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When Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guide, introduced the 2018 award ceremony in Berlin, he paid honour to "a highly motivated generation of young chefs [who have] made German gastronomy among the best in the world." Testament to this new era are Julia Komp and Sarah Henke, two dynamic chefs breathing new life into Germany’s fine-dining culture.
With the country now boasting a record 300 restaurants with Michelin status, we take a closer look at the two inspiring chefs.
Finding their own Way in the Kitchen
Julia won her first Michelin Star at 28, just six months after taking over as head chef at the 15th century Schloss Loersfeld, west of Cologne. Having remained largely uninfluenced by Germany’s continuing predilection for classic concepts, Julia found her own way in the kitchen by remaining true to her childhood love for Arabic aromas and ingredients.
Sarah, similarly, cooks from her Korean heritage. She was named Gault Millau’s 2013 Newcomer of the Year and won her first Michelin star that same year for Restaurant Spices at A-ROSA Sylt. After moving to Andernach’s YOSO, she won the restaurant’s first Michelin star last month with a menu that redraws the flavours of Asian cuisine with distinct personal nuances - redefining Germany’s perception of Asian dining in the process.
Sarah and Julia’s ability to express their own culinary style complements, in many ways, the emergent trend in Germany gastronomy for championing local terroir.
Sarah attributes this imbuing regional focus on an over-saturation of trends which have swept through the country during the last 10 years, elevating fashions such as molecular, nordic and vegetarian cuisine in national favour, before demoting them again with stark brevity.
Sarah and Julia’s evident self-ease with individual cooking customs is something many of Germany’s emerging chefs are currently forging for themselves by reconnecting with their native ingredients.
Having Fun with Food
Conventional kitchen culture is also being challenged by the pair. For Julia, the onus lies on creating a nurturing kitchen environment away from the pan-throwing tantrums of yesteryear’s head chefs. “I have the best team imaginable” she says, speaking about an atmosphere she has actively cultivated, “the mood is almost always good, we support each other a lot”.
Customers, likewise, are being welcomed into the sacred kitchen space. At Spices, the centre point of Sarah’s restaurant was a cube section where dishes were prepared directly in front of guests, promoting a new sort of dialogue between chef and diner and allowing guests to experience her convergence of Asian flavours and cooking methods.
Encouraging More Women into Kitchen
Happily, success breeds imitations and that’s something these chefs are only too happy to foster. Julia has noticed that for every ten job applications she receives, 6 of them are from women. “I don’t know if it's because I'm a female chef” she says, “or whether, in general, a female vision is spreading across the industry”.
Likewise, Sarah wants to use her position to inspire others. “If I claim to be a successful cook, then I want to be a role model. Women in the cooking world should not lose heart, they should believe in their abilities and use them to advance themselves.”
The Future of Fine Dining
Much of Germany’s fine-dining future is being shaped by the customer. Sarah points out that the current buzzword awash in the country casual fine-dining came as a result of a conscious move towards transparency as guests slowly became more curious and started asking more questions. For Julia, this curiosity has led to a marked shift in the average restaurant customer, guests are willing more than ever she has noticed, to pay more to eat something good.