Meet the winner of FOUR Magazine, Chef’s Talk and Big Green Egg Europe’s Spring-inspired competition - Benjamin Donath. Benjamin is the pastry chef of the Grand Hyatt, Berlin, who won our competition with his dish (above), as judged by Big Egg Europe for its Spring colours and flavours. In an interview, he tells us about his plans to smoke fish with his new Big Green Egg when he visits the Brandenburg region in Germany later this year.
Congratulations on your win Benjamin! How did you feel when you found out you were the winner?
It was a BIG surprise. I entered the competition early in March and didn’t have it in mind anymore because I thought everyone else’s dishes and images were better.
How do you plan to use your new Big Green Egg?
I plan to use it in summer time, once it’s a bit warmer. I want to try a few simple, sweet things first, like grilled pineapple. But what I’m really looking forward to is getting it out into the countryside in summer. My father and mother in law live in south Brandenburg which is a big fishing region in Germany and I really want to try the smoke setting on the Big Green Egg.
Tell us a bit about your culinary background…
I am the Pastry chef at the Grand Hyatt in Berlin. I’ve been there for nearly three years this summer. I started my training in 1996, which was a classic pastry course in Northern Germany. After that I joined a bakery for a year and then went into the hotel business. I’ve worked as the pastry chef at the InterContinetal hotel in berlin. I’ve also been part of the Culinary National Team as a pastry chef for four years.
How would you describe the style of your cuisine?
My work is a mixture of classical and modern. I really like making traditional dishes like black forest gateaux and giving them a new look. I want to bring traditional German dishes back into people’s minds, but in a new way!
You won the competition with a Spring-inspired dish. Would you say Spring is your favourite season for cooking?
I really like regional ingredients that we get in Germany like apricots, rhubarb, berries. Once winter is over and they arrive, we really are spoilt for choice here. They are the best ingredients for creating traditional desserts. So, yes Spring is my favourite times to cook.
How important is presentation to you?
The first thing is the flavouring. Then I look at the consistency of each of the components of the dish. I want crunchy, soft, juicy and creamy – with every bite I want my guest to get something different. Then I make my mind up about how it is going to look. But that doesn’t meant that it is less important - the presentation gets the same amount of time as the creation of the flavours, I just work on it separately.
When I was younger I spent a lot of time on decorating my dishes. Now I prefer simple presentation. I don’t’ want my guests to be overwhelmed. I want them to recognise what they’re getting on their plate.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Most recently, I’ve been taking inspiration from drinks like Gin and Tonic and Whiskey Sour. I also like using vegetables when I’m making my desserts. For example, cucumber or parsnip and Jerusalem artichoke. I recently made a carrot cake with chervil, carrots, cream cheese and a Gin and Tonic inspired dessert with cucumber and juniper. The dish I entered the competition with had cucumber on the plate which I think surprises guests because it’s a bit unusual.
Talk me through the ingredients in the dish…
I used rhubarbs, prosseco, cucumber and caramelised almonds. The mousse and jelly itself was made from rhubbarn – an ingredient I really love. The rhubarb in this dish was baked in the oven, but just long enough so that it still had a bit of a bite to it.