’I always work as well as I possibly can’

She has travelled to over 50 countries and cooked in the most faraway places. She became Germany’s youngest starred chef at 27 and in 2023 was honoured with a second Michelin star and named ‘Chef of the Year’: Julia Komp brings flavour – and power – to the kitchen.

Julia Komp

📍 Sahila Restaurant, Kämmergasse 18, 50676 Cologne

📍 Yu*lia Mezze Bar, Kämmergasse 18, 50676 Cologne

Julia Komp, born in 1989, was the youngest chef at the age of 27 to receive a Michelin star.

💡 Tip from the starred chef’s kitchen 

Cardamom, star anise and cinnamon – only during the Advent season? Hardly! Julia’s tip: these ‘Christmas spices’ lend rice a special aroma and flavour – at any time of year.

MPULSE: What made you more nervous, self-employment or your world trip

Julia: That’s an easy one. Why should I be afraid of a world trip? No question: self-employment. (laughs)

Why? 

Because there’s so much more responsibility in it. First and foremost, for my staff – I always want to be able to pay them. And if you’ve got 20 employees, you go home in the evening with 20 different things on your mind. I take my workers’ hardships to heart. And of course, to start my own restaurant, I had to take out a loan. I hate having debt. Then there are taxes, and on and on … People have such a romantic notion of entrepreneurship. They see a crowded restaurant and think: wow, they’re doing great. But they don’t see the huge pressure that goes along with it. 

I concentrate on the kitchen, do the purchasing – but I’m also involved on the service end, talking with our guests. That’s the best part of it for me.

Julia Komp

How do you deal with that?

Fortunately, my partner, Yunus, handles the taxes and all that. I concentrate on the kitchen, do the purchasing – but I’m also involved on the service end, talking with our guests. That’s the best part of it for me. It isn’t the cooking or the contact with the guests that’s exhausting, but everything that goes on around it.

Can you give an example? 

When guests don’t show up, without cancelling their reservation. Holding a table for a party of four that doesn’t appear means a loss of 20% on the night. It doesn’t happen too often any more, but when it does, it really hurts. The overheads in the fine dining segment are high. We prepare the menu according to the number of reservations we have. When guests don’t show, I can’t do anything with the lobster – I’ve already cooked it. So we’ve started calling all our guests in advance to confirm. And a staff member comes in a half-hour earlier specially to do that.

That’s a lot of extra work

Yeah, it would be nice if more guests had a sense of how much preparation goes into everything. Another example is food allergies and intolerances. We’ll get guests who don’t mention to us what they can’t eat until it’s lying on the plate in front of them. I don’t want to poison anyone! But it’s stressful to have to react to something unexpected like that … 

How do you respond to requests for vegetarian options?

One point is that our side dishes are always vegetarian – so we only have to exchange the fish or the meat. And I make some sauces on a vegetarian basis. But not all of them! A broth made with meat, for example, has a lot more depth than a vegetable broth. You can make a delicious vegan version, of course, but in some cases that means it’s going to be a different culinary style. There’s more to it than just trading out one ingredient or another. 

On the subject of your world trip again: you were on the road for 14 months and cooked in kitchens in over 30 countries. What was that like?

I just launched into it and was, so to speak, passed from one kitchen to another. I cooked in three restaurants in Malaysia alone, four in Japan, four in Bangkok as well … one thing somehow kept leading to the next.

What did you take away from it, other than a lot of recipes? 

I got much closer insights into the various cuisines and preparation techniques than I ever could have from here, of course. In Malaysia, we drove into the jungle on Sundays to pick fruit that you couldn’t get at the market. That was exciting – though it doesn’t help me much here. (laughs) But I learned a hell of a lot. A trip like that also makes you grow as a person. You learn to relax more, to savour the small things … My impression is that people in other countries enjoy life more than we do here. And in countries where there’s a lot of poverty, there’s also quite a bit more hospitality.

Travelling is my downtime. I can’t sit at home on the couch – on a day off, I want to experience something, be outdoors.

Julia Komp

What do you enjoy?

Travelling is my downtime. I can’t sit at home on the couch – on a day off, I want to experience something, be outdoors. At home, I feel like I’m in a cage. Not to mention that our little apartment is more an office than a flat at the moment.

Back to the opening question: self-employment. Given the fear and the stress, would you do it all again?

Absolutely. I’ve fulfilled my dream! A Michelin star for my own restaurant. I always work as well as I possibly can. And I invest so much time and passion – I don’t want to do that for someone else any more. But I couldn’t do it alone, either. It’s all teamwork. It wouldn’t work without my employees. And without my partner, Yunus, I’d probably have gone mad by now. (grins)

About ...  Julia Komp

Julia Komp, born in 1989, was awarded a Michelin star at 27, making her the then-youngest  recipient of this honour. At the end of 2018, she left the Schloss Loersfeld restaurant, where she was the head chef, to go on a 14-month world trip, taking in 30 countries. She wrote a book about it (Meine Weltreise in Rezepten (My world journey in recipes), Gräfe und Unzer, ISBN: 978-3-8338-8053-7). The number of countries she has visited has since grown to 50. In 2022, Julia opened the first restaurant of her own, Sahila in Cologne – for which she earned a Michelin star after just one year. In addition to Sahila, she operates Yu*lia Mezze Bar. Under her brand Kenzolie, Julia also owns a shop  that sells olive oil, spices and coffee.

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