When you watch the Chef’s Table episode about Tim Raue on Netflix (s3e5), you almost get the feeling that the director, David Gelb, didn’t get along too well with the chef.
– I am egocentric and I’m proud of it, are the first words we hear Tim Raue speak.
In between scenes of Raue cursing and yelling at his kitchen staff, food writer Ursula Heinzelmann is trying, and failing, to describe Raue as a person. The director deliberately chose to use these cuts where she throws out one characteristic after the other, then changes her mind, before she finally lands on the sentence:
– Well, he can be an arrogant bastard.
The Most Essential Chef in Berlin
Tim Raue grew up in Kreuzberg, which was one of the toughest parts of the divided post-war Berlin. He was abused by his father and ended up a violent teenager himself. As part of the street gang 36 Boys, he would do petty crimes, like beating up people, commit robberies, and fight other gang members.
– I was really a fucking evil, mean boy, he says at one point in the Chef’s Table episode.
However, when his gang turned professional criminals, doing armed robberies and selling drugs, Tim decided to change course in his life. By chance, he got into cooking and worked his way up from a commis to a head chef, simply by being tougher and stronger than all of his colleagues. In his own words, he was a pain in the ass for everyone around him.
Eventually, Raue got into fine dining, which was his dream. In Berlin at the time, such establishments were all about classical French cooking. After years of going with the flow, a trip to Singapore would change his view of cooking forever. Tim’s first meeting with the progressive Chinese cuisine blew his mind. At this point, he understood that French fine dining was not for him. The spiciness, aggressiveness, and pungent flavors of Asian cooking was more in line with his true identity.
Ironically, restaurant Tim Raue is located in the same neighborhood where Tim grew up. However, Kreuzberg is no longer the ghetto that people used to avoid. In fact, it’s the area with the highest density of restaurants, bars and coffee shop in my latest foodie map of Berlin.
– You can’t understand the Berlin food scene without a visit to Tim Raue, I’m told by Per Meurling before my trip.
The Swedish-born food writer runs the most important food blog in Germany – Berlin Food Stories. According to him, and many others, Tim Raue is one of the most essential chefs in Berlin.
King of the Krug Table
I was full of expectations, but also questions, when I entered the courtyard of Tim Raue’s eponymous restaurant. How would I perceive this man with a big ego? Described as a controversial provocateur, ambitious, and outspoken – in other words, a typical Berliner. Would he even be there? Before I could finish that thought – he stood before me. The man himself, right next to a large piece of concrete which read: This is an original piece of the Berlin Wall. Above, hung a sign from the World’s 50 Best restaurants – indicating that restaurant Tim Raue is currently considered no. 37 in the world. The chef, who also holds two Michelin stars, was busy talking to someone else, however, so I walked past and entered the building.
Inside the restaurant, I was guided to my seat by the friendly and very professional restaurant manager André Macionga. He would take extremely well care of me the next couple of hours, serving me one of the best wine pairings I can remember – and it was all conventional producers! No natural bottles, but never boring.
I was seated at the end of a ridiculously large wooden furniture that could easily host a party of ten. Yet, there I was, all by myself, overlooking the kitchen. The king of the Krug table. Literally, a large marqueterie of brass letters imprinted in the oak table spelled it out. Referring, of course to the Champagne brand for which Raue is an ambassador. Later, I would be joined by two other parties, so, at least for lunch, this appeared to be used as a communal table.
My Meeting With Tim Raue
Soon after I sat down, Tim Raue came over and said hello. He was smiling. I shook his hand. While his staff carried out one plate after the other of the snacks, the head chef explained each little serving for me. It was a bit overwhelming, to be honest. Trying to pay attention to what he was saying, and at the same time taking in the fact that he was being so damn nice. I’m not sure I wanted him to be arrogant or with an attitude, but I certainly didn’t expect him to be the complete opposite. Humble and welcoming. Was it just the poker face he put on in front of the guests, only to become his true self once he entered the kitchen? I will never know, but my meeting with Tim Raue was a good experience. We exchanged some stories, and the chef willingly posed for a photo. He even signed his book for me.
Among the snacks, the standout bites were the papaya with onions and shichimi togarashi, the sambal manis marshmallow with grapefruit, and the pork belly with chili and sesame. Salty, sweet, acidic, fatty, and pungent flavors that punched me in the face. Boom! Time to wake up and pay attention. This was not going to be like anywhere else in Berlin. This was restaurant Tim Raue.
Asian-German Luxury by Berlin’s Badboy Chef
The imperial caviar dish looked impressive, but the flavor and texture of the sprat mousse disappointed me. How bad could it be, though, when you get such a copious amount of high-quality fish roe? There is certainly no lack of luxury when Tim Raue serves you at the Krug table.
Steamed pike perch in a stock of 10 years aged kamebishi soy sauce, came with spring leek and young pickled ginger. It was pungent, almost too acidic, and not my favorite either. Soon, my interest level rose again, however, when I was served a mazara prawn. The inherent sweetness and delicate texture of the little crustacean was perfectly preserved and just gently lifted by the colorful and tasty condiments. The kind of bite you want to last a bit longer. Second servings, please?
Lettuce on a plate dressed in Japanese mitsuba parsley and dotted with jellied yuzu juice and yuzu peel was also very acidic, but refreshing. I liked it, but it wouldn’t make me go vegetarian. So far, I didn’t see much sign of a German touch to the plates, but the kitchen would make up for that tenfolds with the next dish.
Suckling Pig & Peking Duck
On a recent visit to Singapore, I had to try the classic suckling pig and Peking duck at the famous restaurant Imperial Treasure. Raue’s interpretation of these traditional Cantonese dishes was definitely not very close to the original, but extremely well executed and successful in its own right. Finally, I could see the German in him come out, as before me lay a deep-fried piece of pork knuckle from a suckling pig. Scheisse, schweinshaxe! It had that pleasing crunchiness you want, paired with tender, juicy, soft pork meat inside that makes me salivate even from writing about it. The condiments were simple but effective. A spicy Japanese mustard cream to contrast the fattiness of the meat, and a dashi jelly.
The pork knuckle serving size was huge for one person, yet, of course, I couldn’t help but finish when it was this tasty. Life is too short to gamble on the next dish being as good. Unfortunately, the Peking duck was equally delicious, but luckily, the kitchen had the common sense to scale the size down. In fact, it was split into three servings. The breast with crispy skin was actually the least impressive. It just didn’t measure up to a good Peking duck. Next was a delicious duck liver terrine with pickled cucumbers, creams of ginger and leek and crispy skin on top. My favorite part, however, was the third and final serving. While it looked completely ordinary, it was a broth or soup made of the tongue, heart, and stomach of the duck, seasoned with five spice, which just instantly brought me back to the streets of Singapore. The smells and sensations of a bustling hawker center.
The sweet ending was also right up my alley. A cheesecake mousse shaped as a koi carp, covered in white chocolate, together with yuzu sorbet and jelly. Refreshing, creamy, and well-balanced. Thanks to Tim Raue for this temporary transportation back to Asia. It made me realize I had to get myself eastbound again soon. I love the subtlety of the New Nordic cuisine, but sometimes, you just want an uppercut of hot and spicy.
Have you ever been to Berlin and Tim Raue? Please share your experience in a comment below.