This week’s installment of Fast Food covers what it means to properly put together a dinner menu under the seasonal constraints of Italy’s Marche region. Oh yeah, it also offers advice on how not to fix a dent in a Jaguar XJ6. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. The photo was taken in the eccentric ristorante Locanda Ciacci and features two of the many hundred roosters that decorate the space. ~ Photo: Max Dax
Dax: How did you plan ahead when it came to buying and storing the food? What quantities of food do you buy when you run a restaurant?
Schoenberger: It’s easy to drive to the wholesaler and buy as much stock as possible. In the worst case you’d freeze the leftovers. But it’s much more sophisticated to make a precise estimate of the quantities you’ll use in a given evening. We didn’t have that much storage room anyways. We weren’t Peter Luger.
Dax: I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard about it—it’s a world-famous steak house. Why do you mention it in this context?
Schoenberger: Because Peter Luger has a freezer of the size of a football pitch. Due to their stocking possibilities they have total control over the quality of the meat they’re serving. You can’t forget that in the States a steak from a steak house is a high-end dinner. You can easily pay a couple hundred dollars for two people—including wine. Don’t ever confuse an American steak house with European gastronomic imitation.
Dax: I know from writing the shopping lists when I cooked at the Themroc that you have to be really tight with your calculations. There is only a small margin of profit when it comes to tiny restaurants like the Themroc.
Schoenberger: You’re absolutely right. I would go so far to say I can judge people by their shopping lists. You can tell if they’re careful, if they are responsible or not. But even more so, having ambitions with your shopping list defines and changes the way you cook.
Dax: Shopping lists always remind me of concrete poetry. No doubt, a well thought-out shopping list is better than most published poetry these days.
Schoenberger: True that. There is of course a direct link between deciding what to buy and composing a menu for the evening. In the ideal case, you compose the menu around two or three pillars—the standout fresh food you were able to purchase for a good price at the wholesaler. These products have to be both in season and match the other dishes on the menu. But first and foremost they have to match the philosophy of your place.
Dax: I was really impressed when I traveled through the Italian Marche region. The villages in the Montefeltro area are famous for their down-to-earth recipes. You won’t find anything fancy on the menus of the old-fashioned trattorias and ristorantes. Every village seems to have one particular place where you can get a decent dinner. When you ask people where to eat they all tell you that you should try a place called Locanda Ciacci in a village called Gallo di Petriano, which literally translates to “rooster of Petriano”. In fact, this huge restaurant is decorated with thousands of roosters, from the floor to the ceiling.
Schoenberger: Are they trying to attract tourists?
Dax: Actually, it’s the opposite. Collecting toys and drawings of roosters is the owner’s eccentric habit. Actually, the roosters express a kind of independent spirit that rejects adjusting to strangers. It’s more like an inside joke, I guess. But if you get a table at Ciacci’s, you’ll get served two starters from the very beginning. One is a selection of local cold cuts ranging from salami and San Daniele prosciutto to lonza, which is kind of a cured beef or pork tenderloin. The other plate is always mozzarella cheese, ricotta and provolone. It all comes with bread, of course. If I know you, then those kinds of starters would be the kind of pillar in the menu you mentioned before, right?
Schoenberger: Absolutely. I actually love the idea of going to a place knowing what I’ll get as a starter. I mean, I’ve never been to Locanda Ciacci, but I certainly understand from your description that these people take tradition very, very seriously. Let me guess: They have an assortment of primi: tortellini in brodo and tagliatelle al ragù?
Dax: Volltreffer. How do you know?
Schoenberger: Those are just typical dishes that are frequently served in Tuscany, Marche and Emilia Romagna. Typical secondi would be guinea fowl, quail, or veal escalope in lemon sauce. Did they have those?
Dax: Right again. Actually, they don’t serve fish even though they are only 25 kilometers away from the Adriatic coast.
Schoenberger: The way you describe Ciacci, they seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and I assume that they don’t change their menu on a daily basis. Maybe they’d exchange one dish, but that’s probably it. They’re offering modular cuisine based on limited possibilities. But instead of interpreting this as a problem, they’re on the offensive. In Hamburg, though, we couldn’t play it that straight.
Dax: Why? You monitored the shopping. You directed the cooks.
Schoenberger: In a perfect world that would be enough. But the biggest enemy of the kitchen is the cook. Most cooks get bored if they have to cook the same dish day after day after day. They want to be creative. They want self-fulfillment. They sabotage you and try to backdoor you when you want to create a modular system. They don’t even know the season of the year and what that means for them. If I were running a Jaguar garage and a customer of mine would come in with a black XJ6 that has a dent in the door, my mechanic would fix the damn dent. But what if he decided to “fix” it with racing green varnish?
Dax: You’d kill that man?
Schoenberger: I probably wouldn’t kill him as this would mean that I’d have to go to jail. It would just be the last day he worked for me. And nobody would question my decision to fire his ass. But in a restaurant, as a guest, you’re constantly confronted with shitty solutions to real problems. Honestly, I don’t know that many cooks who reflect on their profession on a more abstract level. They behave like small children. This is one of the reasons why I quit being a restaurateur. I simply couldn’t stand it anymore.
This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on roasting the perfect brasato and why you can read the menu—or any plate—like a book. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. The photo was taken at Metro Cash & Carry in Berlin and features sea urchins that you can eat raw—if you know you can trust your seafood dealer. ~ Photo: Max Dax
Schoenberger: Our philosophy could only work because we were fully aware of the fact that every single dish has a certain structure, like DNA. There is often only one or two right ways of preparing a dish. If you follow the roadmap you’ll get the result you were heading for. Once you have fully understood the structure of a given dish you are probably allowed to give it a personal spin. But only then—after you’ve successfully completed your homework.
Dax: Let’s talk about one of the classic dishes at Restaurant Schönberger—the piedmont brasato. It was a very special experience to secure a table with a white papercloth in that noisy place and then were served a caraffe of red wine and a plate of brasato. Why was that particular roast such a unique match?
Schoenberger: The answer is simple. We could prepare it in advance within the limited possibilities that our kitchen offered. We would put the brasato into the oven during afternoon—and we knew that the roast would be stewed and ready at 8 p.m. Of course you have to marinate the centerpiece of the leg of beef for at least 24 hours before you cook it. Now, let me tell you how to cook the perfect brasato: A day or two in advance you put the freshly bought raw leg of beef into a large pot together with root vegetables, the so-called Mire poix—celery, parsley root, onions and carrots. You add bay leaf, garlic and red hot chili and then you cover it all with red wine until the beef is completely covered. If you think about it, this is not hard work at all. Then you leave it to draw for one or two days. Immediately before you put the marinated brasato into the oven you have to sear it on every side to seal it with a roasted surface. This is also easy, and presents a good opportunity for show cooking as you are handling very hot oil and a huge piece of meat that you’ve just put into the torrid pan. You can have some really impressive flames lapping at a beef on a gas stove.
Dax: So, what’s the secret?
Schoenberger: There is no secret. To marinate the brasato dictates the timeframe and narrows down the vegetables that you are allowed to use. You certainly shouldn’t experiment and try to fool around with white instead of red wine, and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of covering the whole brasato with wine. This, by the way, dictates the kind of pot you are going to use as you don’t want to waste liters of a perfectly drinkable table wine just because you don’t have the correct container. Which leads us to the process of searing the brasato: The oil must be very hot and you sear the brasato quickly but long enough so the typical roast marks appear on the surface of the meat. The only secret is the discipline. I mean, you can’t marinate a leg of beef in two hours.
Dax: And after having seared the brasato? What then?
Schoenberger: From now on you can’t do anything wrong anymore. I forgot: add some salt. Then you set the heat in the oven to 80-90 °C and let the roast braise there for three or four hours, depending how well-cooked or saignant you like it. The only thing that needs some expertise is the so-called Beurre Manier—butter that you knead with just enough flour to a soft dough. After some hours in the stove, the wine and the fat will be reduced to a thicker sauce, but not yet in a state to be called a sauce. That’s why you need the Beurre Manier: you carfully stir the butter-flour dough into the reduced gravy juice and it will thicken. You call this process of producing a sauce “binding”. But this is also nothing but a structured chemical process and thus easy to learn. Now multiply this. Put two brasatos into the oven and you have double the amount of slices of brasato roast that you can serve. Have three ovens and three brasatos in each of them, you have nine times the brasato, with almost the same amount of work, thoughts and time invested. A crowd of 90 hungry guests you have to feed with brasato isn’t impressive at all anymore. We can serve it with bread that we would bake ourselves in the same ovens or with polenta.
Dax: Wait. How do you do the bread?
Schoenberger: Water, flour, rosemary, sea salt, yeast. Then bake.
Dax: That’s it?
Schoenberger: That’s it. Our readers aren’t stupid, they know that they have to knead a dough a couple of times before they can put it into the oven.
Dax: So, in other words: the four or five dishes that were handwritten on the slate as the menu of the night were like a formula—a formula of the do-able.
Schoenberger: Exactly. If you know how to read a formula, you can tell from the slate whether a restaurant is good or not.
Dax: Since the dish you get served in a restaurant is the result of both a system and a process, the mistakes you can make are clearly defined as such. In other words: as a guest, you don’t only read the slate as a formula but also your plate like a book. If you get your pasta with vongole veraci served with chopped coriander instead of parsley you know that this is either a mistake or an interpretation. As a guest, you will certainly taste the pasta accordingly—with knowledge. You don’t need to be a connoisseur of food to know which way the wind blows. It’s actually enhancing, if not something utterly positive, if you can judge the food you are being served.
Schoenberger: In the ideal case, as a guest I agree to a pact with the devil in the kitchen. I mean, if I get perfectly prepared spaghetti with vongole veraci—parsley or no parsley—I immediately know that I am part of a well-run system. As I said before: I love perfection.
Dax: Stick to your limitations. Serve perfect spaghetti vongole veraci or perfect moules frites. Both dishes signify the impossibility of molecular cuisine. To quote my favourite lines from Franz Kafka: “The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means the impossibility of crows.”
Schoenberger: You cannot improve the brasato or the spaghetti vongole veraci or moules frites. You can only do things wrong. You can clean the mussels sloppily and in doing so endanger your guests, risking that they get food poisoning. But this has to be filed in the same category as marinating the brasato: stick to the rules and nobody will get sick. To make this point crystal clear: It’s not that difficult to reach world standard. It’s all a matter of discipline.
Dax: Cooking at the Themroc with everybody passing by looking at you didn’t allow you to make any mistakes. Everybody was watching. Everybody would see it if you’d pour cream into the mussel brew.
This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on the concept of the Bavarian Biergarten as well as why we shouldn’t be too angry with McDonald’s. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. The photo was taken at Hofbräu Biergarten in Munich under the chestnut sky. ~ Photo: Max Dax
Dax: The funny thing is that in a McDonald’s restaurant nobody would ever place a special request.
Schoenberger: McDonald’s is a very good example of a system that is stronger than everything else. McDonald’s—or Burger King for that matter—is like a dictatorship: Nobody has any rights—neither the guests nor the people at the cashpoint. You want more ketchup? That’s 20 cents extra. A seller at McDonald’s probably gets fired if he or she doesn’t ask every guest, and I mean every single one without any exception, if they could consider ordering the full menu instead of a plain burger. That’s how they maximize the turnover.
Dax: You cannot order your burger rare or medium rare at McDonald’s. This would already bust the system. A perfect system by the way, don’t get me wrong. It would never occur to me to really have “dinner” at a fast food restaurant such as McDonald’s, but I am certainly willing to give props whenever appropriate.
Schoenberger: Yesterday night, I was having dinner with my ex-officer Werner Geyer at the Paris Bar in Berlin Charlottenburg. We got served a steak that tasted like rotten meat and squishy French fries. It was just horrible.
Dax: That’s interesting: Claude Lanzmann was equally disappointed having dinner at the Paris Bar the other day. I had to invite him to Grill Royal to get him back on the tracks.
Schoenberger: Funnily enough, going to the toilets I met Rolf Eden on his way out.
Dax: So you at least caught a glimpse of what the Paris Bar used to be.
Schoenberger: What I’m trying to say is: If you’ve got a working system, don’t you ever dare changing it. That’s why I want to pay my tribute, too, to McDonald’s—because they would never change their laws, regardless of what you could criticize, ethically or otherwise.
Dax: I can see real beauty in perfectly functioning systems. It occurred to me the other day when I went to have a late night dinner at Adana Grillhaus in Manteuffelstraße after a Wolfgang Müller exhibition opening at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. This is probably the best Turkish restaurant in Berlin, if not in Germany—open 24/7. Many dubious low-life and backstreet people seem to gather there during the night shift. Some of the regular customers are musicians. Sometimes they start to play Turkish music there at 4am in the morning.
Schoenberger: What are they specialized in?
Dax: We went there once or twice together. They have an open wood charcoal grill—in a way it looks just like the Themroc as the grill is visible for all the guests. They offer lamb chops, shish and adana kebaps and many other grill dishes. Actually the adana kebap is their special dish, thus the name of the place. Kebap in Turkish means ‘spit’. You must not mix it up with the fast food of the same name.
Schoenberger: I remember. You’d order an adana kebap there and drink ayran.
Dax: It’s basic traditional Turkish food, but they’ve brought their dishes to perfection. Of course, they don’t serve pork. But they do serve grilled gilthead if you happen to be a vegetarian. I could eat there every night. I don’t know why, but strangely I don’t even feel bothered by the TV set that is running there all the time. They are only showing süper lig football matches and traditional Turkish music programs anyways.
Schoenberger: The German equivalent to these kind of perfect gastronomic structures would probably be the concept of the Bavarian Biergarten.
Dax: Nothing compares to a lazy afternoon in a Munich Biergarten under the chestnut trees, boozing Bavarian lager and enjoying grilled sausages or Schweinshaxn.
Schoenberger: True that. But let’s focus on the enormous quantities of beer and food being sold there on any lovely afternoon. On a good day the big beer gardens in Munich such as the Hirschgarten or Chinesischer Turm sell hundreds of hectoliters of draught lager and thousands of meat dishes— they have seating capacities of more than 7,000 each. The system has proven efficient over the centuries, so the system works out very smoothly. As a customer you usually have to queue to get your Maß of lager at one of the enormous dew points. In some of these traditional places you even have to flush out your Maß in deep barrels of ice-cold water on your own in order to get your refill.
Dax: There we go again: McDonald’s didn’t only copy the concept of the French brasserie, but also that of the beer garden. You have to queue at the counter to get your food and drinks.
Schoenberger: No gastronome would ever challenge this concept. It’s like a mathematical formula, like Sudoku. Especially when it comes to sausages and Schweinshaxn. Point is, you can prepare endless amounts of these kinds of dishes if you know there is a demand. Brez’n and Weißwürste, baked Leberkäse and Obatzda served with fresh cottage loaf. You can literally prepare thousands of Bohemian dumplings that are kept warm in meat broth in enormous copper pots—if you have the logistics ready. If somebody wants a plate of these Knödel, you just fish out one or two of the broth with a skimmer and put them on a plate. Once everything is prepared you just bang the dishes out one after another. I have been fascinated all my life by logistics like this.
Dax: Obviously, you can’t order à la carte in a Biergarten. The Bavarians probably invented the self-service restaurant.
Schoenberger: Exactly. I know a small beer garden in Berlin—the Berghain Biergarten—where they tried to serve sophisticated food. It was a nice try, but it went down the drain. You just can’t put carré of lamb cooked à point on the menu when the goal is to serve as many hungry lost souls as possible. I was there and I immediately had to think of Don Quixote.
Dax: The system is the challenge. It’s like a matrix you can put on any setup. The Themroc is a different setup compared to the Schönberger or the Chinesischer Turm. It’s less a question of the selection of dishes you offer than knowing what is doable. The setup defines the terms and conditions. At the end of the day people want to have the best food the system allows. And to make this clear: They have a right to get the best food. Regardless if they are willing—or capable—to spend ten Euros or 100.
Schoenberger: Let me explain something: It is a huge misunderstanding to offer a large variety of differently cooked dishes just to please any possible consumer’s wishes. Wrong. You need an army in the kitchen and the according logistics to offer various modes of cooking things correctly from the same stove. Of course you have to do your job well. But if you do so, it’s enough to offer variations on the same method. The pizza is the best example for this: You can offer forty different pizzas—but it’s still always a piece of dough that will be baked and delivered with a variety of toppings.
This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on discretion and toughness. If you happen to be famous you probably don’t want to be bothered while dining. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. Due to a heavy traveling itinerary, this week’s episode didn’t get published until today. The photo was taken at Bouillon Chartier in Paris. ~ Photo: Max Dax
Dax: While the cooks at Themroc experienced their own visibility by stepping out of the anonymity of the kitchen, the waiters had to take care not only of the service but also provide the audience with a space where they could behave freely. I am talking now about discretion and shelter. Sometimes big stars frequented the Themroc, such as The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley or Faust’s Jochen Irmler—as well as Nan Goldin, John Giorno or Michael Stipe. They all had heard about the Themroc being a particular space offering something they probably wouldn’t get that often elsewhere: They were treated as equals among equals.
Schoenberger: I’m not sure I get your point. The guests in the Themroc were visible. The place was brightly lit. What do you mean when you say that the guests felt protected?
Dax: Nobody seemed to take advantage of it being well lit. That was definitively the case. They could feel safe.
Schoenberger: Only 300 meters up the Torstraße, in yet another restaurant with an open kitchen, things were handled in a different way. That other place attracted a lot of Hollywood’s A-list stars. The restaurant seemed like they wanted to capitalize on their reputation as being one of Berlin Mitte’s hottest spots. Every time a star would show up you could be sure that the local newspapers would have a photo story ready the next morning.
Dax: How did you treat celebrities at the Schönberger?
Schoenberger: We treated them like non-celebrities. As you were saying, confidentiality is important. It doesn’t matter if people are famous, if they are gangsters or if someone’s dining with his or her affair, cheating on their partners. They all had their privacy.
Dax: I have to point out yet another aspect of that particular philosophy that was shared by both the Schönberger and the Themroc. Both had a squad of tough women who served the guests. I remember plenty of moments at the Themroc in which, for instance, a waitress called Tatjana Kononenko insulted her guests. She was and is a stunningly beautiful film director from Ukraine who was working shifts at the Themroc to finance her studies at Berlin’s film academy. Being a proud woman, she refused to accept money from her family, insisting to fund her life and studies all by herself. Growing up in both Ukraine and a Soviet military barrack near Weimar, as a girl she used to play tactical warfare with her pals in old, discarded Red Army tanks. So, whenever a guest would behave arrogantly, was pushy or confront her with sexist preconceptions because she was beautiful and from Kiev heritage, she had her ways of turning the guest’s stay at Themroc into a living hell.
Schoenberger: How did the owner Alireza deal with it?
Dax: For some time, say, for two years, he’d let her perform that way—knowing that this would help build the Themroc’s reputation as being a somewhat different place. I will never forget how Tatjana once refused to serve a hipster couple that annoyingly continued to boss her around, calling her “service”. After a short while she didn’t serve the table anymore at all and ignored the couple. When they apprehended her she presented them the bill and calmly told them the address of another restaurant nearby, the Grill Royal, where they could try their luck instead.
Schoenberger: That reminds me of our tough women at the Schönberger. I officially sanctioned such a behavior. I considered it proud and professional. My waitresses didn’t have to fear punishment if they’d piss off a certain kind of customer.
Dax: Didn’t you also run this system of putting “reserved” signs on the tables even though they weren’t booked at all? This way you could always refuse to seat people you didn’t want to have in your restaurant.
Schoenberger: That’s partly true. But we mainly used the “reserved” tables policy to make sure that regular guests would still get a table when we were overcrowded. But tell me more about the women at Themroc. Your wife Luci used to work shifts there too. How would you describe her role as a waitress in this context?
Dax: I’d say she was as important during the formative years of the Themroc as were the other members of the core crew—the three owners Alireza Farahmand, Manuel Schubbe and Olivier Lapeyre, but also Tatjana, the French cook Julien Ponthieu and the Danish steward Ole. They all played their part in defining the Themroc as a nocturnal refuge for Berlin’s lost and hungry drifters. If you had Luci as your waitress, you could be sure that you were served correctly and warm-heartedly. But if she didn’t like you, she’d kill you with her gaze. An ordinary night at the Themroc ended around 4am. That’s tough shifts for anybody involved. You have to find ways to survive such patterns. You have to be tough on a certain level or the job will destroy you.
Schoenberger: Let’s talk about the extreme working shifts for a moment. Unlike the usual restaurant we didn’t serve the regular dining hours. That’s just another similarity between the Themroc and the Schönberger. Tell me a restaurant in Paris or in Rome that would serve food after 10pm? You will not find any. Whereas in our joints you could be sure to still get some of the menu’s remaining dishes at around 11.45pm. And of course, after the last one was served you were allowed to smoke and the whole set-up would change naturally. It would give way to a more bar-like situation where everybody would continue drinking—and, by the way, from this point on music would matter too.
Dax: At the Themroc the same girls would serve the guests when the kitchen had already closed. That’s what made these working shifts so draining.
Schoenberger: As you know, we had this bar in the next room. We called the bar the Nebenraum—German for “the adjacent room”. Different girls were working at the bar alongside Ernest Hausmann who was running it. The waitresses by then had ended their shifts. Nonetheless you’d usually see them around until the restaurant closed its doors late at night. I’d call it a certain lifestyle that you don’t just want to go home after an exhausting working shift but to stay and talk to the various guests, many of them being friends and acquaintances. Basically, the whole place turned from a restaurant into a bar. That moment often reminded me of these magical situations after a theatre premiere when the actors and the staff intermingled with the opening night audience at the theatre’s canteen. At the Schönberger, we witnessed on a daily basis how the bar attracted its own audience night after night after night. Arriving at the Themroc or the Schönberger at, say, 12.30am. on any given day, you could be sure to experience the same solemnity you’d have after a celebrated theatre premier.
This week’s installment of Fast Food brings to light the military organization required to run a restaurant. Find out how Miles Davis, Nino Rota, the Mafia and Dante connect to a certain structured lifestyle. The photo was taken by Max Dax and shows the upper dining room of the world famous pizzeria Sorbillo in Naples.
Dax: You were referring to codes that you can read when you scan a restaurant. This, to me, reads like an invisible agenda. There are obvious things that pop up immediately such as the look of the place, the kind of people that are dining there, or the congruity of the menu. But there are less visible codes as well. In this context I want to know more about the organization chart of a well-run restaurant. You mentioned the existence of storm troopers in a kitchen. But if there are storm troopers, there must be officers and generals too. I want to especially bring in the term ‘Offizierskasino’ — in English: ‘officer’s mess’. The term describes the executive lounge where the people in charge meet to discuss pending issues and to plan campaigns. I always call the officer’s mess the ‘war room’. Did the Schönberger have such an Offizierskasino?
Schoenberger: Of course we did have an Offizierskasino. It is one of those strange but fascinating aspects of the German language that you can use a term that defines a space to also describe the existence of an inner circle. Few people ever admit it, but that’s the way it is: If you don’t run a restaurant in a strictly hierarchical way then you are doomed.
Dax: How many people were involved and on which occasions did you gather?
Schoenberger: Generally speaking, an Offizierskasino in a restaurant is responsible for synchronizing the chain of command and the supply chain. It’s all about organizing the storm troopers — the mobile infantry who serve the guests — and the brigades in the kitchen on a daily basis and connecting them with the leadership circles, i.e. the officers and generals. At the Schönberger the Offizierscasino consisted of me as the owner of the restaurant as well as Kent Hansen, the Chef de cuisine. We two were the generals. In the officer’s rank you’d find, among others, Ernest Allan Hausmann who was in charge of the bar.
Dax: What’s the difference between the bar and the kitchen in a restaurant?
Schoenberger: Not every restaurant has a bar where you can hang out after you’ve had dinner. Many restaurants just have a position where the waiters would prepare the drinks. But one day, Ernest Allan Hausmann approached me because he had an idea how to utilize an adjoining room that we at that time hadn’t renovated yet and that we were using as a storage room. I told him that he had all the freedom in the world and that he should deliver. So, during the following weeks, Ernest did clean up the room, did do all the necessary electric adjustments and renovated everything. Finally, one night he installed a pair of turntables and a mixing console and solemnly declared the bar open by putting the needle on Miles Davis’ Live Evil album. From day one this bar provided a clandestine late-night hiding place for the guests as it generated quite some turnover in cash for the restaurant.
Dax: I remember. The point was: Soundwise, you had both. You had the cacophony of voices, cutlery and clinging glasses in the main restaurant room and you had assorted dark jazz music at the bar. It didn’t mix. You were either dining or hanging out in the bar. I recall a lot of people who were baptized by the music that was played in the bar. This counts for me, anyways. For the first time I connected the — for me back then, abstract and difficult to approach — jazz music with a desirable lifestyle. But Ernest was also spinning records by Nino Rota, John Coltrane and other eternal heroes of his. Of course, smoking was allowed everywhere. Those were the times. Nowadays you need to open a private supper club to allow people to smoke in a restaurant.
Schoenberger: One day I took my Opinel knife and cut my favorite poem from Dante’s Inferno into the door frame: “Lasciate ogni speranza que’ entrate qui” — in English: “All hope abandon, you who enter here”. And above the door, I carved the sentence “Gli amici degli amici” — in English: “The friends of the friends”.
Dax: The latter sentence cites a famous Mafia saying. In other words: By carving these phrases you made a promise. You were basically communicating to your guests: “You belong to a particular kind of people, you who enter here”.
Schoenberger: Not only that, by defining the bar as a space where everything can happen I also made clear that the Offizierskasino of the Schönberger was the addresser and the guests the addressees of important messages.
Dax: Understood. But let’s come back to the organization chart. Between the generals and the storm troopers you have the officers. As I understand, Ernest Hausmann was an officer. Who else was an officer and what gave these people their rank?
Schoenberger: Early squad leaders included Werner Geyer and his sister. Werner Geyer is a born gastronomer. Nowadays he runs the infamous Muschi Obermeyer bar in Berlin’s Torstraße — right next to the aforementioned Themroc restaurant. But back in the days he owned the enormously successful Café Geyer on Hein-Hoyer-Platz in St. Pauli as well as the Bar 439 in Hamburg’s then hip Eimsbüttel quarter. He did run the Bar 439 together with the legendary Hamburg caterer Matts Unvericht. And yet another officer at the Schönberger was Steffen Hellmann who also owned the Restaurant Nil on Neuer Pferdemarkt, also located in Hamburg’s St. Pauli quarter.
Dax: That’s of course tacit knowledge.
Schoenberger: Yes and no. In the art world it belongs to the field of daily scientific necessities to assure you can track every single person involved in the process of creating and exhibiting art. I insist that we at least sometimes have to be specific in the field of gastronomy as well. A side aspect of mentioning the likes of Werner Geyer, Ernest Hausmann, Matts Unvericht and Steffen Hellmann is that they all have been successful on culinary territory ever since. At the Schönberger, they were tough officers. If a waiter happened to be late, they would immediately substitute the gap without discussing whatsoever. Of course, the waiter would get grilled later at night when the shift was over. The main quality of an officer is to always oversee situations and to act accordingly whenever appropriate. They completely understood the potency of the Schönberger.
Dax: Are you still in contact with your officers?
Schoenberger: Gastronomy is like war. If you happened to have fought and survived battles together you become veterans. Just like all the veterans of World War II or the Yom Kippur War people who have suffered together often have stronger connections than people who are mostly content.