I am 20 years old and was lucky enough to get a place in the kitchen of the famous Schwarzwaldstube after finishing my cooking training. The three Michelin star restaurant in the Hotel Traube Tonbach is one of the most renowned institutions of top level cuisine in Germany and has been for decades. Head chef Harald Wohlfahrt has kept his three stars for more than 20 years. It has always been my ambition to work in the kitchen of a three star restaurant and Harald Wohlfahrt was top on my list.
My day starts at around 7am and about half an hour later I start work at the Schwarzwaldstube. It’s very convenient to have a room in the staff quarters directly next to the Traube Tonbach so it’s never far to walk to work. I often have breakfast standing up while we’re making the first preparations in the kitchen. The next point on the schedule for the day is the mise en place. This means essentially choosing all ingredients for my post, cleaning and building up my small work area including table, fridge and freezer fit for usage.
When I started working here four months ago, I was allocated the amuse post. The amuse is a prominent classic at the Schwarzwaldstube which has been following a very clear concept for many years. To start out a menu, Harald Wohlfahrt will serve four variations of one product. At the moment we are featuring eel as the basic product. That means that fish has to be filleted and a terrine and various vinaigrettes have to be started. From 9:30am the team will slowly start preparing for the service and I will continue to build my amuse post in the next couple of hours so it is ready to be arranged. The various ingredients for the amuse need to be cut up and then be ready in small bowls. I then prepare working material like kitchen paper, glass plates with four sections, tweezers, a brush, palettes, knives and a Bunsen burner and put everything within reach. This means that later on for lunch every single movement has to be spot on. I learned all the necessary procedures from my predecessor who showed me the ropes for two weeks.
At 11:30am we have our staff lunch which is prepared for each member of staff by the kitchen of the other restaurant, the Köhlerstube. All 12 chefs of the Schwarzwaldstube eat together and will also discuss the last remaining details of the lunch service before the first guests will arrive and sit down for their aperitif at around 11:45. For service it’s very quiet and concentrated in the kitchen. You only hear a few working noises and certain orders from head chef Harald Wohlfahrt. Depending on how fast the guests will arrive and when the first menus will be called out, it is more or less stressful in the beginning – in particular for my amuse post because my plates are the first ones to be sent to the guest. So I wait for the signal from our Maître David Breuer and the pressure rises considerably during this time, but it’s also the most fun. As soon as it starts, my thoughts are in the kitchen 100% – I am completely concentrated and focussed on the process. I only get stressed out when all guests unexpectedly arrive at the same time.
When the first slips are in the kitchen, I will then finish the prepared amuses with the warm components. For the current eel variation I will top the brandade with a small fried quail’s egg as well as the eel in soy broth with miso butter, which I quickly treat with a Bunsen burner. With that we have eel with spiked potato crisps, beetroot and horseradish as well as smoked eel terrine with caviar. As soon as the plates are perfect, I will bring them to Mr Wohlfahrt on a tray, who will quickly check them and then finalise them by adding the vinaigrette.
After my amuse is served, I help serving up the plates at the garde-manger post or the entremetier with the side vegetables. After cleaning and storing the equipment I will then have an afternoon break. It’s an important time to relax and watch some TV because the preparations for the evening service will start again at 5pm. At 6pm we will again sit together and eat for half an hour. After that we will go into the hot service phase for the second time that day. And then at 10pm we will make preparations for the next day.
The amuse variation will change completely every three weeks. The main theme is provided by the head chef or the sous chef Torsten Michel. All four parts will be devised together with the garde-manger. The individual recipes will partly be defined, but for the most part I am allowed to get creative myself and create recipes, such as a honey vinaigrette for example.
As the youngest team member of the Schwarzwaldstube this is the most fun aspect. I get to know new techniques, recipes and products every single day, which is really inspiring. It’s fascinating to work alongside Harald Wohlfahrt at the highest level and I would really like to get to know a different post in the coming months. I am particularly interested in the Saucier because I find the products and the various cooking methods really exciting. In the medium term I would like to get to know as many posts as possible, even though in the long term I don’t necessarily want to work in top level cuisine. Because at some point I would like to use my experience in my parents’ catering business.