Working from his 2-star Berlin homebase near to Checkpoint Charlie in Kreuzberg, he has a grasp on several Tim Raue branches in the nation’s hip capital. In the style of his affordable restaurant concept “La Soupe Populaire”, which recreates classics of the German kitchen, he recently opened his fourth restaurant on Rheinsberger Straße in Berlin. The “Studio” features world cuisine such as the current focus on Tokyo cooking, which will, however, soon be a thing of the past: the culinary concept is changed every three months on a regular cycle. Under the guidance of head chef Sascha Friedrich, hardworking office-goers can get fresh, quick dishes at lunchtime, and diners going out later can find several courses of culinary delights for under 100 euros in the evening. And all of this takes place in the middle of a newly developed district in Berlin, dotted with established companies such as Google and Twitter as well as other players in the digital start-up scene, happily inclined to work out their deals over a plate at Tim Raue’s from now on.
But once again you find out that here, too, everything is thoroughly booked up. Dining spontaneously at Tim Raue’s? Don’t even think about it. Even at the affordable restaurant variation “La Soupe Populaire”, you have to line up. How does he do it?
There are several answers to this, but they are all short. Curiosity, will, and expertise, with a small dose of self-doubt that protects him from delusions of grandeur.
He himself probably cannot stand to hear nor read about it one more time, but it is possible that there is a part of his past in which this attitude has its origin, without wanting to get too psychoanalytical. Tim Raue was once on the darker side of fate, and a member of a Berlin street gang: 36 Boys. His book from the year 2011 confirms his less abundant years with the statement: “I know what hunger is.”
The choice of career itself was not a grandiose process, but rather a simple product of chance that came about of necessity more than anything, during a visit to the career information center. Not much was on offer at that point: painter/varnisher or cook. The former held little appeal for Raue, even if his only category of evaluation was the “work experience” of his graffiti artist friends who had made it their mission to lend a more attractive appearance to the Berlin wall(s).
His first apprenticeship years led him to the Chalet Suisse in Grünewald, and also into the arms of his present-day wife Marie-Anne, who is the most important business angel in his achievement of success. Further stops – already in the position of chef de cuisine – followed, such as the Rosenbaum and the Kaiserstuben. In 1998, the never-ending succession of awards began. The first star in the sky of the Raue ability rose while he was still working for the Swissotel in Berlin. And the wave of success did not stop when he switched to the legendary Adlon Berlin. 2010 saw the first star on his own behalf, for the restaurant Tim Raue.
Raue gains your respect. One way or another. Nothing here is left to chance or let out of his expert hands. Only long-time employees are entrusted with carrying on his signature style in other restaurants; of course he himself can also be found behind the stove in his very first restaurant, “Tim Raue”, which garnered 19 Gault Millau points just a few weeks ago. We invited the successful and reflected Mr. Raue for an interview:
iSi:Congratulations on 19 GM points. What goals do you still set yourself at this point, now that a steady stream of awards is coming in?
Tim Raue:Awards are always great. Primarily, they make sure that interest is generated. This leads to a ton of press reports and this, in turn, leads to more guests. At the same time, this presence also means that personnel start to notice us. This means that young people with ambition want to work with us, want to progress along their path with us. Finding really good employees is one of the most difficult tasks altogether.
I don’t take awards personally. So I don’t flip out if someone says to me: Wow, you are a superstar, you’re so awesome, they gave you 19 points. I view the whole thing very pragmatically and realistically. Every plate that leaves the kitchen determines victory or defeat. The quintessence lies in being happy with what I do in the kitchen. I’ve also had times in my career when I didn’t receive any good ratings at all and where I was delivered some pretty good verbal blows. I didn’t attach any importance to this, because I had an idea and a vision, and I was pretty aware that the path I had chosen for myself wouldn’t be easy but that it would one day be successful, and that’s exactly how it turned out.
iSi: How would you formulate your fundamental vision, upon which your success is based?
Tim Raue: For me, there are three equal work levels that I have to dedicate my undivided attention to. One of these is the kitchen; the second is the atmosphere, which also includes the interior. We want to dispel any kind of trepidation that our guests might have, we want to be open and contemporary and not intimidate our audience with pompous design. When it comes to the haute cuisine of Asia, for example, the setting surrounding the food is completely trivial. What is of paramount importance is what is on the plate. This has to be fun and taste good.
The third level or pillar of success are the people who work here. It is decisive that they are not just followers, but that everyone who works in the service has an individual host role to fulfill. This person has to have character; I don’t care whether they serve from the left or the right. You have to be able to give your guest the feeling that he or she is eating at an acquaintance’s or friend’s house and spending the evening there.
iSi: Amongst others, you received the award “Trendsetter 2014” (note: Chefsache Cologne 2014). In what way have you influenced the development of German cuisine? What has been revolutionized by you?
Tim Raue: Fundamentally, I don’t consider myself a revolutionary; in fact, at the essence of my being I am a very conservative traditionalist. For me, trendsetting focuses not only on the kitchen, but also on the idea as a whole, which lies far away from the average. We don’t have a fusion kitchen, we have a Chinese restaurant. Not quite what you would generally understand this to mean, but it’s essentially a Chinese restaurant.
I think it’s about breaking down barriers in the branch and creating a whole new notion of gastronomy.
iSi: How is this concept defined in detail?
Tim Raue: I don’t want any distance between my guests and myself. I want to convey warmth and authenticity. What’s more, in Berlin we have possibilities that we would otherwise not have. Things are possible here that in other places would be unthinkable. It would be pretty difficult to establish my restaurant concept somewhere else, it wouldn’t work like that. This city allows for an incredible freedom and ease.
In a certain way, living also means cooking to me. At my restaurants, one’s basic needs are satisfied, but not with bread in order to simply feel full. Multilayered aromas provide culinary stimulation for the palate. There is little place for carbohydrates here; they strip away sweetness and spiciness and rob the dishes of their defining silhouette.
iSi: I don’t want to assume anything, but I reckon that right when it comes to these crucial points, techniques play a relevant role?
Tim Raue: I have deliberately been working with iSi again since the beginning of the 90s. For me, the perfect sauce is the defining backbone of each and every dish, and is what gives the food personality. The delicacy of these accompanying components is efficiently concentrated by means of this technique, and becomes even more elegant when transformed into foam using the iSi Whipper. I have a lot of bottles on the go, I actually can’t do without them any more.
You too can redefine the backbone of your creations, and let yourself be inspired by these two Tim Raue recipes:
Photo credit portrait: Wolfgang Stahr, Berlin