The 10 Best German Chefs | From Tradition to Michelin Stars
Germany is home to some of the world’s finest dining and the recent rise of new German cuisine has revolutionised its dining scene. Though still centred on traditional dishes, it synthesises trends like molecular gastronomy and modern Danish cooking while drawing on French, Spanish and East Asian influences. Its greatest chefs create dishes that link nostalgia with innovation. Here are 10 of the very best German chefs.
The pleasant village of Dreis, in southern Rhineland, seems an unlikely place to find culinary greatness. The Waldhotel Sonnora was a quiet hotel run by a husband-and-wife team but when their son Helmut Thieltges took over the kitchens in 1978 he transformed the family business into one of Germany’s best restaurants, gaining Michelin stars and a 1998 Gault Millau ‘Chef of the Year’ award. Despite the isolated location, Thieltges’ food is anything but provincial, drawing on global trends to create dishes that still manage to feel consistent. His famous Challans duck a la presse, with a softly spiced skin, glazed pears, red cabbage and pan-fried duck foie gras, needs to be tasted to be believed.
Harald Wohlfahrt has long been considered one of Europe’s finest chefs and his restaurant Die Schwarzwaldstube has been granted three Michelin stars for over 22 years. Wohlfahrt has further cause to boast, he trained six of the country’s other triple-starred chefs and in 2005 was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s sole state honour. Wohlfahrt believes the key to perfect dining is to excel at every aspect, with quality local ingredients, knowledgeable staff and a sublime, natural atmosphere. And Die Schwarzwaldtube, located in the heart of the Black Forest, offers exactly this with dishes such as the Saint-Jacques coquille rosette with truffle and pumpkin compote.
One of the kings of new German cuisine, Wissler has frequently been called the country’s very finest cook. The son of a farmer, Wissler grew up in the rustic south-west, surrounded by livestock and produce and his passion for cooking developed through childhood summers picking vegetables and peeling potatoes. Vendôme, situated in a baroque chateau in Cologne, has been rated Germany’s best restaurant for several years while his menus present a dizzying array of techniques, tastes and textures. His Schweinebraten (a popular German dish of roast pork) is unsurpassed and served as a sucking piglet accompanied with different ingredients each season.
Michael Kempf is one of Germany’s top young chefs who worked his way up through several establishments before becoming chef de cuisine at Berlin’sFACIL, a glass pavilion in a fifth-floor roof garden, with a retractable ceiling and terrace seating. In 2003 he was awarded his first Michelin star aged just 26; his food is boundlessly inventive, emphasising natural flavours with vegetables and herbs all sourced from local markets. In 2014, FACIL gained a second star in the Michelin Guide and was significantly praised, not surprising, considering Kempf’s innovative and daring dishes like the wool pig with watermelon or the tea-spice venison.
Born as Alfons Karg, a chance meeting with restaurateur Sebastian Schuhbeck put him on a path that would see him become one of Germany’s most respected culinary talents. After training in restaurants around Europe he became Schuhbeck’s head chef and heir and took his mentor’s surname. When he was awarded a Michelin star in 1983 he became only the third chef outside France to be so honoured. With over 20 cookbooks, long-standing appearances on television and a catering business favoured by Bayern Munich FC he is arguably Germany’s most famous chef. Despite his celebrity status, the core of Schuhbeck’s practise still stands in Munich’s Südtiroler Stuben, a tastefully traditional restaurant specialising in classic Bavarian dishes updated with global flavours.
Sven Elverfeld began his apprenticeship in a village pastry shop outside Frankfurt and since the start of his professional career in the 1980s he has retained a confectioner’s eye for detail and brought a unique dose of fun to German cuisine. Aqua, his restaurant in Wolfsburg, has been ranked 28th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants guide and its modernist dining room is an avant-garde masterpiece. The food is equally outré, taking the simplest of European peasant fare and transforming it into something incredible (think jellied veal tail with caviar, shots of mustard soup with blood sausage foam and Mieral dove Caesar salad) while Aqua’s cheeseboard, which includes raw milk varieties, is like the ultimate farmer’s larder.
Born into urban poverty, Tim Raue spent much of his youth in Berlin’s infamous 36 Boys gang before turning to cooking to escape his life of hardship, and his rise over the past few years has been astronomical. His eponymous restaurant, which opened in 2010 in his native Kreuzberg, caused a sensation and by 2012 it had been awarded its second Michelin star and came to typify fine dining Berlin-style. Its success has allowed Raue to open two more Berlin restaurants, one of which serves traditional Prussian food. Raue’s fare dances freely through oriental cuisine with vibrant flavours and bold combinations and for his diversity and creativity, Gault Millau named him 2014’s ‘Restaurateur of the Year.’
Awarded his third Michelin star in 2012 at the age of 34, Kevin Fehling might just be Germany’s finest seafood chef. Not that he’s limited to the fruits of the sea; his goose liver triple, with foie gras moulded into the shape of a violin, is legendary; but his restaurant La Belle Epoque’s location in the port of Lubeck means his seafood is astonishingly fresh. Initially trained by Harald Wohlfahrt at Schwarzwaldstube, Fehling spent six years as the executive chef of a cruise ship and today creates dishes such as eel coated in frozen wasabi, trout carpaccio and lobster tartare, while his wagyu beef with caviar and pickles is a treat for taste buds.
Though he has been one of Germany’s premier celebrity chefs for several years, this summer Holger Stromberg’s star rocketed. As the cook for the national football team, his recipes have been credited with helping to propel players to World Cup glory with his athletic cuisine incorporating local ingredients from countries where the team play. Such an open attitude to international flavours has informed his cooking, which belongs to no style or movement. In 1994 aged 23 Stromberg became the youngest German chef to be awarded a Michelin star and as well as his family business in Waltrop, the Gasthaus Stromberg, he also runs Munich’sKutchiin.
Molecular cuisine, associated most with Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, is the application of scientific techniques to cooking through the likes of vacuum packs, liquid nitrogen freezing and carbon dioxide infusion whereby conventional foodstuffs can be transformed into something completely alien. Heiko Antoniewicz has devoted his career to making this most daunting of culinary styles accessible. Trained in Dortmund’s Hotel Lennhof and a veteran of Essen’s Residence restaurant, Antoniewicz has cooked for the likes of Elizabeth II and Angela Merkel. Although he no longer practices as a professional chef, his Molecular Basics cookbook is likely the best guide to becoming a master of molecular gastronomy yourself.