Not many chefs boast of spending more than seven hours preparing carrot puree.
But German chef Tim Raue doesn’t do the expected – in his eponymous Berlin restaurant he’s ditched Western cuisine in favour of a blend of Chinese, Thai and Japanese flavours.
Last weekend he hosted a dinner as the guest chef at Trisara. The six-course Asian style dinner was entirely seafood-based, and featured no noodles, rice, starch or carbs – the chef’s signature style.
Mr Raue opened up his restaurant two years ago at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous Berlin Wall crossing point between Communist East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.
“For the natives of Berlin, this was a place where you can do everything, so as a native of Berlin cooking Asian food, this was the right spot [for me] to open.”
Last year the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars, the most recent in a long line of awards.
Mr Raue developed a passion for Asian food after visiting Thailand, China and Japan, and since then has honed his skills by reading “every English cookbook” about the three cuisines.
“I mix the flavours of Thai with the long-lasting techniques of Chinese. Japanese is pure and very simple and fresh, but it has a lack of taste and flavours, so I mix all three.
“We have a huge community of Thai people in Berlin. It’s about 45,000 people, and our luck is that Thai cargo are delivering fresh Thai food every week to Berlin. The quality of morning glory and other items is very good.”
However he denies his dishes are “fusion”.
“Fusion sounds to me like you have a stupid European guy who takes a scallop, puts a piece of lemongrass through it, and grills it. I try to mix it together and give it soul – Asian soul. I have a deeper understanding of it.
“I don’t call it fusion, because I studied it for many years. It took four years, from the first moment I fell in love with Asian cuisine until I created the first dish with this concept.
“Thai chefs are traditional. They make the dish the way they learn it, and don’t improve it much. They might serve it a new way, but the dish in itself is the same.
“I have the opportunity to mix it up, because I have no roots in Asia. Therefore I have the opportunity to do whatever I want.”
A good example is his take on the traditional Chinese dish of steamed fish, leek and ginger: sea bass, duck stock, bok choy, and marmalade jus to “bring some sweetness in”.
“The most important thing about this dish is the stock. The stock must be long lasting in the flavouring and on the pallet, and that can only be found when you’re cooking duck feet.
“The feet don’t have much meat, and have long lasting flavours. I also use a vintage soy sauce from Japan, which is 1,700 euro [B68,000] per litre.
“This is the usual Chinese dish – my way.”
At the Trisara dinner, most in attendance agreed that the standout dish of the night was the Phuket lobster. Mr Raue served it on a carrot puree,with plenty of butter and passionfruit.
“For the puree, you buy the smallest carrots because those are the most tasty. The you marinate them with ancient mandarin peels which are older than five years. Then you vaccumise them, and cook them for six hours.”
Mr Raue then blends the carrots for one hour, which he says gives a wider range on the pallet of both mandarin and carrot.
Is he ridiculous, spending so much time making a simple dish as carrot puree?
“It looks very easy – if you see a spoonful of it, you think it is easy to do – but the steps behind it are interesting, and this is what we try to do.
“It is simple, but this is what I am – simple and flavourful.”
He’s been a chef since age 16, when he left school and started a chef apprenticeship. At 23 he was already a head chef, but says he was only promoted because he was a great manager.
At 28 he became executive chef – essentially the director of the kitchen.
“But I thought, if you’re the director of the kitchen, you must be able to cook, and I didn’t have very good skills. So I trained myself and got my restaurant’s first [Michelin] star. I tried to go one step back and be a head chef with a lot of passion, and that works well.”
When he was awarded the “Chef of the Year” in 2007 by the French Gault-Millau guide, he was working at the Swissotel.
“That for me was my break. I was cooking modern French and Spanish food, with a touch of Asia. Then I thought I cannot do it any longer, I have to switch. From that day on I wanted to do what I was passionate about.”
So he quit the Swissotel, and started at a different restaurant. Mr Raue stripped rice, noodles and carbs from the menu. Then made all the dairy products lactose free, no white sugar, and no gluten.
“The idea was to try and service all the people who have food allergies and dietary requirements, and it was very successful.”
The concept was such a hit that he decided to open his own restaurant with his wife, specialising in his own Asian style cooking.
Since the Tim Raue restaurant opened it has become one of the top restaurants in Berlin. There are plans to open another in a few months.
“My cooking style is the flavours of Thai, the purism of Japan, and the soul of China. I never wanted to make fusion, I wanted to make something where I could explain the story.”