Heinz Beck seems to be busier than most three-Michelin-starred chefs. Like so many, he wants to be in his main restaurant every evening. Unlike many of his peers, however, he also visits his four international gastronomic enterprises in Tokyo, Dubai and Portugal every single weekend, when his restaurant in Rome is closed. Two further Italian projects are easily looked after on weekday mornings, the 52-year-old German chef tells me brightly. Talking to Beck and hearing the passion in his voice, it sounds like he’s not only got everything under control, but that he is thriving on his work. When asked how he manages to keep on top of everything and whether he has a business partner, he chuckles: “It is indeed just me. But I do have investors and a variety of business models that are tailored to each project.”
Within his growing empire (there might be a project in Germany soon, too!) he admits he does have his favourites. He is particularly fond of his restaurant in Tokyo and speaks highly of his newly opened restaurant in Dubai, A Taste of Italy by Heinz Beck at The Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road in Jumeirah. This bistro-style concept comes 18 months after launching Social by Heinz Beck, his fine dining restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, which has been a massive success with figures very much in the black, he tells me proudly.
Social’s interior is classically modern with elegant wood panelling, comfortable seats and a gorgeous view towards the Palm Jumeirah from the terrace. And it’s named ‘social’ for a reason, Beck explains: “It’s casual fine dining with a sharing concept. Diners can share plates, particularly starters. We have an exceptionally large menu at Social with about 60 or 70 dishes, but they do change on a regular basis. Whenever I fly there—and I have visited nine times this year—we work on menu samples and new dishes.” Gushing with enthusiasm, Beck particularly appreciates the cosmopolitan feel of Dubai, where “everything is possible” and where chefs from all over Europe and the world can realise their ideas. “There is a lot of investment in the Middle East,” he says, “which is of course important, because there is a massive cost involved in developing these restaurants. The Middle East in general has become an international platform for holidaymakers and business people and I think it’s a fantastic place to work in.”
Heinz Beck’s career began in his home country of Germany. Born and bred in Bavaria, he soon discovered his creativity and was ready to pursue a career in the arts. As he was about to enrol at art college, his dream was crushed by his father’s stern wish for him to get a “proper” job. As a result, he decided to become a chef instead. After his initial three-year training he joined a number of prestigious restaurants, gaining experience in all positions, even pastry. In 1998, he joined restaurant Tantris in Munich as chef de partie under the tutelage of Heinz Winkler, without a doubt the best restaurant in the country at the time. Beck continued to work with Winkler at restaurant Tristan in Mallorca and later at restaurant Residenz back in Bavaria. “Five years I worked with Heinz Winkler, who had a tremendous influence on me and really honed my precision down to the last detail.”
Beck then took on the role of head at Grand Hotel Berlin Esplanade, when the call from Rome came for an interview at restaurant La Pergola at hotel Rome Cavalieri. “I went to Rome and liked it immediately. Then it all happened really quickly. Initially the plan was to stay for two or three years, gain some more experience in another country, get to know another language and culture. But I stayed and now it’s been 21 years!”
He became devoted to the Mediterranean flavours of the Italian cuisine and developed his own, rather classical style to accommodate these new, lighter and sun-drenched elements. Today, Beck describes his cuisine as light, healthy and Mediterranean. And it is the “healthy” aspect that really makes him stand out from his peers. He explains: “Eating doesn’t stop when you have paid the bill at the end of the evening, but the next day when you wake up and feel good, when you have slept well. Too [often] food is heavy, which is a strain on your organism and you cannot sleep properly. I work together with doctors, scientists and students at the Botanical University in Florence or the Polyclinic in Rome, which is the best University clinic in the city. They help me to develop my ideas and by working with them I get to know young people and together we can find new solutions to old problems.”
What this really means can be experienced and tasted in his most famous signature dish: the fagottelli. Inspired by a bowl of spaghetti carbonara, one lunchtime, he asked himself why this dish often feels rather heavy and difficult to digest. Eggs should be light, and so should pasta if it’s cooked right, he wondered.
And he came to the conclusion that the reason must be the protein in the egg when it’s too heavily cooked. He subsequently enveloped the carbonara sauce within the pasta, resulting in the most delicious sensation in the mouth, a delightful lightness and outstandingly elegant flavour that leaves you eyeing your neighbour’s plate with intense jealousy once you’ve finished yours.
Another of Beck’s signature dishes works in the same vein of playfulness, sheer skill and phenomenal flavour, the mysteriously named Raspberry 1.1 dessert, also featuring at Social in Dubai. Ingeniously, Beck presents the humble raspberry in 11 different ways on one plate, with different textures, temperatures and other states of matter. You cannot help but roll your eyes with puzzled wonder and admiration at the intensity of flavour and the ingenious ideas springing from Heinz Beck’s imagination.
His restaurant in Rome, La Pergola, has now been boasting three Michelin stars for the last 10 years, but he continues to strive for improvement, finding inspiration for new dishes in the seasons, with a particular love for truffles, mushrooms and game in autumn and fish in the hot summer months. His inspirations come at unexpected times and places, he tells me, sometimes on such impulses, that he has to write them down. Once, as he was swimming in a thermal spring in winter, he looked at the freshly green fir trees dusted in snowy white. Upon returning to his restaurant he got to work on his idea, creating his broccoli ragout with snow cod. “Inspirations like these are funny and [the dish] has worked really well. We’ve had it on and off the menu ever since. I get inspired by architecture, a bunch of flowers, a smile—anything that triggers some emotion in me can inspire me.”
Considering all his projects and restaurants, which aspect of his job does he still love the most, I wonder? “Cooking!” is his very succinct answer. Heinz Beck is clearly not only a very charismatic but also an utterly inspiring chef. However, for his young kitchen staff, creativity should come second, Beck adds. The primary factor in his food must always be taste, creativity will follow. Young chefs, he is adamant, cannot expect to start in a restaurant having to showcase their creativity. Good old craftsmanship must come first.
Beck’s enthusiasm is tangible; pair that with dishes so stunningly presented that they resemble works of art, and it’s no wonder how popular he is on social media. He also clearly enjoys appearing at international food events such as Identità Golose or the International Gourmet Summit. He loves connecting with his guests, be it through his food or in person. And while his artworks do not grace art galleries but restaurant tables, they achieve happiness, lightness of being, pleasure and satisfaction all in one bite.
Find out more about the culinary career of Heinz Beck