RENÉ STEIN – HEAD CHEF AT NUREMBERG’S SCHWARZER ADLER
If you fancy experiencing a culinary journey, then you simply must visit the Schwarzer Adler in Nuremberg. René Stein is head chef there. We met him for an interesting interview.
What made you want to become a chef?
My father usually did the cooking at home, and he did so with a lot of passion. And I wanted to learn a trade because my parents had also learned one (hairdressing). Until the second year of my apprenticeship, I didn’t know all the things you could do as a cook… until my teacher gave me Dieter Müller’s book Secrets from my three-star kitchen. It really sparked my interest, and from then on I knew exactly where I was going!
You come from Wetter and had to complete your training as a chef at Dortmund’s Landhaus Syburg. What did you get out of this solid education?
My apprenticeship made me hungry for more!
You worked as a chef at Juan Amador’s gourmet restaurant Amador (3 Michelin stars) in Langen. Does molecular cuisine still play a role for you today?
Like many of my colleagues, I’m sick to the back teeth of the term ‘molecular cuisine’. 🙂
I still often use techniques I learned at Amador, Tigerpalast and under Heiko Antoniewicz. But I usually use those techniques in such a way that you don’t see them but only taste them. Amador gave me far more than just technical skills; it was the most formative stage of my early days as a chef, not just in culinary terms but mainly personally! Pushing yourself to your limits and then going even further is a very tough thing to go through at first, and in my case there was even a time when I wondered whether I would be better off as a UPS driver. If it weren’t for my time with Amador, I wouldn’t have such a thick skin now. But of course it was also very important for my development as a chef!
RENÉ STEIN – HEAD CHEF AT NUREMBERG’S SCHWARZER ADLER
Later you worked at Martin Göschel’s Tigerpalast (1 Michelin star). What were your most important experiences from that time?
My two years with Martin Göschel were also very formative. Organisation and delicious cooking! And Martin has a superb leadership style that I learned a lot from!
When heading abroad, many chefs go to Asia or the Middle East. What made you go to the US?
I had always wanted to go to the United States, influenced as I was by skate videos from my days as a skater 🙂 Then I became aware of restaurants like Manresa and Alinea. And after a cookery event with Mr Amador in NYC I was offered a job as sous-chef at the Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City – you couldn’t see me for dust!
You worked as sous-chef at the Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. What was new/different for you as a chef in the United States?
First of all, it was my first sous-chef job with 10-20 employees. And then in English and with a ‘full-steam-ahead’ Amador mentality where you either hack it or you leave. And that saw me hit a wall very fast. After the fifth meeting with my executive chef in his office, I slowly caught on and let him lead me, and learned a lot about management. How do I get the best out of everyone, an individual approach… Culinarily speaking the golf club wasn’t much of a challenge for me, but it was on a human level, and that was again a very important experience for me!
RENÉ STEIN – HIS JOURNEY TO BECOME HEAD CHEF
In 2010 you moved to the Michelin-starred New York Restaurant Seasonal. With modern takes on traditional dishes like Kaisergulasch, Kaiserschmarrn, Wiener Schnitzel and Sauerbraten, you were able to keep that star and even managed to win two stars from the New York Times. Did your modern interpretations incorporate techniques or knowledge from your time in molecular cuisine?
That was another important period. Kaisergulasch, schnitzel and Tafelspitz had to stay on the menu, but when it came to the rest of the dishes I was given free reign. Some of the dishes I cook at the moment have their roots in my work at the Seasonal. It was the first stint that allowed me to wake and discover my own style. And, of course, a lot of my mentors’ influence came with me to NYC.
Your subsequent time in Wyoming, US was marked by a sustainable and regional mindset, which included close personal relationships with regional producers, cultivating your own products and an affiliated organic cattle farm. Were and are the Americans far ahead of Europeans on this issue?
Not necessarily. Just like here there are people there who watch what they eat and want to know where products come from, and others who don’t care. And just like here, this varies there from region to region.
Were you able to learn anything about Native American cuisine during that time?
Unfortunately not, but I learned a lot about the history of the region.
In the US you also ran your own pop-up restaurant. What was that experience like?
It was a very nice experience. The freedom you have when everything is in your hands is fantastic. I would definitely do it again!
Were or are pop-up restaurants just a fad or do they have what it takes to last?
Pop-ups are a springboard for young restaurateurs who do not have the financial means to open their own restaurant. You can showcase your concept without taking out a huge loan. You draw attention to yourself and give people a unique experience!
In the United States, your cooking style was described as “modern vegetable grilling” and “extremely seasonal”. What can you do during winter, when nature doesn’t have so much to offer?
I called my cuisine “New Mountain Cuisine”. I made a lot of preserves, tried to store as much as I could. But I didn’t want to reinvent noma. If I ordered vegetables in the winter, then I did so from Babé Farms in California for example (an organic farm). That way I knew where the produce came from and that it would be of excellent quality.
Apart from seasonality and a regional focus, what are the latest big trends from the US cooking scene?
Probably small casual restaurants like Olmsted in Brooklyn. I think they’re awesome!
In your time in the US, whenever you travelled to Germany there was nothing more wonderful than eating a curry sausage with chips and mayo at home in the Ruhr region. Have Nuremberg sausages managed to satisfy that hunger?
I’ve still yet to find anything as good as a curry sausage. 🙂
You are currently working as head chef at the Schwarzer Adel, a restaurant dating back more than 300 years which was recently renovated. Before your time, the restaurant earned a Michelin star under Peter Wagner and then Jürgen Scharnagl. Isn’t it too much pressure for a chef when your new beginning is expected to be ‘at least’ as successful?
It is an incredible honour for me to be able to work at such a prestigious establishment and to breathe new life into it! I make very high demands on myself and my team. I’m the reason for the pressure. 🙂
What does the Michelin star mean to you today?
If you are a competitive athlete who trains hard every day and gives up a lot to go your way, then I reckon an Olympic medal must be the best reward! And I would be very happy with a bronze medal!
Do you offer a modern twist on the Nuremberg bratwurst?
Your work focuses on the individual guest. How do you manage to involve your guests in your approaches/work?
For example, we try to be in contact with our guests as often as possible. Whenever we can, we bring dishes to the guest. But it’s totally relaxed and we don’t blather on and on about the dish.
Very impressive René, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us.