Extract SIGHTGEIST / Category: Fine Dining

Joie de Vivre on a Plate

Germany's Chef of the Year comes from Leipzig

Leipzig is hip. For some years now, it has attracted a growing number of young professionals and creative minds. One of them is Peter Maria Schnurr, Germany’s Chef of the Year 2016.

Peter Maria Schnurr moved to Leipzig from Berlin before the hype began. He opened his restaurant FALCO in 2005, high above the city on the 27th floor of The Westin Leipzig hotel. In retrospect it was the right decision, he says cheerfully, considering he is now the only top chef with two Michelin stars in former East Germany: “The timing was perfect. From the very start, I was looking for something different, a niche to fill. Leipzig offered everything I needed, as well as a lot of freedom.” Above all, it gave him space to dream up his unusual ideas. Known for his banter and unconventional style of dress (he likes to wear red tracksuit trousers and trainers), Peter Maria Schnurr loves a challenge. “Extremes appeal to me. I only ever wanted the very best.”

Originally from Forbach in the Black Forest region of South Germany, Schnurr graduated from vocational school when he was 16 years old. His father, a banker, wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. But Peter had other ideas, and yearned to do something creative. At 20, he trained as a chef and fell in love with the trade. After working in various restaurants to round out his skills and gain experience, he moved to Berlin in the mid-1990s, where he worked with leading chef Siegfried Rockendorf, who made him chef de cuisine at the tender age of 25. “I had blue hair and an earring; I loved to provoke and aggravate. But it also meant I had to be twice as good as anyone else – and that encouraged me even more.”

Today he still loves to provoke, do things his own way and cross traditional boundaries in creating his dishes. His culinary philosophy is “cuisine passion légère©” – passionate, light cooking – a creative, French-inspired cuisine with a modern interpretation. He combines fish and meat with vegetables to create different textures. For example, his 7-course “Passion” menu features tilapia with parsley root, pear, Lardo di Colonnata and sweetbread roasted in nut butter, with chestnuts, Perigord truffles, Jerusalem artichokes and Campari orange, or short rib with date chutney and lime chicory. No bread, no pasta, no risotto. Everything is “unique”, as Schnurr puts it. “We have moved on from conventional cuisine, combining components that are unexpected”, he says. His guests love it: “People who come here for the first time are bowled over – by the food, the way it is presented, the ambience.”

The critics are captivated too. The “Gault Millau” restaurant guide just named Schnurr “Chef of the Year 2016”, describing the 46-year-old restaurateur as a “tempestuous chef with a bold style that is very much his own. His complex dishes are packed with expressive flavours and astounding combinations of products that always unfold perfectly on the palate,” and awarding him 19 out of 20 possible points. Named after its founders, the “Gault-Millau” is the most influential restaurant guide of French origin besides the “Michelin Guide”. It grants Gault Millau points, the most coveted accolade in haute cuisine after Michelin’s stars.

The award is a great distinction for Schnurr and an endorsement he is happy to pass on to his 22-strong team at FALCO. He has even renamed the title “We are Chef of the Year”. He would never have achieved such success without his employees, on whom he relies fully and for whom he has nothing but praise, particularly maître d’ Oliver Kraft and sommelier Christian Wilhelm. It is important that the chemistry in the team is just right, says Schnurr. “We laugh a lot together, the atmosphere is informal.” And yet he expects a lot: Discipline, reliability and hard work are values close to his heart: “I want 100 percent effort, precision and quality. I don’t make compromises.” His crew also has to put up with one more thing: his taste in music. He plays techno at full blast in the kitchen right up until the guests arrive. (excerpt)

Mandy Weigel

Photo: (c) Restaurant Falco Leipzig/Ralf Müller, Matthias Hamel
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