His unique interpretation of Asian cuisine has won Tim Raue, the chef from Berlin, two Michelin stars and entries in the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. However, it is also – in spite of his reputation as a tough guy – a focus on a special kind of hospitality that has led to the success of his restaurant. A success always accompanied by champagne.
From adolescent roughneck on the streets of Berlin to one of the leading chefs worldwide, Tim Raue looks back at a breathtaking career. In an exclusive Journal 19 interview, he reveals what Krug had to do with it and what makes a good host.
Champagne reflects my personality
Mr Raue, what is the best occasion for opening a bottle of champagne?
To rephrase a well-known saying: I drink champagne to cheer myself up – and I drink it when I’m cheerful in order to celebrate that. There is no unsuitable occasion for champagne. It has an amazing positive energy. A glass of champagne is particularly good though for beginnings: something new, something nice, something one is looking forward to.
How would you describe your relationship with champagne?
Champagne was important in my life. During my first forays into starred restaurants, champagne got the evening or the lunch off to a good start. The way I see myself today, I find reflected in champagne: depth of taste, refreshing humour – that is, intense perlage – but also substance, intricacy and complexity.
And why Krug Grand Cuvée in particular?
The assemblage of different years – sometimes even decades – the freshness, the subtlety as well as the presence and aplomb give the Grand Cuvée everything that I would like to ascribe to myself. This is why I love Krug for what it is.
Do you always have a bottle of Grand Cuvée in your fridge at home?
Yes, just in case visitors come and there is an occasion for it – or for when there is no occasion and I want to create one.
How does Krug pair with your spicy, Asian cuisine?
I like to call Krug Rosé a strict grandmother. We have created a dessert made of raspberries, lychees and perilla – or shiso - leaves that has an effect that it would not have without these fruits, as if the Krug Rosé is like a grandmother who develops a warmth and gentleness through children. For me, dishes that pair particularly well with Grand Cuvée are ones with depth and spicy flavours such as our knuckle of suckling pig with mustard cream, ginger and dashi jelly. Krug’s vintages have more of a caramel aroma which is why I like them with truffles; for instance, in a casserole with roasted guinea fowl, Piedmontese hazelnuts, pickled grapes and black truffles. The Clos du Mesnil, a radiant white champagne, has an effect as if you are walking barefoot across a meadow on a spring morning, wading through ice water and gazing at yellow and white blossoms. It goes well with scallops cut as sashimi with elderblossom dressing, green Thai pepper and green, pickled vegetables.
Were these dishes created to pair with Krug?
Yes. We didn’t just start cooking and then attempt to add seasoning. Krug is too complex for that. We drank the champagne first and then started to create.
What is your definition of a good host?
If you have someone in your house, you must be clear on the point that it is important to express your personality. When I invite people home and open my heart to them, I serve them the best I have. In my case, to begin with, that would always be a glass of Krug, simply to say, “Hello, this is me”.
How do you manage to make people feel welcome?
In our restaurants, we always treat the guests as if they were guests in our house and not in a restaurant. Always with the polite distance of the formal German “Sie” instead of the familiar “du”, but with the idea that they could become friends one day. This personal cordiality, of course, requires a lot of investment on the part of the host, but this philosophy has led to our success. We have created an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable.
How has the young chef Tim Raue as a host changed now that he is star chef Tim Raue?
I can deal with the wishes of my guests in a more relaxed manner. At the beginning of my career, guests told me their wishes and wanted the food to taste milder, more harmonious. But I had my own ideas, I had to define my style and didn’t listen to them, just dictated what was on the menu. Today I am more laid-back.
What did you have to learn the hard way?
You can’t make all your guests happy. Sometimes you can lean over backwards to please them and they are still not satisfied. You have to live with that and also learn to ignore it.
In the future, will being a good host become even more crucial for success as a chef?
You can’t confuse being a host with the visual development that has taken place over the last several years. Today people spend more time in the restaurant photographing the food than they do eating it. These are developments that take place and that can’t be ignored. I am still of the opinion though that it is the people who matter most. Guests return for three reasons: because they can eat very well and drink very well – but what really makes them become regulars is the fact that they feel comfortable and look forward to seeing the people who are there for them. That is, their hosts.
Do you follow this approach also as a private host?
To tell the truth, I usually tend to avoid being a host in private. Being continually present and available for others in my work means that I prefer to be a guest in my private life. It also gives me the opportunity to judge gastronomic projects from the point of view of a guest. I think this is very important. For instance, I don’t like it when there is only one set menu with no choices. This is one of the reasons that we always have two set menus in our restaurant as well as the à la carte menu.
Can one learn to be a good host?
Knowledge is always learnable. If I am interested in champagne, then I can read about it. Some things can’t be learned though, I’m afraid. If I have a very shy personality, then I am probably unsuited as a host as I would have difficulty communicating to people what I feel and what I would like for them. It would be better then just to be a generous host, open as many bottles of champagne as possible and then sit quietly.
Does a host have to propose a toast?
As a host, I think it is nice to at least acknowledge the occasion. It doesn’t have to be for an exaggerated length of time, but not too brief either; taking time for one another is important. I also think it is very important to tell your guests that you are happy they are there.
What is the difference between the customs of Asian and German hosts?
There are many of those. In Asia, an invitation frequently has to do with prestige. In Germany, the communication is much more direct – one is celebrating a birthday or the signing of a contract. In Asia, an invitation is often extended in order to impress the guests. This can lead quickly to misunderstandings which is why it takes longer there to build private friendships.
You travel a lot. Which country do you think is the most hospitable?
What I remember is which people are the most hospitable and generous: and it is those who possess the least. Years ago I was cooking on Mauritius and the young chef who was assisting me invited me to his home. There were eight people living in forty square metres (approx. 430 sq. ft.), without running water. They shared everything they had with a warmth, love and openness that had been unimaginable for me until then.
You have already mentioned that you enjoy being a guest. What would be a no-go for a guest?
I think it presumptuous to explain to others how they ought to behave. But, of course, it is a bit difficult when guests think they know everything better than the host. These guests can bank on the fact that they were invited for the first and the last time.
Is there something that makes you feel unwelcome?
Naturally, I have sometimes been invited somewhere and realize that I don’t really fit in. But it is important to keep your countenance and stick it out. You don’t have to go back a second time.
What is nice way to say thank you to your host?
I don’t really like bringing something with me when I’ve accepted an invitation because I don’t know what has been planned or if it might look as though I think what is on offer isn’t good enough. I think it shows style to send a bottle of wine or champagne afterwards, perhaps one that we had talked about, or to send the hostess flowers. That is a warm gesture that is timeless.
And this bottle is from Krug?
Krug is something extraordinary, a complex product that one doesn’t just guzzle. It is inspiring and – at least in my eyes – the most respectful present that I can give someone.