MPULSE: Sven, you once said that with you and your menus, it’s ‘like with a painter you can recognise by their pictures.’ So what does a ‘genuine Elverfeld’ look like?
Sven Elverfeld: Oh, tough question (considers). Any artist probably has different phases. I’ve always savoured the challenge of creating something special from a supposedly simple ingredient. That’s why there’s hardly a luxury product on my menu.
What do you use instead?
I love eggs, for example. And freshwater fish. I don’t often cook turbot – if I’m going to use a sea fish, then more likely sole. Or sometimes a pork belly for contrast. When it comes to beef, instead of fillet, I prefer to use onglet – or hanger steak. It’s a cut that in Germany usually gets made into sausage, but it tastes much more interesting than fillet. And I very rarely change an entire menu, but rather only individual dishes, and I decide based strongly on availability and season. A good mix is important to me.
Fine cuisine without luxury products – that sounds paradoxical on the face of it.
Well, ‘luxury product’ is really a matter of opinion. It might just come from a specially chosen small producer that only offers a narrow range of goods. Like silverside rump cut from Müritz lake, for instance. Or wild game. I get mine from a hunter who’s also a master butcher. He hunts, slaughters and produces the meat all on his own. Venison and liver sausage. Quality products – that’s what luxury means to me.
So fine dining is possible even with simple ingredients?
Oh, yeah. For instance, you can take German lamb with green beans and bacon – but then refine it. How thick do you slice it? How do you bring out the aroma? And of course, a good sauce is essential.
How do you come up with new creations?
I don’t sit down and say, okay, I’m going to write out a new recipe now. I don’t think about it that consciously. The ideas come in my free time, on holiday, when I’m driving, when I’m shopping. Then I see an ingredient and think, hey, I could do something with that again.
And while you’re working out a new dish, is the next award also on your mind?
I never set out to get three Michelin stars. I’d never worked in a three-star restaurant myself. Maybe that let me be more relaxed about it from the beginning. Sure, I was hoping to get one star. And when you’ve got three, of course you want to hold onto them. But for me, the most important thing is that every one of my guests leaves the restaurant happy. In the end, it’s about the guest – that’s why we’re here.
About ... Sven Elverfeld
Creating culinary extravagance from supposedly simple products is what Sven Elverfeld’s cooking is all about. 15 years in a row, under his direction, the restaurant Aqua has brought home three Michelin stars, the highest distinction bestowed by the world-famous restaurant guide. Born in 1968 in Hanau, Germany, Elverfeld first completed an apprenticeship as a pastry chef, then as a chef. After holding various positions in restaurants including in Japan and Dubai, he has headed the Aqua at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg since 2000. Elverfeld is married and the father of two children. In another 15 years, says the top chef, he won’t be working in the kitchen anymore: ‘When the kids have moved out, we’re going to sell the house and travel the world.’
You almost make it sound too easy. The highest distinction, 15 years running – you don’t get that just by snapping your fingers.
I think you should always be open to trying out new things. And not feel like you need to satisfy everyone 100%. Because you can’t. Not every dish can appeal to everyone – and that’s fine. Another thing: this level of achievement is only possible with a truly top-flight team. I’m extremely fortunate to have the team behind me that I do, both in the kitchen and out on the floor. The important thing is to never sit back and say, I’m so successful now that I’m above it all.
So, how much teamwork goes into this award?
The restaurant is only ever as good as the team as a whole. It doesn’t come down to the chef alone.