Chef interviews

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Thank you

Torsten Michel

Interviewed August 2018

Q  How long have you been cooking professionally?

A. I started cooking in 1997, but it was not my dream job from childhood on. I wanted to become a jet pilot when I was younger and started to train for that after I finished school. Just before my active career in a cockpit was about to take off a lately recognized minor colour blindness forced me to look for something new. So I switched from the cockpit to a restaurant kitchen – and I have never regretted it.


Q. Where did you train to cook?

A. I completed my chef training as well as my first work experience in Dresden at Westin Hotel Bellevue. It proved to be a very good place for an apprenticeship. I enjoyed the great company of my head chef Michael Christian Mettal as I learned a lot from his training and mentorship. Even until today we stayed in contact and I really thank him for giving me such a good start into my career. Afterwards, in 2004, I started to work at the already famous team of Schwarzwaldstube at hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn. The idea was to stay for a year or two, learn as much as possible and then move on to Alain Ducasse whom I greatly admired as a young cook. But just before my leave, my former chef, Harald Wohlfahrt, made an offer which I could not turn down: Becoming his successor when he turns 60. Even if that meant to wait another 10 years, I stayed. As a first step I became sous chef in 2007 and finally head chef of Schwarzwaldstube in 2016.


Q.  How would you describe your style of cooking?

A. Our cooking style is contempory french and completely focused on each season’s best products – if possible from regional farmers in Germany, but also from selected, highly specialised producers from Austria, France and Switzerland. I like to transport traditional preparations or recipes and interpret them in a modern, contemporary way. Moreover, for me it ́s very important to appreciate the whole product and not just pick the generally know finest pieces. That’s why we often serve dishes meant for two – i.e. whole fish or wildfowl in two courses, dishes with lamb foot or all kinds of innards like brains, kidneys or sweetbread and of course a lot of game and wild berries and mushrooms. We want your guests to savour in the lush variety of nature’s best ingredients and to preserve their character in the best possible way.


Q.  Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?

A. I do not think there is – except: trying to meet the guests’ wishes and offering an authentic concept that fits the place. At least, that is what works for us. And it works quite well since 41 years now. However, the most important point is to believe in it and to engage a good and talented team to work hard with you side by side. Years ago I did some internships at Fat Duck in Bray, L’Arnsbourg in Baerenthal and at Noma in Copenhagen – three absolutely different restaurants. But they all take to heart and follow this paths – and are considered super successful.


Q.  Do you have a "signature dish" or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?

A. No, because every season has its own highlights. I love products like asparagus or morels. But I equally enjoy porcini mushrooms, fresh young carrots or game from the Black Forest. For me it is important to work with different ingredients as I think it is the best way to boost ones creativity.


Q.  Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?

A.  One of my favourites is a local place called "Seidtenhof“ in Baiersbronn. It is actually a small farm which exists since more than 900 years. They have a cosy "Stube“ where they serve traditional Swabian cuisine made from non fancy but high quality ingredients that nearly all come from their own production. From freshly butchered meat to homemade Black Forest ice cream. Moreover, they have a lot animals like horses, cows, goats, rabbits and goose on the farm which is a great adventure for kids. My son loves it and for me it is a perfect place to enjoy good food and quality time with my family.


Q.  What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?

A.  Every service has its moments. I think fun is when guests come for lunch, enjoy and celebrate the full experience, and then ask if they can stay on for dinner. Or if hotel guests reserve for a couple of nights in a row.


Q.  What would be your "last request" dish? 

A.  Mushrooms and a bottle of burgundy.


Q.  Is there another chef that you most admire? 

 A. There are a lot famous chefs who achieved great things or have my admiration for their personality. But I won’t name one. I admire young chefs who choose our job in full passion, train hard, treat their colleagues fairly and focus on their dream to become one of the best.

Q.  Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?  

 A. Stay focused, curious and fair. In addition, a good portion of idealism and passion are crucial as well as mutual appreciation within the team, but also towards producers and suppliers. This, in turn, motivates all parties to reach for their optima – in the kitchen but also in direct contact with guests. I am very lucky to have a team of like-minded people and colleagues on my side – and would recommend to any young chef to look for the same.


Q.  Any final thoughts you'd like to share e.g. new developments at the restaurant?

A.  In general, I feel strong about sustainability and nutrition, both still need more attention in today’s society. When I look at my 3-year-old, I want him to know where our food comes from i.e. that an animal has to be killed and processd in order to eat ham or sausages. Best would be to start early on and make a healthy diet and sustainable lifestyle part of education for kids at school with dedicated subjects and best practise projects. Personally, as a chef, one of the best moments during work (of course, apart from saying goodbye to happy guests) is when I open an almost empty trash bin. For us at Schwarzwaldstube a zero waste work ethic is important. Every little helps and there are a lot of ways to reach such goals – regardless what kind of kitchen style one is focused on.