Ciao, cari amici,

I am now in Italy for the third week, which, as many of you realise, would not be worth a message, let alone an email with this distribution list.

The fact that I’ll be here until autumn might be. Especially when I’m not bragging about a businessman’s relaxed time off, but rather telling you that I’ve signed a contract in an Italian restaurant as a commis di cucina. If you think you’ve missed out on an important point in my CV so far, then it should be mentioned that I am in fact absolutely not a trained chef and apart from my small reverential role at Nobelhart&Schmutzig in Berlin (#17 of the Worlds Best Restaurants), cooking with friends at and the 2023 intermezzo at Hanover’s boca, I also have no professional expertise or experience whatsoever.

Now, from my life so far, I have a certain need for communication. Many of you will be able to understand that. This transformation (buzzword alert) is accompanied by many insights, foresights and anecdotes that I would like to share and that would probably be worth sharing with you. I now resist the desire to hang this on the big social media bell very easily and almost completely, and that’s why something came to mind again that I’ve been carrying around with me for a while. The good thing about all the social media hubbub is that we can also “stay in touch” with people with whom regular exchange does not take place, is not possible or is not necessary, but we still enjoy knowing where people who are, were or should be close to us for whatever reason are right now, what they are doing and what they are thinking.

My distribution list (which is intentionally visible to all, because you know each other or should know each other anyway, be it through me or I through you) is my, of course incomplete, selection of these people. Whoever is surprised to have been addressed here is simply happy about the affection expressed. You know that, with each and every one of you, I could immediately set off on a holiday together without a second thought.

The whole thing works as an opt-in (buzzword alert again), that’s in a roundabout (unnecessarily complicated) way for you to reply to this email if you want to read about my adventures at irregular intervals. A simple yes, si or “on any” will do, though of course I’ll be happy to receive detailed updates and gee-whizs. Everyone else just keep quiet and it will never be talked about again ; )

And then you’ll soon read here how I made the Nobelhart laugh because of my calculation of 30,000 handles per day, what really matters in such a restaurant kitchen and …cosa significa lavorare come commis di cucina in un ristorante italiano.

Tutto l’amore dei miei cari


PS: 1. no great expectations, please. I have discarded the doubts as to whether this is a grandiose idea at all. Still, I don’t know (yet) how often, what and how sprawling I will write. Not to mention how entertaining. 2. if you don’t read countless other newsletters, you won’t read this one either. So don’t.

#1 Was ist da los

Ciao, cari amici,

Originally, my plan, if I ever had one, was to proceed chronologically. That is, to start at the very beginning and end up in a wide arc of tension in the here and now. Right at the front would be my dishwasher’s job in a Berlin star restaurant or the even earlier idealistic moment that made me feel for the first time that cooking and I could be a match. On the other hand, this is not a Netflix series and tension building is at best sufficiently necessary. You are all here voluntarily and intrinsically motivated (no, there is nothing to win).

Most of your answers to my first message revolved around the question of what’s going on. You want to know the hard facts. You asked for clarification and now I would like to comply with this request. Since 18 April, now in my third week, I have been working in the Bellavita restaurant in the Monte Baldo Hotel on Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda. Even though the name is not very original, it is true. A beautiful life for the guests and a view of the wonderful Monte Baldo on the shore opposite. The hotel also includes the very chic Villa Aquarone and the whole ensemble is located in Gardone Riviera on the west side of the lake. Everything has, in an invariably good way, the charm of earlier times. The architecture, the furnishings and also the service staff in black bow ties and waistcoats. The head waiter is a small wiry man who has certainly served generations of guests, but whose white and black suit jackets are so many sizes too big. 

Last week I signed the contract as a young chef without reading it, because it was Italian, and at first both things about this designation seem fundamentally wrong. Neither young, nor a cook, but I am still flattered. My salary doesn’t reach a level without effort that I usually earn with a half-hour lecture on artificial intelligence or the future without money. So it’s not the money. 

The fact that it’s a hotel has a significant advantage, but also a disadvantage. Since all the tables are directly on the lake in the front row and the evening peace of the guests should not be disturbed, the restaurant closes at 9 p.m., which means that after extensive cleaning of the kitchen, I arrive home at 10 p.m. and thus have a kind of remaining evening. A disadvantage is the fact that the restaurant will now be open all day until the end of the season in October.The day in the kitchen starts at 8:30 am and ends for the time being after the lunch service around 2:30 pm. It continues at 5:30 p.m. and, as already mentioned, ends at 9:30 p.m. for good. That makes a total of 10 hours per day with one, yes one, day off per week, which could possibly be supplemented by another half day here and there. The latter is an achievement of this year’s chef’s negotiations. How relaxed the now 4-day week at Nobelhart&Schmutzig in Berlin seems to me. Every day feels like two days in one and that’s why I’ve often thought that we did something yesterday even though it only happened in the morning. Such a regular, marmot-like daily routine with the prospect of sheer endless repetition until autumn has been completely alien to my professional life until now.Let’s talk a little about the people involved. The hotel is apparently family-owned. An elderly couple roams around daily, exuding a cuddly charm and relaxed composure, having already handed over the business to their son, who seems to have inherited the friendliness and cheerfulness from them. He invented the embarrassed giggle himself and shows in a likeable way what a nice guy he is. Having just become a father, he sometimes can’t hide his tiredness, but is still happy about people like me who can give him hope, not only in terms of lack of sleep. His first message to me, which included a request for a phone call, I still had to carefully counter with the hint that my knowledge of Italian would in no way stand up to an oral conversation. When using translation programmes, a certain amount of caution must be exercised if one does not want to fall into such a trap. How relieved I was when he offered me the English and immediately followed it up with the hint that the chef was not only super relaxed but, without direct reference to it, German. Jackpot, I thought. And that’s exactly what happened.Apart from him and now me, there is a sous chef, his substitute so to speak, and another cook. The former is a cooking and baking machine and displays such high speed in everything that I seriously wonder how he would peel the extremely fragile quail eggs that regularly take me several minutes each. He is an Italian as you would imagine him to be. His favourite word is basta and even when I don’t understand him (he talks high speed, of course) he never tires of talking to me.

The kitchen is completely new, has everything you could possibly need and is set up like a classic Italian menu. While I prepare the beginning and the end, the antipasti and dolci, there are two other items, one for primi (pasta, risotto…) and one for secondi (fish, meat…). The list of things I prepare and cook so far is already endless. I cook sauces, pick bones, prepare desserts up and down, chop every kind of vegetable, bake and deep-fry it, stuff and deep-fry courgette flowers, clean prawns, clean asparagus, vacuum-pack everything that needs to be, prepare countless salads, cook ratatouille, make various oils, make pesto and correct the German and English menus. I own three chef’s jackets (although I had to smear the only white one black on the luggage rack of my bike today. Doesn’t come out at 60°. Tips welcome) put full profi-like pens in the pocket on my arm and have my own drawer with my knives and irreplaceable Micro Blade. The rings are gone, the nail polish too. And the beard is, no, not off, but very short. Every day at 11.30 am and 5.30 pm there is a staff meal that exceeds all the limits I have ever known, both in terms of choice and abundance. Surprisingly, even the highest-quality, ergo expensive foods such as meat and fish are offered. I will definitely not starve and the fridge at home will remain empty. Speaking of home. Another lucky coincidence is that our home, which we have called our own for the past two years, is only 10 minutes away by bike.Ciao, my dears.PS: Quite long. Too long? Never mind, I talk a lot and you should take your time.

#2 Hände, beine, Kopf

Ciao ragazzi,

did you miss me? I’m still here, so right here. 

Every day is the same. Did I say that already? I did, didn’t I? Groundhog days. I told you. If not, every day is the same. There’s never been anything like it : ) 

And I’m happy to say I still enjoy it. Standing and working with my hands for 10 hours a day, 6 days (sometimes 5.5) a week is of course exhausting. When I have time off, I try to sit a lot and do nothing with my hands. Although I do actually cook for myself on such a day. So there seems to be something to it.

Anyway, the hands. When I started working at Nobelhart in Berlin, or rather, when I slowly made my way from dishwasher to kitchen, the first thing I noticed was the hands. In probably every other profession, you use your feet to walk to the next meeting or your brain to just think about something. You listen to someone for a while, watch a presentation, make ( mostly too long) phone calls or commute somewhere. In between, there is also idle time, either quite obviously or secretly. It’s different in the kitchen. There, almost every single second is divided into 1-3 hand movements. Everything I do has to do with my hands. Nothing else can be used. Of course, I also think about what I’m doing. Only extremely rarely, however, do the hands stay still. There is relatively little moving around, so I’m not at all angry if I’ve already forgotten what I actually wanted to get in the freezer or magazine. To be honest, this happens half the time (I recently read that this is proof of the existence of alien life. It means that there was an extraterrestrial being in the room, who then flashes us men-in-black-like, which is why we forget what we actually wanted there. But that’s only in passing, or rather in the margin of the brackets).

My enthusiasm for this discovery with my hands made me calculate to the astonished people at Nobelhart that they more or less make 54,000 hand movements per day. I received blank stares.

The result is that, quite unjustifiably, the left hand suffers. In my case, the right hand wields the knife and passes on the clumsiness here and there, mostly unfiltered, to the fingers of the left hand. At first I was pleased that the knife never actually slipped. More and much more mini-annoying are the little slips and slides when opening these fucking shitty packaging or plastic containers. Ergo, it’s a lot of little, rather than single big, nicks that I inflict on my hands and that cause equally mini-annoying pain when I drag 8 limes across the grater for the cheesecake to squeeze out afterwards. Autschn.

Let’s not just talk about hands. Let’s talk about legs. They’re essentially standing. And standing and standing and standing. For a runner like me, torture. Luckily, I invented the rule that I go running every other day. Every third at the latest. It takes a moment for the knees to get into a round movement. I’m so glad that I have this compensation. Of course, I chose the wrong country for it. Recently I was listening to an Italian learning podcast while running and 30 sports were listed in English and Italian. Guess where running came in? None, even though water polo and polo made it to the list.

What also changes after 6 (is it 6?) weeks in the kitchen is the sense of time. Wow, 5 minutes is really long. For the bruschetta mista or the insalata polpo e calamari, the bread has to be in the oven for 5 minutes for the former and in the water bath for the latter. It’s amazing what can be done in that time. In the morning, I allow myself 60 minutes between the first blink of an eye and the moment when I get my knives out of the drawer in the kitchen and tie up my apron. Preparing and brewing coffee with the Bialetti takes 9 minutes (to all those who thought that this could be done in the evening and thus reduce the time needed… That’s too convenient for me). With coffee in hand, I sit in bed and, yes, waste time pointlessly on the internet. I always have to sit on the far left, towards the stairs, because that’s where our neighbour’s wifi is best. We also have our own, but it has to be topped up with data volume, which disappears all too quickly thanks to the background update massacre. At some point I go downstairs with my shirt and trousers over my arm (that’s all I need, I’ll take them off in a minute anyway) and into the bathroom. There I do what is none of your business, before I put on my shoes and run down to my bike. 10 minutes later I’m standing in front of my locker, 3 minutes after that I’m in the kitchen. Unless my boss is there, which is actually always the case when he doesn’t have his day off. Because he’s a bit of a dawdler. He asked me if I used to be a model because I always change so quickly. What reason would there be to do it slowly, I replied. The dressing room really isn’t that nice? So when we get downstairs just after half past eight, he gets coffee for us. My greatest achievement so far. I said I didn’t dare barge in there like that yet. Which is true, true. But hey, why give up that privilege.

So that I don’t repeat myself in the interest of my readers (i.e. you) (here, every day is repeated again and again. Every day the same rhythm. Every day is the same as the next) I thought it would be clever to have a theme for each day. Well, that didn’t work today, because I actually wanted to write about why I ended up here. Well, not here, but on this path, cooking. What Alfred Biolek and my jobs as a business clown have to do with it, why there is no alternative, so to speak, why Billy Wagner’s Instagram call at the time (He: “Looking for people with two hands, two legs and a head” I: “Here’s one”) made me a dishwasher and why cooking is my late career as a pianist.

All that was missing today. But hey, hands are a beautiful subject too.

Speaking of beautiful,, I have very beautiful hands.

Let’s not get you riled up.

I’m glad you’re here.

Non dimenticate che vorrei andare subito in vacanza con tutti voi.

#3 Laufen + Kochen

Ciao ragazzi,

I’ve wanted to let you know for a while now why I do all this in the first place, where the origins lie, what has driven me to this point and ultimately ensured that I ended up in Italy as a chef. A fact, by the way, that continues to surprise me even after so many weeks, here and there. How could it not? 

Every now and then, I’m standing in the kitchen and a thought connected to the why crosses my mind. You might think that there are many opportunities for this, as peeling asparagus, pulling bones and stuffing courgette flowers is not really mental work. But most of the time there is actually idle time. I just stay in the moment, which is almost meditative.

Anyway, to take you on the journey (aka suspense) from the beginning, it actually starts with Alfred Biolek, whose probably first cooking show on German television entertained me well at the time. I was in my 20s and not at all overly interested in either the content or the result of his cooking. Just the process and watching the likeable little man and his celebrity guests gave me pleasure. For those who don’t know him, the first thing that comes to mind is a comparison with Woody Allen. Just as busy, clever, shrewd and rather short. Both also wear funny glasses. For Alfred Biolek, wine, mostly white, was one of the most important ingredients in cooking. Rarely, however, in a sauce or to deglaze sweated onions. Back then and even much later, my culinary skills were limited to fried eggs, salad and the preparation of our undisputed family tradition, the spaghetti casserole, consisting solely of spaghetti, sautéed minced meat and ketchup, layered, 20 minutes in the oven, done. Children’s food at its best, with which even today all family adults can be made happy. When my big daughter once wrote down this recipe, let’s call it that, as a little girl, she actually managed to forget one of the ingredients, minced meat, which threatened to degrade the tradition to noodles with ketchup. Fortunately, she corrected the faux pas on the following page.

Vanessa was the one who pushed open more doors to this world for me some time later. She wanted to host a private dinner for family and friends, and I’m not sure if this was the continuation of an old tradition or the birth of a new one. I found myself in the role of the kitchen help, which she promoted to sous chef out of sheer affection. In all restraint, I must also admit that I am taking it rather easy on myself with my late career as a chef, if it becomes one. Vanessa, like so many mothers and certainly some fathers, had to cook so that there was something on the table when the children stormed the flat or the house after school. There was no hope of great culinary openness there, nor was there enough time for sophisticated experiments or upmarket demands. The fact that at some point we also began to prepare our quite normal lunches or dinners on the plate in the kitchen beforehand really says it all. To a good extent, these are unfair starting conditions, of which I am well aware. Let’s call it the grace of late passion.

Vanessa and I hosted these dinners fairly regularly once a year. And slowly I crawled my way forward, no longer just doing what Vanessa had printed on the gold-bordered menu cards or told me to do, but found and took over my part. That was, is and will remain with the vegetables (that much can already be said about my culinary future), which at first looks like a profitable solution, since Vanessa’s field is roast lamb, saddle of venison or steak with the accompanying endlessly simmering sauces. The only thing the increasingly self-confident newcomer was reluctant to do was to be just the side dish. A cruel word that speaks volumes. Who wants to be just a pretty, necessary but not sufficient garnish in the long run. This is as true in the kitchen as it is in life.

So at first everything took its course. We watched cooking shows together on TV and I alone watched many more online. I don’t have a clear explanation, but just watching people chopping vegetables, sautéing onions or mixing a vinaigrette always has a relaxing and beautiful effect on me, as it did in Alfred Biolek’s day. Above all, we saw Chefs Table, Kitchen Impossible (chefs fly somewhere in the world, are presented with a plate and have to recreate it as best they can in the original kitchen with the ingredients they bought themselves. A jury of regular guests awards points) and The Taste, although this format was all too clearly bored and lost because of the always the same and mostly too male jurors.

The job for a Swiss watch and lifestyle brand brought their team and two filmmakers from London to me in Berlin to produce features with interesting people who had made it in an unconventional way. Two of Berlin’s most unusual restaurateurs, Micha Schäfer and Billy Wagner from Nobelhart&Schmutzig (the evening starts posh, then gets down to business, finally ending dirty), not only ended up on the shortlist, but consequently in front of my microphone. I was remembered and was to get my chance, which I didn’t even know I was looking for. Billy, on the other hand, was already looking for people with two hands, legs and a head, as already mentioned. First I was asked if I was the one who could be found via google. 

Yes, my answer. 

Then what are you doing here, the counter-question. 

I just feel like it, my reply. No one has ever lost all experience and status faster. What followed was first a temporary job as a dishwasher, then as a cook for the online shop (for the wonderful Judith and with the equally wonderful Simeon) and, on top of that, all kinds of seemingly trivial jobs. The best example of this is probably sticking the labels on the jars and stamping the date of manufacture. I enjoyed finding the best process for me for the most beautiful result. Sticking the label on as straight as possible, balancing both its elasticity and the millimetre inaccuracies of the glass; a dream task. Likewise, to press the tiny date stamp onto the paper in such a way that the result was legible. Wonderful. I just enjoyed the moment, no yesterday and no tomorrow, just the simple joy of successfully applying one label out of hundreds to follow. The learning curve pointed steeply upwards.

What I am also experiencing now, here in the kitchen of the Italian restaurant, is the complete disappearance, no, the total disappearance of my previous experience and any potential status I had or thought I had. That is the sure sign of complete transformation. Standing there in the kitchen plucking thyme, every project I’ve ever done, every stage I’ve ever stood on and every hand I’ve ever shaken at anyone important is completely irrelevant. The only thing that counts is the plate that goes out in the evening and the dishes that have been washed. Even in Nobelhart, I noticed how incredibly important the job of the person standing in the sink getting all the heavy pots, caked-on pans and carefully handled plates clean again is. This task is also essential. Everything breaks down if work is done too sloppily or slowly here. Ergo, every single hand in these long fragmented processes is essential and extremely important.

As I am sure I will come back to this many times, I will conclude with the most important answer to the question of why. In a nutshell. In all intensity. 

There is probably more in this paragraph than in everything else so far. 

My private life, neglected for too long, led to a separation at the time and, as a result, to the fact that, after 14 years, I probably saw with my own eyes that I was withdrawing all energy from my company. The relationship, a marriage and my family had failed and with it, of course, myself. My subsequent time in New York with my wonderful daughter, just 18, was an escape, as it seems to be my own. The business arguments I made for it were contrived, indifferent, or both. And to stretch (overstretch?) the bows even further, with the pandemic, the climate crisis and all that is wrong with our society, the question remained for me, what even makes sense now? What can I do? What should I do? Do I have to do something? How appropriate is it still, as an independent consultant, to tell others what they should do? Do I want to design and implement the umpteenth concept for a tech conference somewhere for someone? I didn’t know and don’t know the answer. Luckily for me, there remained two things that always go and absolutely never go wrong. And that’s why I became a running coach and a chef. 

I’m glad you’re here.

All the love


#4 Roter Teppich und Gesang

Ciao, cari amici,

At the beginning I would like to take up my last sentence and tell you again how happy I am that you are with me. All of you, without exception. This communication knows no wastage and is fortunately not entirely one-sided. So thank you for your kind feedback. Everything is fine the way it is. And I am actually still happy with this decision. Not at all self-evident. What did I know about the adventure that awaited me?

To be honest, there wasn’t much to think about, which made the decision very easy. It almost seems inevitable. Things were only going so-so with my self-employment as a speaker and moderator. At the beginning of the year, I went knee-deep into self-marketing again, built and optimised websites, placed Google ads and smelled a weak but slightly stale morning air. Even though the curves were pointing steeply upwards – two customer contacts are twice as many as one, and Google knows how to emphasise the avoidable progress in a very positive way – nothing happened as a result. So I had no further plans for 2023. 

After a 30-year break, I started sending out applications. Admittedly, only for jobs that really interested me and had a certain level of ambition. Falling Walls Foundation, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights or the German Film and Television Academy, for example. I wrote to them as it came into my head. My curriculum vitae, which I also sent along, was not classic either. I thought they should know right away where they stood. In other words, I didn’t want to work for or with someone who didn’t understand or respect such individuality. I read the cover letters again and again and my feeling was good. However, nothing happened as a result. 

I wrote to selected old companions and, completely against my nature, dropped the covers and almost all linguistic camouflage and became quite clear in my request. Here, too, nothing happened as a result. 

But there was still the matter of cooking. I hadn’t been that stupid at Nobelhart&Schmutzig. And the three-month intermezzo at the boca was somehow promising. So I wrote a one-pager, added a friendly and (consequently?) boring photo with a not too long beard and asked our Italian neighbour Marcella for help. She forgot about it at first, I, in my reticence, shied away from remembering, but at some point my written expression of will ended up with some quite excellent restaurants in the vicinity of our flat on Lake Garda. Then exactly one (!) thing happened as a result. The hotel manager of the Hotel Monte Baldo in a neighbouring village of Saló contacted me. I didn’t notice it right away, of course, but after the first Whatsapp conversation with Davide and his father in the background, everything seemed clear. When I spoke to the chef two days later, I was surprised that everything sounded so settled. In keeping with my nature, I naturally remained reserved (between the lines I read and you read here about an obvious trait of my nature), but was already packing a little more when Vanessa and I set off on our long-planned holiday to Italy. I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be returning to Berlin for 6 months. Life had somehow rolled out the carpet for me. Decisions I basically hardly had to make, no alternatives to weigh up or what-if scenarios to think through.

After so many big bows I had to take, something more mundane from the life of a commis de cuisine. What is also remarkable for me is the experience of understanding one’s surroundings almost entirely without the help of language. Me, of all people. Since I don’t understand most of the kitchen conversation or can block it out due to my beginner’s knowledge of Italian, my perception takes place on the levels that otherwise only accompany linguistic communication. So everything non-verbal, the frequency of laughter, the tonalities of the voices, how much is spoken at all and the mood that seems to hang in the air. In addition, there seems to be an urge to sing or at least hum melodies in gastronomic cuisine that I have not yet been able to fully explain. The accumulation is at least striking, if not immanent. I, for one, prefer to leave that to the professionals, that is, Spotify and a Bluetooth running speaker. The boss sometimes starts it when, but it’s not entirely to do with whether the sous chef has time off. Relatively soon, I have to take over, because it’s slow for him and I simply have the better playlists.

Said sous chef then also sings most steadfastly, usually only one or two lines of a song, mostly different ones one after the other, and I consider us all very lucky that his taste in music is unexpectedly good, very retro, but good. To use the slogan of boring German music stations: 80s, 90s and the best of today. It’s hard to imagine him liking Italian or any Schlager at all. Sometimes it pleases the temporarily homeless Berliner to actually listen to a few techno beats in between. No nonsense, its its its. 

But this singing, whistling or humming while working seems to me to have other motives and facets. Sometimes it seems to me like a self-soothing agent, an attempt to concentrate or the most effective way to keep the constant abundance of mini-thoughts in check (what’s coming in, is the timer beeping for me there, didn’t I have something on the cooker, in the oven or is my cream overflowing in the patisserie, what was I doing here). I need to fathom this out further, because the explanations don’t seem complete to me yet. It also has a somewhat creepy component somewhere. In the military or in the prison yard, after all, there is also singing and humming. It also fits in with the surprisingly regular silliness of some people. So they really talk nonsense and fool around. You may consider for a moment whether this is exactly my thing. No. Even if it ever was, I’m too old for that nonsense now. What’s the point?

I’m glad you’re with me.

Tutti l’amore


#5 Gefühle in Zwischenzeiten

Ciao, mia cara

things are changing. Once again. And that brings with it both anticipation and reflection. I’ve been in Italy for over three months and at least the time when I’m completely alone will soon come to an end. I have my own experience with being alone. I’m also quite good at it in and of itself. I like the silence and the slightly dark undertone it has when I’m alone. It’s just that I shouldn’t like it too much. There are a few reasons why I don’t run away from it, which are a bit too far to go here. I guess it started when I was 21. 

What will change concretely in a few days is that I won’t be alone here anymore. Vanessa and her children are coming. Before that, a long-time friend of Vanessa’s is coming to our flat for a week’s holiday and I will be staying with Matthias, the chef, during that time. Unfortunately, my two boys won’t be coming. Because if they were here, I would hardly see them. That was not such a good prospect for them and even less for my guilty conscience. I really miss them a lot. My daughter can’t travel for another reason. It’s the same reason why I’ll probably travel head over heels to Berlin for 48 hours sometime in August. I’m going to be a grandpa : )

These are all very nice changes and yet a different, more oppressive mood is also spreading through me. Even for a professional at being alone, this is a bit too much in the long run. I’m glad that I have you and that shows that I’m not a hermit. Being alone in combination with a marmot-like rhythm (let’s see how DeepL translates that) is a whole other story. On top of that, my job here seems to have been told for the time being. There is a lot of routine and, I would almost say, underchallenge. I can undoubtedly still learn a lot, but hand movements, routines and recipes are naturally the same (even if I fail at whipping up the mousse) and don’t challenge me creatively or intellectually. Apropos: I notice that I am flying very low intellectually and am extremely underchallenged. This is probably the reason why, in the little free time I have, I built a recipe database with its own app and had the restaurant’s new menu, which will be valid sometime next week, automatically corrected and translated. Well, working on the computer has always been relaxing for me, too. Such a nice Excel spreadsheet with complicated formulas, wonderful (although I can’t really explain this passion).

Officially, my contract ends on 10 September, although they would probably already extend it. Maybe until the end of September or even the end of October. The question that crept into my head didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Without any active intervention, it was virtually there in the room. I would not prolong it. Then, in a way, everything is done, experienced and understood. The only reason to stay longer would be to continue earning money.

Even if it is still a long way off, this potential end has an effect. But I shouldn’t get too caught up in it, because even 8 weeks is still a long way to go. Even 8 weeks with the most pleasant distraction and becoming a grandfather are still a long way to go. And it remains a need for me to walk this path straight and responsibly to its end. Another thing I don’t fully understand about myself. I am responsible to the last fibre in terms of my commitments. I have never been late or absent a day. Would it never occur to me? Why? Non lo so.

Quite unexpectedly and perhaps much too late, I was finally overcome by homesickness a few days ago. I held back the tears. The trigger was insignificant, which is why I forgot about it. Not that I miss my family and friends. That’s the way it is anyway. Something else hit me in the heart. This feeling cannot be described in any other way than homesick. All-encompassing and deep inside. For everything. I can’t describe it any better than that right now. Even as I write and read this, tears come to my eyes. For me, they are still good emotions. Maybe I told Vanessa once too often that true longing can only develop and missing can only be felt when we can’t have each other.

Now something has to brighten up the day. I thought you might like to see something of what you are reading about. So here are a few pictures with the usual detailed discussion of what can be seen. At this point I must express my amazement at how inconvenient it is in photographically ubiquitous times to create a simple photo site. That is, without a pointless subscription or a complete construction kit. Therefore handmade on my website.

Neither the photos nor this text have been edited excessively. Somehow it finally wanted to come out.

So forgive me for bad shots and orthographic mistakes. By the way, I can explain this characteristic of mine. Unlike the others mentioned above.

I am so happy to have you guys with me.


#6 Nonno

cari amici

recently it had become quiet. That’s the sound of routine and habit. What’s more, I’m no longer alone since the beginning of August. No more being a hermit. First came Lena and her boyfriend Tom followed by Vanessa and Emil. Sometimes I say I have three new and two second-hand children, Lena and Emil. Have I developed any eremitic traits as a result of being alone? I don’t think so. The social reintegration went off without a hitch?

I had to preface this by saying that before I can finally get to the absolute essentials. It’s hard not to say it for a whole paragraph: Lotta’s here! She is the sweetest baby imaginable. On 11.8 I received the news of my daughter Tilda, who is one of the new children, but old enough to be a mum herself now. She is now a year older than I was when she was born. In any case, the two parents have handled it with such incredible sovereignty, responsibility and love that I am completely justified in bragging about it here. That made me very enthusiastic and proud and they can now turn bright red when they read these lines. 

Tomorrow, Nonno (because of the total of 6 grandmas and grandpas, this differentiation by name is sensible and desirable) will interrupt his stay in Italy (“working where others go on holiday”) for the second time in more than 5 months to see this wonderful little miracle in person with Vanessa. At the moment I am still dependent on clearly posed and endlessly photoshopped photos of Lotta. ; )

A human being, especially one so tiny, cannot possibly be as impossibly cute as it appears photographically.

Even after my visit to Berlin, it will be hard to grasp for a while that my baby has now had a baby. My children will have to continue to come to terms with the fact that they will always be my babies. The mum, on the other hand, changed sides seemingly without a transition. When I tried to write here this morning to ask if she had this one photo of herself as a baby handy, it took three attempts on my part before she understood that I didn’t mean a photo of Lotta, but one of her as a baby. That’s what I call instant transformation.

Oh, how wonderful! I think I am writing in the spirit of all of you, when the proud grandpa takes every opportunity, including this one, to wish all the love in the world to the sugar-sweet parents of the (what is sweeter than sugar) sweet baby. You can be sure that I am only writing the truth, so no proof is needed. Because of that and for privacy reasons, there is unfortunately no photo here. Mum and Dad are, of course, free to share one with this fine little group of my friends. 

Now I have to bring the excitement back down a bit. Not that there won’t be anything left tomorrow, no, but I can’t see anything when I’m writing if the tears of joy keep coming. So let’s talk about work, or at least what’s new to say about it. Not too much, see routine and habit. It’s not just days and weeks, recipes and ingredients or out-and-back trips that repeat, but also the thoughts in my head. Believe me, no one can annoy or bore me more with the perpetually repetitive thought loops than I can myself. It’s hard to reproduce that here without annoying and boring you. But I assume that some of you sometimes feel the same way, which is why I can refer to the understanding that has arisen. 

Whereby, one of these thoughts about the doing and being of the people around me is well worth sharing. We all know our own lack of understanding about what other people say or do. Often this is then commented on extensively and also carried on endlessly. He said that, she did that and so on and so forth. For a long time now, I have tried not to subject such things to constant evaluation. Because I am convinced that every single person tries to do his or her best throughout life. If we perceive something that doesn’t look like it to us, then perhaps it is a reaction of the person in question that even he or she would consider wrong. Or we simply don’t understand it from our point of view. Of course, it gets complicated in group contexts, but that’s another topic. Hey, I didn’t say it was an overwhelming wisdom.

The end of my time here for the time being is now actually in sight. Mid-September is not too far away and I won’t be extending. Next time I’ll write you something about what came out of this experience for me. What I liked, what I didn’t like and what will or won’t have a place in my culinary future. We still can’t say what that future will be. That something will remain, however, can.

I often imagined what I would say if someone asked me if I was also on holiday here. That I would say, no, I work here. As a cook. Recently I was out with the chef’s 11-year-old daughter, we were actually going to Wingfoil*. She tells someone that I work for her dad. That I’m the head of antipasti and dolci there. Believe it or not, at that moment I realised it myself for the first time. Commis di Cuisine Antipasti e Dolci. Written in the contract, too. 

By the way, no one has asked the question yet. But somehow I already have the nice feeling of the answer.

I’m glad you’re with me.


*The page with the photos keeps growing. So feel free to visit it again.

#7 Zurück

My dear friends,

It’s time to write to you again.

Of course, I have thought about it several times. But my unwritten rule is that I don’t see it as a duty, but let it come. Whenever that is. I wanted to write about what I have learned, experienced and understood. Only I’m not there yet. The big summary will have to wait a little longer. Probably also because what is happening in the world at the moment is simply close to me. No happy moment, of which I have had a few in the last few weeks, remains without a shadow. How could it be? It’s all just unbearable and makes me think and sad. You too, I’m sure, somehow.

So where do I start? Perhaps with an update. That’s not too much for you or me. So on 10 September was my last day in the kitchen at the Bella Vita restaurant in the Monte Baldo Hotel. Both, as already mentioned, not the most creative name choices. As the day drew nearer, I asked myself (yes, that is the correct tense) what I could do to say goodbye. To be honest, I was thinking more about how I could disappear inconspicuously. Because I’m not at all comfortable with that kind of thing. I know that it is proper to say goodbye with a friendly gesture. Just as it is appropriate to bring something with you when you visit. When I was travelling with Christoph in the South of France, we never went through a door without him bringing something with him. Wine, of course, or cheese, just like a huge steak when we were allowed to visit a winemaker at home, where it was promptly grilled in the fireplace.

The people at Monte Baldo definitely deserved that too. My time there was a great stroke of luck and I am extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to it. Nevertheless, big goodbyes like exuberant gestures just don’t suit me. For someone who stands on stages and does podcasts, that might seem surprising. But these are all business and content contexts. As soon as it becomes private, there’s a reflex in little Frank that makes too much attention to his person seem inappropriate. I admire other people for their wonderful mastery of the gestures of the big welcome and goodbye. I would prefer the back door.

Still, I try to learn. So I vacillated between buying Italian tarts at the bakery and inviting them for a beer in the evening. None of these really appealed to me, so I was delighted when the saving idea came to me. I wanted to bake doughnuts. Now the Berliner, to which I think I belong, may be married by marriage, so to speak, but the Berliner doesn’t like that. Like a pastry to be called, because that’s not what it’s called here. Pancakes instead. Ignoring this fact, I made my first doughnuts, put them on the table at lunchtime and actually received praise for them in the end. So it all came together in a wonderful way.

After the very last shift, the attention for the German’s farewell rose to a wonderfully unbearable level and I was (and am) very touched by it. The maitre’d bought four beers for the cooks (yes, one of them was me). The Pakistani crew from the sink read out a congratulation in German from their mobile phone and the sous chef scrambled together the meagre knowledge of German and thus said goodbye to me. Wow, I still get teary-eyed when I think back on it. Before that, the hotel director and his father, the secret hotel director, had already said an extremely friendly goodbye to me. And the entire service crew was also effusive, which touched (and overwhelmed) me beyond measure.

So that was it. Over 5 months, endless 10-hour workdays, countless antipasti and dolci lay behind me. My return trip to Germany was planned with 5 days to spare. I wanted to sleep in a few more times. A few times to just sit around and do nothing. Just fritter away time without it being wantonly interrupted at any point. And after these 5 days I was ready. I wanted nothing more than to go home. To my most important people, whom I hadn’t been able to see for so long, or only very briefly. To Berlin.

Vanessa, who just knows how to organise the right big thing at the right time when a really big thing is needed, had invited exactly the people I needed to see most urgently (and still need to see) to breakfast. And there she was: Lotta. With her parents, who until recently were my wonderful daughter and her boyfriend. It couldn’t have started any better.

Then, a fortnight ago, I went for a short visit to my sister Heike to give her the key to the flat that had been my new Italian home for so long, for a short holiday. I told her in detail about the path I had taken. Even as I was doing so, I noticed how often I commented on what I had said by saying how fortunate the circumstances and coincidences were. Until she also said that I had said that remarkably often. That Vanessa and I had found this place, that she had set her mind on buying a flat there, that we had an extremely friendly and cheerful neighbour in Marcella, who sent my application, which was manageable in terms of content, to one or the other at the second attempt. That there was almost only one reaction. That the chef was German and already turned out to be incredibly nice on the phone, which he continued to prove throughout. That our flat was 10 minutes away by bike, so I didn’t have to stay in a hotel under the roof. All this was not just a lucky coincidence. Or to say it with Ingo: “Be careful what you wish for. It could come true”.

I’m glad you’re with me.


#8 orania

My dears,

It’s been far too long and therefore clearly overdue for me to get in touch. Not that I haven’t already written this letter to you many times in my mind. Different versions, which all began in one way or another, have already been written in my head. If I still didn’t write now, then two important phases of my new journey would already be missing. Because today I have already signed my second contract in Berlin Kreuzberg after my return from Italy. Better to start at the beginning, in autumn last year.

After six months in Italy, characterised by an unyielding rhythm and routine, nothing happened at first. I was happy to be back with my family and in Berlin. It’s often only then that you realise how much you’ve missed everything. I got my flat back fairly quickly, although I tended to spend the early days with Vanessa either way. I really like the hermit life, but by no means exclusively. Habits and routines creep in that are simply not always good.

During this time, I sent out one or two applications. Of course, there were a few searches online to find the jobs I was interested in. The idea of earning not the big, but at least the bigger money for a winter season in Switzerland from January onwards also played a role. But ultimately not seriously enough. As tempting as it would be to earn significantly more of the necessary money and ski during my lunch break, it wasn’t realistic in the end. When I actually thought about it, I kept realising that I couldn’t really imagine it. There was never a real picture in my mind. Do you know that? Apart from two recommendations from my Italian friend and chef, in the end it was more like poking around in the fog of the many adverts. With no results.

With one or two exceptions, I remained true to my conviction that I would only send my casually worded application to those who were really eligible for employment. It works quite simply. I imagined that they would invite me for an interview and eventually even hire me. If that didn’t give me a fulfilled feeling, but instead the thought of looking further, then it was nothing. One of these unnecessary letters was sent to the Waldorf Astoria. Blinded by my love of New York and possibly reinforced by the faint, albeit still present, idea that a classical path as a chef would be the right one to take, I realised within the first few minutes of the personal interview that it wasn’t right. It didn’t get any better in view of the frighteningly simple and downright unpretentious restaurant that this world-class hotel here in Berlin is home to. At least I liked the historical allusion to the eponymous Romanesque café, even if the rest of my marketing heart didn’t leap for joy at the word “Roca”. I finally realised that I had no place in such places. The only thing that suits me, my story and my transformation from entrepreneur to chef is something that, like me, somehow works differently. Not better or worse. Not brighter or darker. Simply different. I’ll leave it to your imagination and knowledge to fathom what this characterisation means.

We are already in the fifth paragraph of this letter and you still don’t know what happened next. Maybe I’ll become a series author in my fourth career path. So.I knew the BRLO from previous contexts. On the one hand as a satisfied guest on several occasions, and on the other from past meetings with the founding sisters. It was about a video podcast, a collaboration with a Swiss lifestyle brand and the like. Let’s just say I knew them from another life. So I knew it could be a good fit with them. Especially as they were opening a new restaurant less than five minutes’ walk from my home. I wrote to them, as always a little differently than you would expect from a letter of application, we met, liked each other, I went to a trial shift, signed a contract and started work. That was on the twentieth of November. The pay was subterranean, thanks to the minimum wage, but the joy and satisfaction was great. I had my second permanent job as a chef. Just to remind you, I’m neither a chef nor young, but I was employed as one. Admittedly, the lowest rung of the ladder, mind you, the rung of chefs who have at least two or three years of training behind them. 

Once again, I realised how quickly you can grow into such a role. I can’t say whether that’s what makes me tick or whether it’s just completely normal. In the many free spaces for thinking that are offered as a chef, I therefore very soon had a lot to think about. What I think of the concept, where the management’s weaknesses lie, what the overall strategy behind it might be, what it would take to be successful here in my neighbourhood in the long term, why, as always, communication is the Achilles’ heel and, yes, how quickly I would get bored with the whole thing and possibly have to move on. 

You shouldn’t take this to mean that BRLO – the name is derived from the old Slavic name for Berlin and is pronounced with an extra “e” – doesn’t interest or appeal to me enough. The main building at Gleisdreieck is famous for its fine dining concept and GRAFT architecture (38 used shipping containers and, typical for Berlin, a temporary use of 3 years, which expired 4 years ago) and the new restaurant on the site of a historic Irish pub in Charlottenburg focusses primarily on vegetables, ergo, exactly my thing. 

Nevertheless, I moved on. Depending on which religion you belong to, my path as a chef so far has been determined by coincidence, fate or destiny. There’s no other way to explain it. So be careful what you wish for, it could come true.There are few restaurants in Berlin that I have actively sought out. The beloved and appreciated Nobelhart&Schmutzig is of course one of them, although they have long known that I would come any time. Nevertheless, realistically speaking, I think I may be a little too reserved, i.e. just below realistic, and still (just) unsuitable for star cuisine and the 50 best restaurants in the world. This imaginary list of favourites also includes the Orania in Berlin Kreuzberg – a luxury boutique hotel, sister hotel of the famous G7-tested Schloss Elmau, which the common Kreuzberg public initially refused to acknowledge and therefore regularly broke the windows. Luxury, Kreuzberg, an equation that doesn’t work, especially in the immediate vicinity of Berlin’s most dreadful underground station, Kottbusser Tor. At some point, the damaged safety glass panes and the exterior façade adorned with paint bags were simply ignored.

Then there it was. The job advert for a staff chef. Well, staff chef. First of all, respect, they can afford a staff chef. Then, never mind, the main thing was to get in. I wrote to them, as always a little differently than you would expect from an application letter, we met, liked each other, I went to a trial shift, signed the contract today and start work on the first of March. The freshly signed contract says cook, which was important to me. In terms of level (and salary), I’m a demichef. Even more important. One level higher in the kitchen hierarchy, or to be more precise, deputy head chef, basically the head of department in the kitchen. Just a reminder, I’m not a chef. As a reminder to myself, apparently. To put it in the words of my daughter, finally you have a profession that you can explain in one word. (It helps to know that I often used to complain, half-jokingly, that I hadn’t become a bricklayer or roofer. Because every time I was asked at the beginning what I did for a living, there was only a choice between long-winded explanations, which inevitably led to too much unwanted attention, or a rude lie. The attention was unwanted in the sense that it simply doesn’t (just) feel good to tell anecdotes about your last trip to crazy Dubai or wicked Moscow to the astonished faces of the building inspector, primary school teacher or chairman of the voluntary fire brigade).

A lot of things are changing again now, which can only be a good thing.As I’m on the early shift for the time being, I have to get up early. Which is ultimately a good thing, because most of the cooking is done during the day. Not just the staff meals (11.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.), but also the preparations for the evening service. It’s actually just the right thing to help me develop. I have to deliver at the staff dinner (for 30-40 employees, it is a hotel after all), but I have a lot of freedom to do so, while I can work under professional conditions and with first-class ingredients and equipment. After all, the evening service, which I would like to switch to sooner or later if the opportunity arises, only leaves about two hours for preparation. Because after that, it’s just a case of, as the chefs say, “skilful”, i.e. serving it and getting it out. I think the tension that this creates is fantastic. But that’s another letter.

Oh, it’s so exciting.

With love