A year’s worth of testing, eating and travelling has come to an end with the publication of the Michelin Guide 2015 and Ralf Flinkenflügel tells FOUR about the new guide and his impressions and assertions of German gastronomy.
What are the trends in the German gourmet scene?
In the Michelin Guide 2015 we have 31 new 1-star restaurants and three new 2-star restaurants. When you look back over the last 5 years, that’s an increase of 25%. We have 282 stars altogether and that’s a pretty impressive number. Regarding trends, they are quite similar like in London for example, where I have been on business only recently. There are many restaurants that are relaxed and casual with an informal atmosphere. People laugh a lot and are having fun. That’s a trend that we increasingly see in Germany as well. Away from the formal and the elitism and more towards easygoing gastronomy.
What we also saw over the last five years is that there is a younger school of chefs who work with a lot of enthusiasm and at the same time have a very good training and we have seen that over the last few years.
Do you think German high-end gastronomy gets the appreciation it deserves?
I get asked that question many times. A couple of years ago there was a report in the Guardian newspaper, a whole page about German gastronomy where it was noted with great amazement how German cuisine has developed. The same in the New York Times. But I think that German gastronomy would deserve more attention on an international basis.
Would you like to see German cuisine next to Nordic orSouth American cuisine as a worldwide recognisable style?
I think it’s the strength of the German gastronomy that we don’t have this. Unlike the Nordic cuisine – followed by the Spanish cuisine – that have been the focus in the international media, German cuisine is more elusive because it’s multifaceted, which I think is a plus factor.
Are there still not enough young people who want to become chefs?
Yes,I do worry about that a bit. A few years ago we had 15.000 young people in culinary training to become chefs, whereas now we have less than 10.000. And that will definitely become a problem for gastronomy in future. It’s now down to gastronomy itself to make the working environment more attractive and find solutions.
Do you inspect restaurants yourself?
As editor-in-chief I eat at about 150-180 restaurants a year, but the inspectors visit up to 250 restaurants a year. We are dividing them into “tours” where you go on tours of about 2-3 weeks. All hotels and restaurants that feature in the guide will then be visited in one go. Some of them might be new. And the area we’re covering is all of Germany and Switzerland. There are no set down areas. After these three weeks the inspectors return and then we discuss the tours, what’s new, where do we have to go again, what was particularly good or not so good. Because we don’t award any distinctions based on only one result. There will be at least one or two more people to get a clearer picture of the place.
Do you ever get tired of high-end cuisine and yearn for “normal” food?
[laughs] Absolutely not! You really have to differentiate. I might go into a simple tavern and get a quality meal, then I can appreciate it just as much as a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. You really do have to differentiate. It’s not like inspectors only eat in Michelin-starred restaurants. The star would be the highlight of the week. And the other eight meals can be considered “normal”.
Chefs are able to meet you and learn what’s in the report– how many chefs make use of this?
A great deal. The number has actually strongly increased over the last few years. I spend about two weeks a year to speak to chefs, I would say about 50-60 chefs who come to me. I will have the report with me and then we talk about the food and the points that we have noticed.
The pressure to have stars and to keep them must be enormous – do chefs have to have a really thick skin?
Of course we are fully aware of our responsibility. We do not take our decisions lightly and the chefs know that. I think a lot of chefs turn it around and consider it more as motivation and incentive.
What do you say to people who think the kitchen isn’t a place for women because the job is so hard?
It is of course a physically arduous job that stretches over many hours. In Germany specifically we don’t have many female chefs that have distinguished themselves with a Michelin star. It’s completely different in Italy where there are noticeably more women in this profession who have distinguished themselves. But you have to consider the number of women, who do want to take this job and who go into training. And I think that’s a rather low number.