Mr. Witzman, what do you think during the Christmas season?
I grew up in the slightest circumstances that shaped me, pompous opportunities were very limited during Advent and Christmas. So I connect more with simple things this time. But my mother cooked food very diversely and always put a lot of effort. My father was a passionate fish eater and my mother loved to cook “blue trout” or “blue carp” with boiled potatoes and freshly grated horseradish. I also remember Styrian Root Meat or Roast Gosse. On Christmas Eve we followed the Christmas Mass with the traditional Strong Beef Noodle Soup at Bad Gustin similar to the finely cut sausage slices – veal sausage and Viennese sausage.
I like to cook with you a recipe for Christmas: a stuffed veal breast. The main attraction is that the filling also includes soft-fried eggs for a nice color …
Yes, the stuffed veal breast is really good, but this recipe was not grown on my dung, but from a very nice guest – Maria Boganberger. She often went to have dinner with me with her family. I have a few recipes in my cookbooks that inspired me to write them, and they always add “After Boganberger”. I have always used it this way: I said it was a dish based on the idea of our chef Hans Haas, or the dessert was made by our pastry chef Johann Lafer.
You have revolutionized the top German food like no other till date. Even the “New York Times” calls you “the cook of kings and gods”. Many people think of good ingredients like truffles, caviar or lobster. One of your stars has always been simple vegetables…
Yes, I have always been a fan of all kinds of vegetables. Nothing against truffle or caviar, but vegetables can be very fun because they allow a lot of possibilities and creativity. I am not a big meat eater, but certainly I am not a vegetarian. For example, I like to eat cauliflower with fried eggs and prawns. I like artichoke salad more than anything. In spring I like to eat asparagus with peas. I am glad to have many forgotten vegetables again and I love the feast for the eyes in Munich’s Wiktuelienmark. Today there are many manufacturers who value the products that we had to bring to Munich via France in the seventies.
Was the name “aubergine” for your three-star restaurant also a declaration of love for vegetables?
The name was actually a triple tribute. First, the restaurant where I learned from my personal trailblazer as a young chef in Alsace, “Auberge de l’il”, brothers Paul and Jean-Pierre Heberlin. It has three stars for 50 years. Of course, eggplant was also one of my favorite vegetables. But I love the color aubergine, which was trendy back then. The entire restaurant was decorated in eggplant and silver. For some it was a bit pure.
You always said: “The product is the star.” Your most important proof?
Yes, I can hardly sentence now. But this is true. And I would like to say it again for you: Product is the star! I have always worked in very little ways, for example pouring water to preserve the original flavor and spoil the gravy, and have been more reluctant to use spices. I had a philosophy and always limited myself to the essentials. Some ingredients as possible with the highest quality.
Above all, you taught the Germans to eat vegetables until crisp …
Dried cooked vegetables have always been very beneficial for me. I like it crunchy with one bite. In this way I came across granite for many years. A famous industrialist in “Aubergine” once said to my waiter: Tell Mr. Witzman that they don’t have to go on the train, they can finish cooking asparagus. I explained to him that I am of the opinion that the asparagus tips should also be slightly cut.
How hard was it for you to bring the Germans closer to French Haute food?
He was a tough business. Even the architecture of the tantrikas in Munich was mocked as a fire station because many people did not like concrete. Today it is a cult! But in the beginning we could count the guests. And we competed with our kitchen with grill in the restaurant. People often preferred luxurious grilled lamb chops with pretty beans or steak with french fries on a menu.
Did you serve french fries at the two-star temple Tantris? I don’t believe you anymore …
Yes yes I came to know that during my time in Belgium. At Villa Lorraine in Brussels, which also received three stars! French fries were always served fresh, sliced, blanched and baked with fresh, bintje potatoes. Mixed coarse and fine salt. Stirred in Servette and served in a broken Cervant. There is nothing better than a good potato grill dish!
What can average cooks learn at home from top-notch dishes?
The bliss of enjoyment is an important foundation for enjoying life. I consider it just as important that children and youth especially learn and experience this art of living as a good and healthy diet from their parents. In the kitchen, it depends on the quality, creativity, professional preparation and taste of the products. Even when I cook privately, the product always gets my respect and undivided attention. You can’t cook on the side. I cook vegetables a la minute, the salad goes to the last minute, the plates have to be heated. Cooking at the star level is of course not easy. You have to learn that from scratch over the years.
What are the simple dishes you personally cook for yourself?
You can make amazing dishes with semolina or lentils. Aloo Golash has a great taste. All this is just a question of imagination, implementation and capability. Great soup can be made from peas, potatoes and salads. I mix some potatoes and peas, add a little milk, cream, butter, herbs. Fry the black bread till it becomes crispy. After washing the lettuce, I wrap it in plastic and keep it in the fridge for an hour. Then it becomes surprisingly crisp. Cheryl, parsley, finely diced radish, a little cucumber, a little cress. Mix with light vinegar and rapeseed oil. A soft boiled egg with it. Simple material, not expensive. Taste well, tastes delicious.
Do you suffer from how much Germans throw away food?
Throwing frantic food is part of the failure of global politics and society as a whole. It is a shame and a stigma that people are still dying on our earth every day. But take a look at the top dishes: What is today called the trendy nose-to-tail principle, namely using everything from an animal, is old hat, but everything is processed for purely economic reasons.
How has star food changed?
The most significant development after Novel food was the inauguration of fine dining for the taste sensations of other countries. Which is now called cross-over. We were able to put together completely new flavors with lemongrass, ginger, exotic fruits. This once again revolutionized cooking. I was always an advocate of fusion food, currently a mix of Japanese, Peru and Scandinavian. Earlier, the Spaniards brought new impetus. They experiment with new consistency, innovative preparation methods such as extreme cold. There is a clear trend towards consistency and “mouthfill”. One of these is carving, for example, xanthan: a natural emulsifier that combines liquids such as oil or water and is also a gelling and condensing agent.
Is the notion that it is much less rigid in the starred restaurant today?
Overall, things have become more relaxed at the top restaurants. High office hours are over with a waiter like Penguin. Guests are more knowledgeable and not as respected as they used to be. You’ve traveled a lot, seen a lot, and of course it raises your expectations. Interest has increased a lot. All magazines, books, cooking shows and bloggers have expanded awareness.
Is it more difficult for restaurants to complete personalization today, when one sees a trend in increasing numbers of vegetarians and vegetarian people or people with allergies?
I had already cooked a vegetarian option for guests in “aubergine”. I remember a famous conductor. Vegetarian food is on the march as the Michelin star for vegetarian restaurant Tian at the Vienna show. However, it is not always only about goodness, but also about conceptual content. Animal protein becomes the enemy. Even if I am making myself unpopular now, intolerance is currently considered chic. Cappuccino with lactose-free milk is hip and attracts attention. But no question about it, every guest establishment has to take intolerance and health problems into consideration.
Yes, you were always considered a perfectionist, a duet on the stove. Was there a moment when you can sit and think, this is where I have reached perfection? Or were you always restless?
I was the other one. I was sometimes very dissatisfied with it and always wanted to do everything better. But I have always tried to get the team excited to work towards this goal. Cooking is a bit like playing golf, if you think that now you know how to do it, then you have already lost. And keeping three stars is actually more difficult than getting them. With three stars, everyone expects a complete top performance. The Olympic idea has no validity. It’s not about being there, it’s all about the win. But from my youth I had dreams of becoming a chef and moving to France. You need to always stop writing about the cooking profession that everything is loud and busy. I loved this job, it was the most beautiful and creative for me.
Question: Michael Pohl
To the person
Eckart Witzigman, 77, is one of the most famous chefs in the world. He founded and developed French Novel cuisine in Germany in the 1970s. Witzigmann was born in Hohenms, Vörlberg, and grew up in Bad Gustin, where he trained as a chef from 1957 to 1960. Witzigmann’s rise in Germany as Rais of Munich in 1971
Tantris Restaurant. In 1980, his “aubergine” in Munich was the first German restaurant to be awarded three stars. (sk)