German chef Sven Elverfeld is a chef with a conscience. He is also a top performer. His restaurant Aqua in Wolfsburg may be one of the best in the world (it has three Michelin stars since 2009) and is currently 33rd in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list). We have published our interview with him earlier. Here are the ten lessons we learnt from our conversation with him.
1. Give more than you receive: Sven made his voice heard during the refugee crisis. He did not do it for publicity but rather because he believes that when you are in a position to give back to society, you need to take your responsibility and just do it. He tells me being a successful chef is not all about the glamour. When you are striving to be successful, do not just think about yourself but also about how you can give back to your community. Giving more than receiving does not distract you from success.
2. Work ethic is of utmost importance: Success does not come by chance. Sven has rarely if ever missed a service. He does it not because he does not trust his staff but rather because his clients expect him to be there. He prefers to close the restaurant if he cannot make it. It might sound drastic but you need to put a lot of hard work if you want to be successful. He has missed a few services like for his mother’s 70th birthday. But he tells me that clients understand when you tell them that he is missing because of his mother’s birthday.
3. Story-telling is essential: To create emotions, story-telling is important. Most of this chef’s dishes have a story behind them.This might sound like a cliché but there is nothing more evocative than a story. In every walk of life, stories are what capture emotions. We need to always remember this.
4. Free your mind from the pressure to create great things: Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Sven has reached the very top levels of success only in Germany but also worldwide. But he did not pressure on himself to succeed. He did not set himself targets. He says that pressure will come once you achieve success because you need to remain consistent and cannot make mistakes. So it is essential not to create pressure for yourself when it is unnecessary.
5. Don’t grow too quickly: There is always that urge to get recognition in any field as fast as possible. And when you are young you are extremely enthusiastic and impatient. Enthusiasm is important but Sven believes that you need to be calm and relaxed to concentrate on what you want to develop. You need to develop your ideas without any pressure.
6. Be a bit wary of social media: Sven is not averse to social media. He is active on Twitter but he believes that it is making us lazy. It is sometimes too easy to see what is happening in different parts of the world and it also makes copying simple. While there are of course advantages you also need to be aware of the disadvantages.
6. Go in depth: It is important to take the time to go in-depth and question certain things. To learn, you need to make sacrifices. You need to travel and you need to ask a lot of questions. Without going into depth, you can never fully grasp something. When it comes to cooking you need to focus on flavour. But flavour does not come from copying something you have seen on social media.
7. You need to have passion for what you do: This may also sound like a cliché but it is true. With passion comes hard work and with hard work, success sometimes follows. His advice to young chefs is to concentrate on the kitchen, on their dishes, on the team and on the service and the rest will follow. But what is important is to grow with love and passion for what you do.
8. The best ideas come when your mind is free: You need to leave space for ideas and some of the best ideas come when you are not at work. They come when your mind is free and when you are seeing different things. What Sven does when he has an idea is to write it immediately. He told me he would write two sentences otherwise he would forget it. This is something I also do. Sometimes, just by writing something you automatically remember it without necessarily needing to go back to what you have written.
9. Education is extremely important: Educating children on food and issues surrounding food like waste is essential. He believes that all children should be taught about food irrespective of their age and gender. He tells me that when he was young, they were given a choice and there were only two boys in a class about food. But education is essential for everyone when it comes to food. You need to learn why we farm, why water is important and why it is essential not to waste water.
10. Build a direct relationship with nature: When he was 21, Sven worked on the Greek island of Crete. He tells me he used to go with two friends to dive each week and catch fish. He tells me it is essential to build a direct relationship with nature so that you get an in-depth knowledge of the produce. But it is also in nature that you can look to be inspired and to be creative. And that applies not just to cooking.