In the Black Forest, where Michelin stars are as abundant as cuckoo clocks, Germany's most famous chef plans his newest restaurant.
The first thing you notice about the Black Forest is that it is full of light. Between clusters of towering conifers are vineyards and fields that produce white asparagus and fragrant strawberries. Hilltop castles straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale stand over small, wealthy cities with Michelin-starred restaurants; the tiny village of Baiersbronn has as many three-star restaurants as London. The Black Forest is also renowned as the birthplace of many German clichés, from cuckoo clocks to the eponymous chocolate-cherry cakes and ham.
Yet the region has recently become interesting enough to attract the attention of Tim Mälzer, Germany's most famous chef. The idea that something modern could happen in the tired Black Forest appealed to Mälzer, who is known for rebelling against stuffy German fine dining. Mälzer was born outside of Hamburg but got his start in London, after failing to land a job at any of his New York City restaurant choices. He cooked for just one day under Marco Pierre White in London ("Gordon Ramsay was his sous-chef then. I was gone in 45 minutes"). Eventually, he was hired at Neal Street Restaurant, where Jamie Oliver was also working. Mälzer is now a TV star known for two hugely successful Hamburg restaurants: the chef's-menu-only spot Das Weisse Haus (which he left in 2007) and the meat-centric Bullerei, located in an old, brick horse-stable yard.
At this point in his career, Mälzer could sell out and open a Bullerei in every city in Germany. "I could buy a Ferrari and a villa on Mallorca," he says wickedly. Instead, he aims to tackle the city that rejected him years ago: In early 2015, he's opening a restaurant in New York City called Heimat; it's his first one outside of Germany, and he's hoping to find inspiration in the Black Forest. His tour guide: Stefan Strumbel, a street artist who went from tagging buildings with graffiti to emblazoning cuckoo clocks with skulls and grenades, and painting them in wild, clashing colors. Karl Lagerfeld is a fan of his crazy clocks, and so is Mälzer, who plans to hang one in his New York restaurant.
Germany's Best Sausage
We continue our Black Forest food education at the Romantik Hotel Spielweg. Its proprietor, Karl-Josef Fuchs, hunts his own meat (which he turns into sausage), forages for wild mushrooms and makes cheese. Incredibly, Germany's haute chefs have looked down on this kind of artisanal craft for decades, holding true to the traditional Francophile Michelin-star track and filling menus with truffle, pigeon and Camembert. By returning to the region's roots, Fuchs has made Spielweg a pilgrimage spot: New Orleans chef John Besh wrote about his stage here in his latest cookbook, and chef Heston Blumenthal, of England's The Fat Duck, taped an episode of his TV show here, cooking a meal inspired by the fairy tale Snow White.
As Fuchs explains his methods, Mälzer approaches the meat grinder, keen to dig his hands into some sausage meat. So under Fuchs's supervision, Mälzer stuffs boar and venison into pig intestines. Though it's only 11 a.m., Fuchs grills a plate of the sausages and serves them with local Hieronymus unfiltered pilsner.
Before setting out lunch—his own cheese and wild boar ham with local honeycomb—Fuchs shows his collection of Tomi Ungerer's quirky, often morbid drawings. The cultish French illustrator spent months at Spielweg recuperating from health issues. "This inn is crawling with major art people during Art Basel," says Strumbel. "Karl's brother owns a gallery in Berlin, so people come for the food and the company." spielweg.com.
Wine-Tasting Training Camp
Before we leave the Black Forest, Mälzer hopes to discover amazing local wines to add to his new restaurant's list. This mission leads us to Franz Keller, a winery making excellent Pinot Noir in a country known for Riesling. Director Fritz Keller took over the family business in 1990, and he has since built a futuristic, sinuous glass-and-steel winery. He pours us a crisp Müller-Thurgau ("I can have this for breakfast") and a smooth, full-bodied 2009 Pinot, then dips into his family's phenomenal vintage Burgundy and Bordeaux collection, including a 1986 Château Cheval Blanc. "This place is like a training camp for wine drinkers," says Mälzer.
The conversation turns to Mälzer's upcoming move to New York City, where he is essentially starting from scratch. "Everything interesting is almost always a little difficult," says Keller. He leads us to his office to point out an installation—a window cut into the wall that exposes the long roots of one of his vines. "Comfortable roots have to be cut so that the younger ones work and grow," he says. A suitable metaphor for today's Black Forest. franz-keller.de.
First a Prayer, then a Pub
The Catholic Church does not have a reputation for embracing change. But a few years ago, Strumbel was asked to reinvent Mary, Help of Christians Church in the tiny village of Goldscheuer. Now, the focal point of the '60s Modernist interior is behind the altar: Bright pink, almost cartoon-like, spray-painted rays surround a crucifix glowing with LED lights. Madonna and child, depicted in spray paint, look on from the opposite wall. Strumbel laughs at Mälzer's awed expression (the man isn't easily impressed). "This church had a dozen old parishioners," Strumbel notes. "Weddings are now booked a year out."
The German pub, or kneipe, is another institution that is reinventing itself, much as British gastropubs did a decade ago. At the nearby Wirtshaus Schwanen, neither the stained-glass-window façade nor the interiors—lined with black-and-white photographs—have changed much. But we are here for the food. Owners Martin Kammerer and Nadine Hubert have transformed the menu simply by sourcing the best possible local products. Tables are full of travelers and locals who start lunch with sourdough rye bread and rendered goose fat. Mälzer takes notes while eating handmade maultaschen ("mouth bags"), double the size of ravioli and stuffed with minced veal. "I want my New York restaurant to be a neighborhood place like this one," Mälzer declares. "You have a beer one day, and dinner with friends the next." schwanen-buehl.de.
Dinner is in an unconventional spot: on a stainless steel table in the back room of a butcher shop. Markus Dirr comes from four generations of butchers, and is known for the herculean effort he puts into making ham by cold-smoking it, then dry-curing it for months. Dirr also cooks private dinners for VIPs. Tonight, the VIP is Mälzer.
The chef is feeling combative, and he questions Dirr on the value of making sausages, claiming that the German industrial meat industry has come a long way. Dirr champions humanely raised meat, and keeps bringing out more food: a wooden board covered with his famous hams and salamis; a veal brain schnitzel. At the end of the night, it's clear that Dirr has won Mälzer's respect. "Can you ship your sausages to New York?" asks Mälzer on his way out. metzgerei-dirr.de.
Gisela Williams is the European correspondent for F&W.
The Black Forest inspired both chef Tim Mälzer and F&W's Justin Chapple to create the recipes here.
Poached Eggs with Mustard Cream Sauce
Black Forest Ham and Cabbage Tarte Flambée
German Chocolate and Cookie Icebox Cake