JORGE, THE SOUTH AMERICAN CHEF TOURNANT AT RUTZ, A 2-STAR MICHELIN RESTAURANT IN THE HEART OF BERLIN.
Jorge Josse’s roots are from Ecuador, but he discovered his passion for cooking later in Germany. He began his culinary career as a dishwasher in a Latin American bar on Warschauer street and ever since has been working in renowned Star kitchens such as Fischers Fritz and Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer. Currently, Jorge works as Chef Tournant in the two-star restaurant RUTZ in Berlin.
At the moment you are the Chef Tournant at RUTZ. How did you start working as a chef? Why did you decide on working in the culinary field?
I didn’t ever plan on being a chef, and up until I was 22 years-old had never really cooked. I started off studying structural engineering back in Ecuador. It really wasn’t for me so I started looking for a new experience. So, I moved to Berlin, where I already had some friends there and wasn’t completely alone in a foriegn country. There, I started studying music, but I was disappointed because it was totally different than what I had in my mind. So, there I was, in Germany, young, a bit lost and a foreigner. In those days I wasn’t really eating well but I had a flat-mate who was a cook, and after many months of eating mashed potatoes from the box I asked him if he could show me a thing or two. At the same time I met my now current wife and decided to start cooking for her. So the passion for cooking developed in parallel with my passion for my wife. Additionally, I had dropped my studies and my visa had expired so I decided to do a culinary apprenticeship. At that time cooking was more than just a job to me, it brought me a good bit out of a deep hole and helped me find and accept myself. Helped me to see who I was and who I wanted to be. With that, cooking now also means a part culture and connection with people, which is very important to me.
Hilton Hotel, Sheraton, Fischers Fritz in the Regent Hotel, Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer in the Adlon Hotel… are different places you’ve worked at. How have these experiences influenced you, and how important do you consider them?
Well, I could say that all experience shapes you, but that would be a bit too general. It’s difficult to pull concrete examples, because you really need to think long and hard about all the things that have really influenced you. And aside from that, I think that individuals at my job rather than the job itself influenced me the most. For example, without my first sous chef Houssam, I would have never ended up in star gastronomie.
Through other people I also learned how I don’t want to work, and the type of chef I want to be.
Today you are working at RUTZ Restaurant & Weinbar under Marco Müller. What do you find special about your job currently?
Without a doubt, the team. It’s a really special thing for me here. Then of course is the style of food that we make. It was a totally new experience. For the most part I had been cooking French cuisine, but the type of cuisine which we have at RUTZ is very product focused and revolves much around fermentation, product-ripening and marinating. That was a totally new world for me.
How important is the team?
The team is the most important thing, period. Without good colleagues, nothing works. And I don’t mean just technically good, when you have a good team you can help support members that are weaker in other areas. When you are in a good mood, then you also cook much better, and in my opinion that is picked up in the food and by the guests. Without good colleagues I wouldn’t be at this point in my life and wouldn’t be where I am professionally.
I am so lucky that we have such an amazing team here at RUTZ, and it definitely is a type of a small family. We don’t have a screaming head chef. Of course, people have arguments once in a while but that is in every family. Cooking is quite an emotional thing for me, and you get the best results when everyone feels great and is working hand-in-hand together.
So, with Berlin and all the restaurants that you have worked in being international; where should your journey bring you next? What is the grand plan?
Well, I definitely want to go back to Ecuador and open my own restaurant, but before that I would like to take some time for myself. Asia is at the top of my list, I just want to get to know other people and cultures. That is more important to me now than seeing other restaurants (except if Massimo Bottura hits me up), then I would also love to go to Italy, my wife is also Italian so that would be perfect.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it?
Oh, that is difficult for me to say a specific cooking style because I am constantly developing myself. However, If I have to pick something to describe myself, then I would say my focus is on vegetables, seasonal ingredients and a cuisine which tends to be minimalistic. When I am brainstorming new dishes I always start with the vegetable component, with fish or meats being mainly a supporting actor. There is a lot of Ecuadorian influence in what I do, and I combine it with european cooking techniques.
Which current trends do you see currently in the culinary world?
I think the Scandanvian cuisine has seen much more importance in recent years. Restaurants like Noma or Frantzén are setting trends and influence a lot of chefs. Overall, by working with fermentation, I have recently realized it can be incorporated fantastically with the cuisine from my roots, so that the ingredients are the same but just interpreted differently. We ferment a great many things in RUTZ and I learn so many new things. I have realized also that it works very well with a light and fresh cuisines and makes exquisite flavor.
What would you do as a chef if money were not an issue for a year?
At first I would travel to experience new cultures, tastes and just be inspired. Then I would build a small test laboratory where I would occasionally offer a small chef’s table.
Be honest now, which German dish or ingredient took some time for you to get used to?
Definitely Liebstöckel. I really had to get used to it, and still do… but I still love the German cuisine.
Which classic German dish do you like a lot?
There are a couple. Käsespätzle with caramelized onions, Schweinshaxen with Bavarian cabbage, Königsberger Klopse… and of course the Berliner Döner 😉.
You are a chef from Ecuador that has worked for several years in some of the best houses in Berlin. Are there any major similarities between the Ecuadorian and German cuisines?
Potatoes!… otherwise, there aren’t many similarities. The Ecuadorian cuisine works with totally different foods, ingredients and techniques. Aside from that, you need to see a clear distinction from home cooking and the gourmet kitchen. There aren’t too many gourmet restaurants that really cook traditional German cuisine. Most are cooking in a French style with some mediterranien, asian, arabic and south american influences. How often I have eaten a ceviche that had nothing to do with a real ceviche. I think we do a great job at RUTZ, we really put our focus on regional cuisine and don’t try and grasp lobster from Brittany. Naturally we use products like soy sauce and miso but they are also produced here in Berlin and are used in a way where the dishes are enhanced with our flavours and don’t end up as a some asian fusion.
What differentiates the Ecuadorian cuisine from the Peruvian cuisine?
That is kind of easy to explain. It’s like the German and Austrian cuisines. You can find numerous parallels but there is still a big difference in the food culture.
Peru, the Peruvian cuisine has a lot of international hype at the moment. Ecuador sits right above Peru and on the coast with mountains and a great cuisine. Why is there less attention being focused on the Ecuadorian cuisine?
In my view, there are two factors which play a big role. On one hand, Peru is in a better position economically and politically than Ecuador. On the other hand we have a tendency in Ecuador to underestimate ourselves. We have just as much to offer as Peru (or Colombia), but I also have the feeling that is has improved a lot in the last few years and we are starting to have a new appreciation of our land and culture. I am confident that we will continue to develop and I will be happy to be a part of that.
Thanks a lot Jorge!