Fast Food 18

This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on milk foam and fish trawlers. How are these two entities linked? Well, you might enjoy a cup of cappuccino in the morning while reading the newspapers, and then receive the phone call from your trusted fishmonger informing you that a big slice of swordfish will be on sale soon at a bargain price. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. We pick up the conversation where they left off in episode 17.~

Photo: Max Dax

Read previous episodes of Fast Food here.


Schoenberger: But don’t get me wrong: I certainly can appreciate regional cucina casalinga such as what they are serving at the aforementioned Locanda Ciacci. If I lived in that area, I probably would make it a ritual to eat there every evening. But for sure, I am not a friend of the so-called slow food movement or the constant praise of regional cuisine. I would never limit myself in terms of using spices for instance—just because they are typical for a certain region.

Dax: I didn’t suggest this. I was just impressed that you can basically educate your clients by always serving them the same, regional dish. I mentioned it because sticking to a pattern makes it so much easier to calculate your purchases. I wouldn’t refrain from using cumin just because it grows in Turkey. The same goes for Asian ingredients such as coriander, ginger, or Thai chili.

Schoenberger: Point is, if you know what you are doing and why you are doing it, you are actually allowed to experiment. I will never forget your way of serving salmon with a sauce made of olive oil, lemon, and white wine that you’d flavor with ginger, green pepper, chili, freshly roasted pine nuts, and lemon leaves. This would be the antithesis of regional cooking. But it is allowed as long as you are using the best possible products.

Dax: Do you believe in globalization?

Schoenberger: Absolutely. Travelling is all about tasting. And every culture that allows cross-influences—say, from immigrants or even from a colonial background—is richer than a hermetic culture. Imagine Paris without the Vietnamese cuisine from the Indochinese heritage or London without its colonial Indian counterpart.

Dax: What about favoring regional products when you are shopping for vegetables or meat?

Schoenberger: Nothing speaks against that as long as the product is good. The problem is, though, more often than not, novo regio turns out to be a half-hearted whim of fashion. Restaurants that claim to purchase only goods from a radius of, say, one hundred kilometers mostly still do offer tea or coffee or wine from France, Italy, or even California. It becomes evident if you take a closer look at, for instance, Noma in Copenhagen. Check their website and you know what I mean. Nothing against serving moss or poached eggs as part of a nova regio menu that clocks in at €200. They are offering truly distinctive dishes. But one glance at the wine list and you realize that they don’t differenciate at all. They simply offer everything that is good and expensive—like any other three star restaurant in Europe. If you ask me, nova regio is a hopeless attempt to impede globalization in the kitchen. I really see it as substantial progress that Metro Cash & Carry offers fresh fish. It wasn’t always like that.

Dax: How was it before?

Schoenberger: I remember the daily routine of checking the remainders from the night before, together with the crew. Of course, we had to literally eat it up in order not to throw it away. Usually, there were a couple of cases of unused vegetables, and we’d receive phone calls from our meat and fishmongers who would offer us their odds.

Dax: How could you know that this was good product?

Schoenberger: We had a bond of trust with our suppliers. That’s basically the reason why you’d only purchase your goods from one single supplier. Because you trusted them.

Dax: I remember constantly seeing your fishmonger having dinner with his employees at the Schönberger.

Schoenberger: That’s what I’m saying: He trusted me as well. But to answer your question: Hamburg has this old tradition of passing through provisions. Take a fishmonger at the Hamburg fish market, for instance. If he receives the call from a trawler that a tuna fish of a certain size had been caught and he decides to buy it, he immediately starts to sell parts of it to his customers—before the fish even has arrived at his shop. He will sell the best and most expensive parts to sushi restaurants and Japanese hotels, of course. If he doesn’t sell the entire fish within a certain time frame, he starts to sell the remaining parts for bargain prices. The reason for this is obvious: you shall not waste a single gram of such a valuable animal. So, if we were lucky, we’d get a big slice of sword or tuna fish for little money, grill it and would put it on the slate. You must not forget that on a normal day you couldn’t offer expensive dishes like that. You were dependent on the phone call.

Dax: The crew had to be responsive to these calls.

Schoenberger: That’s true. It didn’t make things easier. But the overall effect was that we were able to serve better food within our price range. When everything was bought, chopped, and prepared, the entire crew would sit down at 6 pm to have dinner together. This was an important ritual. And it was the only time the waiters and the kitchen crew were allowed to drink wine. Of course, when the battle was over, we’d drink a lot. But in the time between it wasn’t allowed.

Dax: Were there other rituals?

Schoenberger: There were more rules than rituals. Obedience was key. It was clear that we’d never serve fruit juices, caffé latte or cappuccino. You cannot lead a restaurant properly if you offer drinks that don’t philosophically match with the food you are serving. You drink milk and coffee in the morning, not after dinner. A restaurant that is, drinkwise, based on the pillars wine, water, beer, espresso, and schnapps cannot offer anything else. It would destroy the perception.

Dax: But I remember that I witnessed people would get served a cup of cappuccino with the dessert.

Schoenberger: Yes, you are right. But only until the day I disconnected the hot water tube from my beloved Faema E-61 coffee machine with flat pliers. I remember putting the faucet on my bedside locker. Of course, I mounted it again when we had to close the restaurant, as I kept the precious coffee machine.

Dax: The machine is now located at the Electronic Beats office and continues to serve us good coffee. Actually, I always say that the machine makes the second best espresso in town.

Schoenberger: Where would you get the best espresso?

Dax: I don’t know. But why this anger when it comes to coffee with milk?

Schoenberger: Children and cats drink milk in the morning. Besides that, preparing a cappuccino or a latte macchiato simply wastes time. Time is the most valuable currency in gastronomy. You simply can’t offer a cup of cappuccino to 150 people after dinner. You’d need an extra waitress. For milk foam! That was strictly against the philosophy.

Read Fast Food 19 next week.

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Fast Food 17

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


Read previous episodes of Fast Food here.


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.

Read Fast Food 18 next week.

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Fast Food 16

This week’s installment of Fast Food covers thoughts on the Roman Empire and how to successfully cut a leg of beef from a cow. Fast Food is a weekly blog about cooking and the micropolitics of dining by Thomas Schoenberger and Max Dax. The photo was taken near Arezzo on the superstrada to Florence and features a street sign announcing a truffle vendor selling truffles at street level prices. ~ Photo: Max Dax


Read previous episodes of Fast Food here.

Schoenberger: I would kill the cook who’d dare to pour cream into a mussel brew.

Dax: There’s that aggression again. Why do you always get so excited when people become creative and start to experiment with recipes? I understand that cooking is not about being creative and certainly not about pouring cream into a mussel brew. But then again, it is certainly allowed to alter recipes to a certain degree—when ingredients are missing for instance, or when you try to reproduce a dish at home that you’ve enjoyed in a restaurant.

Schoenberger: Sure. But I always get annoyed when I hear the term creativity in connection to cooking. Why not use another term instead? I’d suggest variability. Most people seem to have not understood that cooking is just another word for dictatorship—in the sense of the Roman Empire. It basically means that the laws of the galley apply. The captain recites the poems of Horaz. His pacing as he is reciting dictates to the drummer the speed at which to beat the drums. And those who are in the belly of the galley have to row according to the drum beat so that the ship can move. I guess you call that a chain of command. And it makes sense. If you’d allow your cooks or the service people to articulate an opinion you are doomed. And yet there were possibilities to bring in ideas.

Dax: Like what ideas?

Schoenberger: Any ideas were allowed. But the procedure had to be exactly like Machiavelli described it in The Prince: If the prince needs any advice, he asks his consiglieris. If he doesn’t ask for a counsel, nobody has to offer any. The captain moveth in mysterious ways. End of the story.

Dax: Can you name an idea that was brought to you and that you did accept?

Schoenberger: Actually, I adapted quite a lot of ideas from my people. When I felt there was a need to redirect I would call for a summit and ask for suggestions on how to improve certain things or how to confront specific problems together. I am just saying that you cannot allow, at any time, to invite people to constantly bother you with so-called ideas for improvement.

Dax: No examples?

Schoenberger: I told you we were cooking lunch for all the people who were working in our backyard on a daily basis. Since it was always the same people who were eating somebody suggested that we let them always pay their bills at the end of the month. It was a tiny thing to change but it made such a difference! People felt like they were members of an exclusive club or something.

Dax: If you were serving lunch for your friends and dinner for the masses, when would a typical working day at the Schönberger start in the morning?

Schoenberger: People started to pop in around 11 a.m. Never ever would anyone show up earlier as the nights at the restaurant were always long. Nonetheless it was often my duty to visit the fish market, the food wholesalers or the abattoir at 3 a.m. or at 7 a.m. in the morning. So, when we all met again around 11 a.m. we’d dish up an improvised breakfast while two of the cooks were preparing the lunch—composed of a salad and a main course. If the cooks weren’t too hungover they’d even prepare a dolce for everybody.

Dax: This reminds me of lunch traditions that you can sometimes still find in places such as provincial towns in Italy, France or Greece. At least that’s how I recall it. As a guest, you’d enter an osteria in, say, Jesi or Sassocorvaro, queue with the other people holding a tablet in your hands and then get something delicious for lunch and a carafe of wine. You never knew what they’d be serving you. But it was always great.

Schoenberger: And don’t forget: Serving a salad didn’t mean that we were taking the easy option. The kitchen hand would have to clean the salad for as long as it took for it to no longer contain any traces of soil. Ask any chef in a kosher restaurant how often they clean a salad or the vegetables. Always remember that soil is not a sign of freshness. In autumn when it rains a lot you may have to wash a salad ten times until you can consider your work done.

Dax: What other kind of preparation work had to be done in the kitchen?

Schoenberger: The fish had to be gutted and scaled. And with my personal working background as a slaughterer I would bone the meat whenever necessary. Usually twice a week I’d also boil out the bones and extract meat stock. The important thing—if you cook for a lot of people—is that you prepare everything in advance. And I mean EVERYTHING. Even if you’d find some time in the evening you certainly wouldn’t find the space to do it. Especially in this regard cooking in a restaurant differs from preparing a three-course menu at home.

Dax: How do you extract meat stock?

Schoenberger: You chop the bones to pieces with a cleaver and put them into a big braissère together with some olive oil. You then braise the bones with the oil in an oven until they get dark, then add some celeriac, bay leafs, carrots and just a little bit of flour to bind the oil while roasting the bones. You then deglaze everything with red wine and broth and let it reduce for a couple of hours in the oven. The broth you get by concocting vegetables and meat—otherwise you’d call it a bouillon. While you keep the broth to use it for the meat stock you throw away the boiled out vegetables. The meat you can serve as a cold starter together with homemade pesto.

Dax: By what means did your background as a slaughterer help in that regard?

Schoenberger: I certainly had some advantage when it came to merchandise knowledge. I did save a lot of money buying entire pieces of meat that I would then dissect myself. But even more importantly, people wouldn’t sell me bad product at the abattoir. If someone told me a piece of meat had been well-hung for eight weeks then I had the capacity to be able to see that it might’ve been hung for just two or three weeks instead. At the abattoir people respect you immediately if you tell them that you can cut the leg of beef yourself from the quarter because they realize that you are one of them.

Read Fast Food 17 next week.

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Fast Food 15

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


Read previous episodes of Fast Food here.


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.

Read the next installment next week.

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Fast Food 14

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


Read previous episodes of Fast Food here.


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.

Read episode 15 here.

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