The culinary interview
Star Chef Brandt on his way ad astra
Star Chef Tristan Brandt on his way ad astra
»My job is my life and I enjoy every second of it gratefully.«
What was your favourite dish when you were a little boy?
That was actually rice pudding with cinnamon and sugar, which we had every second Sunday of the month. And on Saturday we always had potato soup with sausages, another highlight for me at that time.
And your mother did that?
Yes, and that’s actually how it started. I stood at the cooker with my mother and put a stool beside the cooker to be able to look into the pot. I found that very exciting and fascinating. So back then, when I had the choice between playing football with my mates or cooking with my mother, it was always very clear what I preferred (smiles.)
You were watching, and your mother was also explaining everything to you?
Absolutely. She explained everything to me with a lot of patience. It wasn’t just an introduction to cooking, but also it was about very useful food knowledge. When we were in the supermarket, she explained to me why there are different carrots, orange or yellow, and what the difference is, for example. Ultimately, things that not every mother can answer, but she did it with a lot of dedication. In the end, she was very happy to share her knowledge with me and was very happy about my early interest in cooking.
When you got older, did you also cook together?
Definitely! And that was always a lot of fun. But one of the highlights of that time was when I took on the responsibility of cooking for my parents all by myself. It was for their silver wedding anniversary, when I was 17 years old and still in vocational training. To celebrate, I cooked a culinary world tour for 80 guests. The effort in quantity and quality for such a large number of guests impressed my parents very much and made them proud. For me, the best reward ever.
So, the question of if and when you made the decision to make cooking your profession is superfluous, isn’t it?
Yes, it was clear from the beginning. It all started with an internship at the Land & Golfhotel Stromberg, just one mile away from home. After the second day of the internship, the hotel director and the chef called my parents and asked if I wouldn’t like to do my apprenticeship there. Since then, I have never had to look for a job again.
Which people you met at the beginning had a particular impact on you?
Definitely Michael Stortz. He is largely responsible for the rest of my life because he brought me to star awarded gastronomy directly after an excellent training with him and placed me with Manfred Schwarz in Heidelberg in 2004. Even today I am very grateful for that, and I am still in close contact with him. Of course, it was something very special for me to work in star awarded gastronomy straight after my training.
After one and a half years, Manfred Schwarz recommended that I join the 3-star chef Harald Wohlfahrt in the Black Forest, who was running the best restaurant in Germany at that time. Manfred was the one who gave me the confidence and paved the way for me. I was trusted by Harald Wohlfahrt right from the start, which of course was also a daily challenge at this high level.
But then you were drawn to France, right?
Exactly. After two years, Harald Wohlfahrt recommended the restaurant L’Arnsbourg of the 3-star chef Jean-Georges Klein in Alsace. Two weeks after I started there, I was promoted, and Jean-Georges gave me a position in which three French chefs reported to me. Suddenly my challenge was not only cooking at a three-star level but communicating in French with my assigned team at the age of 23 (laughs).
But ultimately it was also a challenge that shaped you for your later tasks, wasn’t it?
Yes, the management tasks became bigger and more complex. For example, at my subsequent station in Shanghai with Stefan Stiller. In addition to the direct experience with Asian cuisine and the unbelievably diverse range of food in the local markets there, the working culture and communication with the team there was another challenge. While the atmosphere in European kitchens can sometimes be a bit rough, that doesn’t work at all with in China. There I had to learn patience and a different form of address.
In other words, direct criticism was not possible and had to be expressed rather carefully in the form of a question or suggestion?
Yes, you can imagine it that way. I had to succeed in making people come up with the solution themselves, or at least think they did (smiles).
In 2014, you received your first star for your work in the restaurant Opus V. Was that a first victory, where you paused and rejoiced, or did you immediately look ahead to the next goal?
To be honest, I was very pleased that we managed to get one star and 16 points in the first year after opening. But I didn’t achieve this alone, but only within a great team and that’s exactly what I had there. Of course, right after that, we all set ourselves the goal of getting the second star. Two years later, the second star and 18 points in the Gault Millau followed and that was just an amazing experience.
Have you developed a leadership philosophy over the years that makes such special team achievements possible?
I always consciously lead and communicate in a solution-oriented way and my staff appreciate that. I don’t simply criticise, I always offer a solution or an improvement. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple tomato soup or highly complex tasks.
When I come into one of my restaurants, there is quickly silence. But not out of fear, but out of respect for me. I always want to explain everything so that there are no more questions left. At the same time, however, the employees should also achieve goals themselves, achieve successes themselves. It’s about finding the right balance between instruction and encouragement.
It’s that simple and that difficult. And at the same time, all of this is only possible in a common team spirit that carries everyone along.
Where do you get your inspiration for developing your culinary art?
At some point in my career, I understood that creativity cannot be planned. Every day in my life is full of people, impressions and new tasks that automatically stimulate and fuel me and my creativity. When I think about when my last day off was, I actually don’t know off the top of my head right now. I just got back from Dubai because I was booked at the Expo there. I’m currently taking care of a wedding of a good friend of mine in Zurich and I’m going on another culinary trip with the Sea Cloud Spirit soon.
Which country- or region-specific cuisine particularly fascinates you at the moment apart from your current projects?
The biggest challenge right now is to find employees who will implement the concept for me on site. After that, it is a matter of defining a basic menu on which we can develop further. However, I expect that we will be able to start in Miami within the next weeks.
What book projects are in your pipeline?
Japan has always fascinated me. It’s a country I’d like to discover really soon.
What book projects are in your pipeline?
I am currently doing a book project with the Swiss TV chef David Geiser. We are presenting 40 dishes, cooked and interpreted by him on the one hand and on the other by me. The reader can easily see the differences and find out for himself which interpretation one wants to try.
I am doing another book together with a friend of mine. His girlfriend is a successful food vlogger (@sallyswelt) with more than 900,000 followers on Instagram and he persuaded me to do a cookbook with him that will also make him a big name (smiles).
What does the near future hold for you?
Keep going and keep the fun in my work just as it is right now. My job is my life and I enjoy every second of it gratefully.
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