When Germany won the World Cup 2014, everyone wondered, "how did they do it?" The answer, perhaps, lies with this man: Just off the plane from Brazil, we caught up with Holger Stromberg, chef of the German national football team.
First of all, congratulations! How are you feeling?
Thank you! The weeks have been very eventful and a rich experience. I definitely need some more time to be able to process all these impressions, but the result of this long journey with the German national team and the entire coaching staff feels good in any case.
Eight weeks in Brazil, what do you take back from an experience like that?
From a culinary perspective, I have discovered no special highlights in Brazil, but I already knew that from my earlier visit in February. The Brazilian cuisine is not as athlete-friendly as one might assume, and the variety of vegetables and fruits is limited. Compared to that we have a land of plenty in every supermarket in Germany. But what’s most important are of course the people with whom we worked with side by side in the kitchen, their enthusiasm, helpfulness and cordiality.
You've been cooking for the German national team for seven years, how has your style of cooking changed over the years?
When Oliver Bierhoff asked me in 2006 if I wanted to cook for the national team, it was important to me to rethink. I didn’t only want to be the chef who’s warming up pasta. I wanted to give diet a higher profile in football. We have initiated this process and then rigorously pursued it. Therefore, my cooking style hasn’t changed per se. Of course, now I know more about food and its effects, but from my first day I put the highest value on natural foods. This is my philosophy. Of course, the dishes must be matched to the needs of the team. Against this background, I always put together a buffet that is as versatile as possible, taking into account the different nutritional options.
How do you create your menus?
I write the menu plans months in advance, considering the climatic conditions in the country, what time of year we play where and what food I get on site. Writing menu plans is a long process and many factors have to be taken into account.
And of course you should always have a plan B ready and customise menu plans, if there is a shortage of some products. But that’s part of it and not really a problem.
When playing away, how do you organise your ingredients?
That differs. Normally I travel with a broad range of spices, herbs, small kitchen helpers. In the current World Cup, we could not bring foodstuffs because of import regulations, so we were obliged to get all the goods in Brazil. We found local organic suppliers who have planted fruit and vegetables for us. It helps immensely that chefs are well-connected. And I always travel to the venue two days in advance to see what needs to be organised.
What is most important when cooking for the German national football team?
The quality of the food, without a doubt. My philosophy is: No dish in the world is fundamentally unhealthy. Quality comes first. For me, that means a product’s traceability and depth of origin. The body requires a balance of certain nutrients. It's the ratio between carbohydrates, fat and protein, depending on the strain the body's under. Vitamins and minerals are the main complementary factors. It's important to understand that there is no single master plan for everyone, but everyone's body works individually.
What cannot be left off the German team's menu?
The players trust me, my cuisine is colourful and varied, but what is really popular with everyone is for example mashed potatoes, pasta, the ever-popular rice pudding, French tomato soup and a real highlight at this World Cup was my 'Bahia and passion fruit salmon / peas and spinach / couscous'.
What would you never serve the team?
Inferior quality – but that applies to all people for whom I cook. I would never serve loveless food, insufficient and poor quality ingredients. Because only where you put quality, you can get quality out. In addition, on match days certain ingredients are simply taboo: onion and peppers are difficult to digest, raw garlic often leads to stomach upsets. Cucumber and melon are hard to digest and have not much nutritional value. Then there is no chamomile tea for the players before the match, instead we cook with foods that make you awake. These are spices such as chilli or hot peppers. These are ingredients that stimulate the metabolism.
What's the secret of your success?
I don’t know if you can call it secret – there’s no single key to success. I do what I do, simply out of conviction and with great enthusiasm... and of course a lot of hard work, discipline, never think you’re too good for something and always be open to learn. I know about the importance of a good and healthy diet, what foods have what effect, always work without compromise and only with high quality foods. And if all the puzzle pieces fall together, something good will come of it.
Try out the German national football team's favourite World Cup dish by Holger Stromberg here.