots are just perfect and also need to be harvested.
Our excursion is not only exciting and very instructive for me, it also clarifies the philosophy of the cuisine of Johannes King and Jan-Philipp Berner. It’s not just about regionality and seasonality, it’s the essence and culinary identity of the island that needs to be captured. And at the respective time.
Lamb in three courses
Lamb is the protagonist of the dish that Jan-Philipp Berner sends into discourse at Cooktank. And on this evening it has its premiere in the restaurant of the Söl’ring Hof. Of course, context always counts, so I’m delighted to be able to enjoy the composition as part of the current menu.
A small selection of finely crafted amouse form the prelude. Sporadically I recognize herbs that we have collected together. Flowers from kale. Spruce shoots. In between, among other things, tartar, a mackerel and a piece of pickled apple.
What follows is a wonderfully iodine-rich dish that manages to bring the North Sea right onto your plate. Mussels with apple and squid.
The next course is not only visually a real sensation – it is simply a fantastic dish. Tender char is combined together with wafer-thin sliced Katen ham. The delicate freshness of kohlrabi goes exceptionally well with the light smoke. The North Sea crabs are baked until crispy, adding another crunchy texture to the dish.
The following is a very nice specimen of Norway lobster in two preparations. Raw marinated with elderberry and lightly fried on mushrooms, young pea and very fresh cream cheese. And here again the herbs from their own garden and purslane from Sylt wild catch.
Now the stage is set for the first course of the following lamb trilogy: the shoulder of lamb is prepared as pastrami, delicately sliced and served in a baked onion on pickled vegetables and herbs. Acidity and sweetness are in ideal balance, the hot onion smells intense, hearty and with a warm undertone of caramel. Despite this diversity of flavors, temperatures and products, this dish is at the same time very clear. Every component clearly recognizable and in the right place.
Lamb Part II is dedicated to the shoulder in the form of a ragout with hazelnut. On top a homemade yogurt from sheep. The stalks of the young asparagus replace the cutlery here. With each of the pleasantly bitter stalk (centenary bed!) So you can snack on the combination of ragout, yogurt and hazelnuts.
The third part of the trilogy then focused on the back. The perfectly hand-cooked meat is served with a stick of grilled and stuffed asparagus. An asparagus not directly from the island, but harvested virtually in sight on the mainland. The roots here are not quite so old, but fortunately the asparagus farmer could be persuaded to simply leave the spears on the root a little longer for the Söl’ring Hof. Asparagus confit in rendered lamb fat and nut butter has a degree of cooking rarely found in German gastronomy: The right one. The delicate herbs used as a filling in the asparagus thus evoke the association with a classic sauce Béarnaise. A jus based on roasted einkorn combines the components on the plate and gives an unusual depth.
The star á part is the motto for the eleventh cooktank of the star eaters. In Jan-Philipp Berner’s interpretation, each plate is actually a star in its own right. The lamb in three courses not only shows the product in its facets, it also conveys the signature and philosophy of the house. At the same time, it integrates some typical elements of the island and has echoes of a classic on the menu: the stewed and stuffed onion is included in the program every now and then with very different fillings.
My menu then concluded in the wine cellar of the house with Sylter Rose, garden herbs and buttermilk.
After a hearty breakfast the next day, we still take the time to look over and evaluate Jan-Philipp’s notes that he took along the way while developing his dish. It’s exciting to see how different the concepts and approaches are. Here, very clearly and analytically outlined in the form of a product/preparation matrix, in which the various products that the given shopping cart for the Cooktank envisioned were on one side, possible forms of cooking on the other. In between lines with the ideal connections. And finally, first sketches of the three plates, almost as they were on the table in front of me the night before.
Then we still devote ourselves to the stuffed asparagus. Both for a photo in daylight, but also for a short clip that captures the actually so simple and yet so effective process of filling herbs.
A great day by the sea. Many thanks to Jan-Philipp Berner and Johannes King for their hospitality. And of course many thanks to the star eaters for this wonderful idea.