Andree Köthe is the chef of two Michelin starred German restaurant Essigbraetlein. He is known for keeping a very low profile. When the organisers of Chef Sache announched that Köthe would be presenting his philosophy and dishes at Chef Sache many food enthusiasts exclaimed “at last”.
I have to admit that I had heard very little about what many consider to be the German answer to Alain Passard before his presentation at Chef Sache. An internet search did not help because little is written about this very interesting chef in English and my German skills are pretty non-existant.
The restaurant in Nuremberg, Germany, is called Essigbraetlein and looks like an ordinary Gasthaus or tavern from the outside. Until recently, the restaurant did not even have a website and is not even very active on social media. But behind this facade lies a 25-year-old story which Köthe started together with Yves Ollech. “My story is also his story and his thinking. He has a lot of ideas and courage so I owe a lot to him. Unfortunately he could not be present today.”
What is so special about Köthe’s restaurant? Here the centrepiece are vegetables. “Everyone knows vegetables as a side dish and when I started I also had the same view. We did a lot of decoration with vegetables using herbs and spices which were very important. In 2006 and 2007 we experimented a lot with herbs and spices. We wanted to make spiceness a part of the experience,” he said.
“We learnt that it is difficult to add aroma to vegetables just by adding a lot of spices. So instead we started looking at regional produce such as wild quince in spring, cresses, poppy seeds and jerusalem artichoke blossoming. This was a very exciting experience for us. We discarded a lot of things in the process but we were able to get the bitterness which is exciting to add taste.”
We study a subject very intensively
Köthe said that the cuisine transitioned from a herbal to a vegetable cuisine, with a cookbook which was completed in 2012. We delved into the subject in great detail. “We studied a subject intensively and a lot of things started to happen. For example, we worked on the way we prepared celery. We used the root skin which had never been used before, the green studs and the leaves to create different textures and aromas. We ended with a dish which when we looked at thought that it always existed but in fact was very new. This was a great experience for us.”
We try to use every part of the vegetable
Köthe spoke about using all the different parts of the vegetable. Just like the celery dish which uses everything from the roots to the leaves, they also use the entire broccoli even if the stem is normally discarded. “We believe that by using the entire vegetable and processing it, we can have a dish which is much more harmonious overall.”
He spoke about using the leaves from the Brussels sprout plant. “We know it as a sprout but the top leaves are very tender when blanched quickly and then fried in a pan with butter. It has the aroma of fine cabbage. Farmers normally cut it so that the sprouts grow bigger but this can be eaten and adds flavour.”
Köthe also discovered nearly by accident that the core of the leeks could be used just like asparagus. You have an onion aroma which does not linger. “The secret is not to over-roast it because otherwise it gets bitter and the colour can also change.”
He was asked about the fact that he worked with rare vegetables. “We have problems with local authorities because there is a list of items that can be eaten but many items which are not on the list can still be eaten but are prohibited.”
Köthe says that these are still early stages. “There are a lot of challenges but we are still in the beginning. Vegetables have always been seen as a side dish in the past. This presents lot of opportunity for the future. We were in the same position with meat in the past. Our thinking has not matured yet. There are so many more things to discover and a lot of things can be complicated. If I look back where we were 10 years ago and project what we have learnt in these 10 years to the next 10 years then this is something I really look forward too.”