In the 2013 Michelin guide, Germany chalked up an impressive 311 stars across 255 restaurants - more than any other European country besides France. There are now no fewer than 10 three-star restaurants and a whopping 36 with two Michelin stars in Germany. Not bad for the country that gave the world currywurst.
Contemporary German cuisine combines the essence of traditional German food, but with a creativity and lightness of touch that draws from a wide range of contemporary influences. But how did the home of spätzel and knödel become one of the powerhouses of modern European gastronomy?
At the 2013 S.Pellegrino Kulinarische Auslese - the awards ceremony that recognises the best chefs and restaurants in Germany and Austria - some of the chefs responsible for the rise and rise of German cuisine gathered in Hamburg. A Lifetime Achievement award was given to Gerd Kafer, the octogenarian restaurateur and caterer credited with bringing the concept of the delicatessen to Germany. Meanwhile, the award for the Best Chef in Germany was shared among three men who have been at the forefront of German Cuisine: Harald Wohlfahrt, Helmut Thieltges and Joachim Wissler. All three have played their part in refining and revitalising traditional recipes to create something altogether new and surprising in German food.
Gastronomic trends such as nouvelle cuisine, molecular gastronomy and new Nordic cooking are referenced in dishes that use the best of local ingredients, sometimes with a leaning towards Asian or French fusion. The style is less important than the spirit in advancing German cuisine.
“In my opinion the whole sector is prospering very much, but there is enough place for all directions of style, the classic and the avant-garde. There is a validity of claim for everything,” says Harald Wohlfahrt, whose own personal influences range from the nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Chapel, to the Austrian legend Eckart Witzigmann.
At Wohlfahrt’s three-Michelin star Schwarzwaldstube restaurant in the Black Forest, one of his seasonal specialities features a ragout of snails from the Swabian Alps with garlic chips and crispy bacon in a parsley emulsion. “Just the best of everything,” is Wohlfahrt’s mantra. “That means products, service, staff and also mood.”
It’s a philosophy that’s shared by Helmut Thieltges, who has been perfecting his art at his own family’s Waldhotel Sonnora in Dries for some 35 years. “From the beginning I wanted to offer the best in everything to my guests, which at the same time is the right basis to be economically successful as well.” “I don't think that there is any special German trend - most of the trends in cuisine are global,” says Thieltges, whose dish of Challans duck à la presse with oriental spiced skin, pan-fried duck foie gras, red cabbage and glazed pears, displays a variety of influences from French to Asian.
Meanwhile, Joachim Wissler’s Vendôme (in Bergisch Gladbach, near Cologne) is another destination restaurant with three Michelin stars. Wissler has become an example for "neue deutsche Küche," or new German cuisine, Germany's 21st-century culinary research. Mr. Wissler has become famous for his meticulous and artful recipes, which aim to push the boundaries of German cuisine while reawakening memories of his home nation’s culinary past. His suckling pork belly condenses hundreds of years of German gastronomic history into a delicate slice of meat packed with texture and flavour.
“I always involve my origins in my work," says Wissler. "Therefore I also involve long forgotten traditions of our German gastronomic culture. The term “new German school” also means to confront oneself, besides globalisation, with one's own culinary origins. That also means to protect our culinary tradition. But I reserve for myself the right to present these traditions in my own way.”
Vendôme is one of two restaurants to make it onto the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. As Germany goes from strength to strength, don’t bet on them being the last.