What do Plants on a Wall Have to do With Supporting Young Chefs?

The experimental pop-up kitchen. For almost three years, "Laden ein" in Cologne has been offering young talents the opportunity to trial their skills in their own restaurant. Till Riekenbrauk fills us in on the details.

Mr Riekenbrauk, what's the story behind plants growing up your wall?

Back in 2015, when my colleagues Vincent Schmidt, Mathes Robel and I decided to open a restaurant with a bi-weekly rotating menu and team, we all knew that what we were really looking for is a chameleon. A restaurant that is just as flexible as its hosts. Finding the right decoration becomes an instant problem. Plants on a wall go well with pretty much any theme. It was an experiment.

Just as much as the entire "Laden ein"  was an experiment: Young and aspiring restaurateurs are given an opportunity to check out the realities in the restaurant and catering industry. Did it turn into a success story?

We are very happy with the results. We had more than 60 different hosts over the past two and a half years, and we also had a second restaurant in Düsseldorf running for half a year, which makes for another 12 guest chefs. Back then we were the pioneers in that area. There are now plenty of copycats, such as "Guck mal wer da kocht" ["Look who’s cooking now" in English], in Frankfurt. And that's great. All major cities should have these kind of restaurants - ideally with the support of the local chamber of commerce and trade. Aspiring restaurateurs are rarely given the opportunity to trial their skills and passion without committing to a lease for their own restaurant. But that is an immense financial risk to take. This is where we can offer valuable help.

Apart from the space itself, in what other ways do you support the hosts?

We help them in creating a good menu and in preparing the staff rosters. We make contact with suppliers and provide staff - mainly wait staff. In return we expect transparency. Our promise to our guests is that they will always know the source of their food and can see the ingredients and how they're processed for themselves. The hosts must be skilled professionals in their trade - we have an open kitchen - and not use any convenience products. We scrutinise every single host on whether or not he or she is a good match with our philosophy before making a decision. Colloquially said, they need to strip bare before being allowed to invite any guests.

Is it all worth it for the aspiring restaurateurs?

I think it is. 10 percent of our hosts have in the meanwhile opened their own business. A good example is Mashery Hummus Kitchen. They now have their own restaurant on Roonstraße in Cologne. I think that many more would open their own business if it wasn't that difficult to find suitable real estate in Cologne.

As a gastronomer you often have no possibility to try yourself - without renting your own shop directly. But that means a big financial risk. We help.

Till Riekenbrauk
Till Rieckenbrauk in conversation

Would this success also be possible if your hosts were to offer something other than street-food?

There are some examples of Michelin-starred restaurants. The Ikarus restaurant in Hangar 7 near Salzburg hosts a different international star cook each month. It works well - but only for a certain group of customers. Street-food in the meaning of top-quality snacks hits a nerve of our times. An increasing number of people visit a restaurant during their lunch break. They expect fast food that is exciting, varied and always top quality. They have a high level of awareness and want to know where their food comes from. The "Laden ein" concept meets exactly these criteria.

Additional ingredients: being pressed for time and curiousness. What is your secret in making your guests curious about your offer time and again?

We feature a new trend every two weeks - and our guests know that. Our social media activities keep them up-to-date. Every second Monday, each time we change the restaurant, we post the new menu on Facebook or Instagram around half an hour before opening. We will also post video clips of our test meal - everything is done last minute and makes them want to know more.

How long until the guests will become tired of the concept?

We are in a good position. Our concept works. It may well be that the street food is replaced by something else at some point further down the track. As the saying goes, the restaurant and catering industry never sleeps... But that is precisely why young talents will always be in need of a place where they are allowed to experiment. We are that place.