Fast Food is a new, regular feature on EB.net by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. Every Saturday you can read a new piece of a sophisticated ongoing conversation about cooking, traditions and how to read the menu of any given restaurant. It is a discussion about disappearing spaces and why so many chefs listen to Miles Davis’ so-called ‘electric period’ after an exhausting night in the kitchen. Photo: Luci Lux
Dax: I am a bit surprised as the article I had written about the Schönberger in fact was rather a small piece. It was a text about the brunch you were offering every Sunday morning and noon. I mentioned how noticeably fresh all the ingredients were and how many different tastes you were offering to your guests. I mean, you did basically offer everything from deep sea clams to carpaccio, from mozzarella-tomato-basil caprese to vitello tonnato. And of course I remember—and I think I mentioned it too in the review—that many of your guests were already boozing the chilly white wine you were offering around noon. You didn’t take much money for it. Nobody understood how you calculated that brunch. But you were successful in gathering a particular kind of people Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Musicians and artists, photographers and journalists, pimps and poets—there was always both a certain tension and a laid-back feeling. Today, you’d probably call it an air of ‘after hour’. But the food was just too good. Even if you weren’t hungry anymore, you’d stay just the same to try out the marinated sardines or some of the delicious raw milk cheese from France.
Schoenberger: Back then, the term ‘brunch’ wasn’t yet a swearword. Also, we didn’t offer our guests the day before yesterday’s remainders. No, we composed the offerings from supplies that had been delivered during the night from Saturday to Sunday by our wholesalers. You wrote about the weekly brunch very efficiently in very few words. You were the first and only one who seemed to have understood the social aspect of this particular pattern. Hell, I remember how everybody in the kitchen thought: Finally, there is someone who just writes what he sees. It might seem ridiculous, but nobody wrote like that. So, I instructed my Maître d’ to track down this Max Dax in St. Pauli’s red-light district and to escort him into the Große Freiheit. As we both know, he succeeded. This wasn’t of course the beginning of our friendship, but it illustrates quite sharply the way customs were handled in those days.
Dax: I must have been twenty-five then. You didn’t allow me to pay for the dinners I consumed at the Schönberger. I didn’t understand what was happening. I only knew such behavior from the movies.
Schoenberger: And still you didn’t show up every evening as one might have had expected. I remember that you came for dinner maybe once a week. And when you came to visit that fall afternoon you ended up cleaning the green string beans because someone from my crew must have been absent. I never cleaned the vegetables—I had people for that. But when you came in I saw it as a spontaneous test to consider you part of my storm troopers that I had to dispose. You cleaned the beans and I took care of the business.
Dax: The nice times didn’t last long, though. You had to sell your restaurant soon after we had met. It took almost two decades until I was happy to discover a resemblant restaurant that was operating with an almost similar philosophy in Berlin Mitte—all those original restaurants that you can find in Milan, Paris or Rome don’t count in this particular context as they are family-run and thus different. That one was called Themroc, like the French film by Claude Faraldo, and it still opens its gates every night at Torstraße—even though it has changed into something different. Which means that we are talking about the past again. And of course there were only a few obvious parallels between the Schönberger and the Themroc. The most visible one: Both places were referring to the original public bars and small restaurants that you find especially in France and the Mediterranean. The second parallel was the kind of company/people they attracted. The Themroc was a hybrid just like the Schönberger. Both were new on the block and both didn’t build their legacy on a book of original recipes bequeathed from one’s grandmothers. And both were unique in the cultural region called Germany. I consider this dialogue also as a chance to find out what you did differently compared to the vast majority of the others. You and Alireza Farahmand of course, the owner of the restaurant Themroc. And, even more importantly: What should be done differently when it comes to cooking—including your own kitchen at home!
Schoenberger: The other way to do things that I had in mind can be wrapped up in one sentence: I wanted to do things simply. I saw and I still do see cooking as a process. It’s the process of producing lunch or dinner. If you do so—and most people do so at least once a day—you have to follow clean lines. You have to basically know what you are doing in your goddamned kitchen. And I admit that the term ‘simple’ is a wickedly tricky term to use. Because suffice to say nothing of what we were cooking was ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ at all. It just looked like that. But this air of simplicity constituted our reputation as a ‘different’ restaurant. The same counts for the Themroc. In both cases, people—wrongly—assume that the simple fact that you get your food on a white plate and that as a guest you can clearly identify the ingredients and the products you are going to eat, also means that its cooking procedure is ‘simple’, too. This is, to make a long story short, one of the biggest misunderstandings in life.
Published September 14, 2012. Words by Max Dax & Thomas Schoenberger.