Joachim Wissler cooks from within, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed and, as he says, his cuisine can not really be defined, “my style of cooking has become one with my personality…it’s not possible to describe my style of cooking accurately”.
Growing up inside his parent’s restaurant he spent his formative years surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of the kitchen before heading out to train at the famous Traube Tonbach hotel in Baden-Wurttemberg. He opened the Vendôme restaurant in 2000, a place that now sits 12th on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, holds three Michelin stars and one that's hailed as one of the catalysts of the ‘new German cuisine’ movement - traditional German flavours kicked into the 21st century thanks to Wissler’s deep understanding of modern technique.
Food at Vendôme, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Germany, is complex, clean and very precise. It displays an in-depth knowledge of technique with a strong link to the rich history of Germany’s gastronomic landscape, a 17-course tasting menu designed to ensure, as Wissler puts it, “the guest is forced to think about the actual reason for visiting my restaurant”.
FDL caught up with chef Wissler on a recent trip to Germany to discuss his approach to cooking at Vendôme and find out exactly what is meant by the term, "New German Cuisine".
You are hailed as the father of “new German cuisine” - what is mean’t by this term?
I think that the term “New German Cuisine” is connected with my personality. Ive always expressed my culinary roots through my work. I although believe that my profile and personality sharpened quite a bit over the last 15 years. Which on the other hand caused the development of the “new german cuisine” due to intense national produce research and the fact that all this is linked with my personality. It´s actually like a mirror of me reflecting past traditions and a strong curiosity looking towards the future. Therefore, freed from status expectations arise dishes that express all this. So it´s not only about using products from my nation but also about experiences, smells, tastes from the past. This is why my heritage is always reflected in my dishes. I also don’t want to be seen as the forefather of the “New German Cuisine”. This development funded on a generation of chefs who have emancipated and have stepped out of the shadow of the great French cuisine and developed their own style.
With France, Spain and Italy stealing the European limelight - why do you think Germany is sometimes overlooked gastronomically?
For a long time, Germany wasn’t considered being a country of great culinary enjoyment and culture. This has changed massively over the last twenty years. Mainly because a generation of young Chefs worked very hard to create an image of great culinary culture in Germany. Germany has much more culinary depth than the world thinks it does. It´t not just salted pork legs, sausages and cabbage or sauerkraut. But lets also not forget that the countries you mentioned also have a certain “aura” for good food, drinks and hospitality in general. Ultimately because these countries are great holiday destinations. So, all these people coming back from their holidays, having taken in all this lovely hospitality, have spread these cultures all over the world over the past 20 years. For culture, I believe Germany has developed massively through the last 15 years – also from a culinary perspective. The issue all the German chefs, including me, have; is that we don’t get the much wanted and needed support from those countries and politics. We are not supported financially to then fund marketing that would help us to finally step in the spotlight.
What’s exciting you in the kitchen right now? Any new research, techniques, ingredients?
This question is defined new on a almost daily basis. What excites me has nothing to do with momentary trends but with impulses; for example, how would I try to get a specific aroma or taste in a dish. My curiosity always inspires new approaches.
What’s changing in Germany?
In my opinion theres is going to be a change in German hospitality, especially in high-end restaurants. The guest nowadays finds it much more important to visit a restaurant where he doesn’t feel like being in “just” a restaurant. Concepts with high quality standards and a price range that makes you want to come back in an atmosphere that is somewhere between cosy, authentic or sexy.
What advice would you give to young chefs?
Believe in what you do, but be self critical all the time. Don’t look at what others do and be curious and open for anything.