MPULSE: The Michelin Guide has awarded stars to a total of 327 restaurants in Germany this year, a new record. Do you see this as a positive development?
Sven Elverfeld: Generally speaking, yes – but I think there’s still far too much soulless cooking going on out there. And I’m not just talking about fine dining or award-winning cuisine, but also restaurants that simply serve well-prepared food, regardless of the level. Country restaurants, for example, that are simple but run with dedication and love, and that offer their guests decent cuisine. There, I can see a clear north–south gradient: the farther north, the fewer restaurants you find that serve really good, regional cuisine. Their numbers increase as you move south, into Southern Germany and in the direction of Switzerland and Austria. And there are just too many on the market overall. Why should just anyone who can pass a health inspection be able to open a restaurant?
What bothers you about that?
For the guest, it’s no longer clear how much heart can and should go into it. Just a delivery service? That has nothing to do with quality cuisine. It’s devoid of any celebration of food. I think that poses a problem. Dining out is also about the experience, about being hosted. These days, you have to look for that. A lot of parents don’t take their kids out to restaurants at all anymore. So the kids don’t get to know this experience. Not to mention how one behaves at the table.
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.’
Where do you think Germany stands internationally in that regard?
In our neighbouring countries, it’s different. There, eating, especially eating out, has a completely different importance. That really should change here. But what I’ve observed – and, to me, the only positive thing about the Covid pandemic – is that when everything was closed and nothing was running, people regained a certain respect for services and since then have also come to appreciate restaurants a bit more. Because once they had to shop and cook themselves, they realised what all it involves. Nonetheless, original, simple German cooking the way your grandma did it – a nice pancake, a good bean stew or a pancake soup at the local pub – that’s dying out.
What is a typical supper like for you at home?
It varies, but it’s definitely different than here at the restaurant. Green beans, broccoli, carrots – those are some of the usual vegetables. The kids love them – my daughter is ten and my son is eight. I put the peeled carrots in the pan whole, with a tablespoon of broth and some butter. What’s really important is to not boil, but simmer them. They taste better, and the fat dissolves the nutrients like carotene and vitamin C, so I don’t pour them off with the water. But I bring home a pizza sometimes, too, and when we go on holiday, we’ll make a stop at a Burger King or McDonald’s.
The promotion of young chefs, for one thing. METRO is a main sponsor of the Bocuse d'Or final. My long-time sous-chef, Marvin Böhm, has participated in the Bocuse d’Or multiple times, and my junior sous-chef, Simone Kubitzek, has been bitten by the bug and is taking part now, too. I think support for young talent through competitions like this is important. That brings me back to the significance of the restaurant trade: there needs to be a good selection of restaurants in various categories.
Places like Aqua, where you might go three times a year, but also restaurants for everyone, that you can go to every week or two. And not least, the award connects me with METRO as well, because as a partner of the Michelin Guide, METRO presents the plaque with the three stars.
The Michelin-starred restaurant 'Aqua'
Speaking of the three stars: 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. That’s why it’s also important to me to work with young people. They don’t necessarily have to have worked at a three-star restaurant, but maybe have experience working at a one-star restaurant.
What advice do you have for a young chef seeking to get there?
Don’t overestimate yourself – or, don’t want too much all at once. And don’t set your sights on a starred restaurant right after your training, perhaps, but start with good, sound cuisine. Gain knowledge of dishes and cuisine in other countries. Instead of a starred restaurant, where you master a certain position but don’t learn anything else, I’d recommend going to a good family-run establishment, where everyone does everything. You’ll learn a lot more there.