2-MICHELIN-STAR CHEF SEBASTIAN FRANK: FROM HOME ECONOMICS COURSES TO HORVÁTH
Sesbastian Franks roots can be found in Austria, where he also discovered his passion for cooking early in life. He still bases his 2-star cuisine on these roots, and they can be found today in Berlin-Kreuzberg in HORVÁTH, where he relies on his craftsmanship and regional products.
What drew you to cooking in your earlier days?
I never liked going to school. My mother had of course, this vision of college prep courses in high school, and then college. Well, after elementary school I did go to a higher level secondary high school. When I was 13 years-old, they offered a home economics course which was voluntary but for me it was a bit necessary to take. See, my mother was of the opinion that it wouldn’t be bad if a young lad picked up a bit of cooking knowledge. So shortly after, I found myself as the only young lad in a home economics course. We made simple things, soups, salads, desserts. I had a lot of fun and after a short stint as a practicant in a hotel kitchen I began my official traineeship to become a chef.
Steirereck, Vestibül, Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol: How did the time in these kitchens influence you?
The “Steireck” by Heinz Reitbauer in Vienna and the Hotel Interalpen Tyrol, where I was a sous chef for three years influenced me greatly. These two jobs advanced my technical skills so much that they still leave a huge imprint on my cuisine and career today. In the Steirereck the young chefs were especially given the opportunity to contribute creatively,,, and I still think about all the crazy ideas that we came up with. However, just this free space, stoked the fire inside me, to stay the course and dedicate myself to fine cuisine.
So you followed the love all the way to Berlin in a way: In your view, what differentiates the German and Austrian cuisines, in particular regarding their development?
It makes me happy that Austrian cuisine is so well received here in Germany, however, I am personally so far away that I couldn’t really have a solid view on the current developments of Austrian cuisine.
You have 2 Michelin-stars and you were named Berlin’s youngest Star Chef in 2011. In 2008, “Gault Millau” Newcomer of the year: How do these awards change a chef and how do they spur even more excellence?
Continuity and constants are definitely important. After the first star as well as the second, which we were not expecting, I said to myself: Don’t panic, if we got a star for how we are working so far, just keep on doing what we’re doing. That took a lot of weight off my shoulders. I like to take place in competitions and travel to new destinations as a guest chef. I haven’t changed and I don’t plan on doing so. It’s important to me though, to never lose sight of new challenges for my passion: Cooking.
You have finally taken over the reigns of the Horváth: What are the big changes if you are not only the chef but also the managing director?
In this capacity you need to not only take care of what is related to the food but manage the whole team. My wife has been tasked with a large part of the organizational responsibility and I’m manning the stoves. Cooking is my passion and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. By the while I have also written a book, taken part in competitions and have worked as a guest chef. High-end cooking is a hard job, and that is well known, so to reserve time for family we are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Your focus seems to be much on vegetables: How are they integral to your operation?
I give a lot of importance to tried and true varieties that have much more flavor than the usual “turbo” varieties. And that is exactly what our entire kitchen philosophy is all about, I call it the hunt for the simple, original and traditional taste. I also believe in traditional farming which gives us the best food, and I believe in the farmers, who like us are looking for the best flavor in the products.
How do your Austrian roots come into play when you create your dishes?
The Austrian influences are a foundation, considering I spent 14 of my 20-year career in Austria and was never abroad. In every one of my dishes is a bit of Austria even though it might not be obvious. The Austrian kitchen tradition is also very important to me to the point I am almost militant about it. The Austrian cuisine, with its historic influences offers a never-ending selection of tastes, flavors and varieties.
Which little-known spices, vegetables or appliances are always on hand in your kitchen?
Herbs and greens I usually grow myself and these are pretty much well-known, but regional. You won’t find anything exotic like pineapple, chilies or Argentinian steak with me. Lard is essential for me as is vegetable oil from the flora and fauna of Austria and I don’t use olive oil. The most important appliance here is the Thermomix. And then you have the Göffel, which we have to count in inventory. It originates from our predecessors who founded the Horvath and served as a logo. We took it up and gave the order to a local metal worker to take a large spoon and fork, divide them, and weld them together mixed up, a bit of polish… and you have the Göffel.
Which trends do you see in high-end gastronomy and in what way do they inspire you?
In Germany, French cuisine still holds the day in regards to fine dining but now is the time to break out of it and expand individual cooking styles. More and more you can find vegan and vegetarian trends as well as the popularity of alcohol-free drinks in demand. For the guests, the origin of the product is increasingly important, as well as a healthy diet in general and the knowledge of where their food is coming from. The menu is not dominated by meat or fish at HORVÁTH and moreso, vegetables are treated as equal actors on the stage. I don’t use luxury products like Lobster, caviar or gold leaf, what you’ll find with me are onions, root celery and a leg of venison on the plate. Trends don’t inspire me much. I think doing things simple but unconventional is the way to go.
You have a small team: What is important to you in regards to service and staff? What really counts?
What is important to me is what an employee can bring to the table. For service our guests need the best of advice, the guest should feel comfortable and relaxed, even being a star restaurant we strive to deliver a stress-free environment. Since I am always on the search for regional producers and farmers I am always excited to try out new ideas and new things and I really depend on the team for these things.
Previously, the Horváth was the Exil, where David Bowie and Joseph Beuys were known to have dined: Which of your role models have you prepared food for and who would you like to visit your restaurant?
I am grateful for any guest that comes to my restaurant and there is no social strata here. It’s the best anytime I can cook for friends!
What advice would you give to the younger generation thinking about becoming chefs?
Whoever loves cooking should become a chef, and they make their hobby a career. But it takes a lot of energy and patience to learn and perfect this craft. I had experimented a lot by 28, and I would only wish that they discover a clear style written in their own hand.
Thank you Sebastian and we wish you the best for the future.
Surrounded by wrought-iron entwined with grapes, our restaurant is located in the middle of the lively and trendy district of Kreuzberg am Landwehrkanal. You can find Sebastian Frank and his team serving creative dishes, which represent the essence of Austrian country cuisine. The wood-paneled walls and candles make for a warm and welcoming atmosphere where everyone can feel at home. The simple elegance of this unconventional star restaurant is a superb contrast to the tastes and intensity experienced in the food. You can find more at https://www.restaurant-horvath.de/restaurant