Tim Raue — The Berliner. Chef’s Table, V.3 E.5
This episode of Chef’s Table features Berlin-born chef Tim Raue. The last episode featured Jewish-American chef Ivan Orkin, who specializes in the Japanese dish ramen. You can find all entries in this guide in the Chef’s Table archives.
I’ll warn you, Tim Raue has a bit of a reputation for being a hardass in the kitchen, if you’ll pardon my French. Let’s dig in.
STREETS TO KITCHEN
Tim Raue started on the streets of Berlin, in one of the worst neighborhoods of West Berlin — Kreuzberg Wrangel, which was surrounded by the Berlin wall on three sides.
At age three, he moved in with his father, who abused him. Around nine, he took to the streets and joined the notorious gang 36 Boys.
During the episode, looking back, Tim recognizes that he was an exceptionally “evil” boy, beating others up and stealing from them. He accounts much of this to his inability to handle his father’s abuse, equating child abuse to the detonation of a nuclear bomb inside that child.
As he neared adulthood, he knew that he couldn’t continue a lifestyle of crime. In Germany, citizens complete a questionnaire and are given three choices of vocation.
The career center told Tim that he could become a gardener, a painter, or a chef. Since he had always loved food, he chose to become a chef. In culinary school, he garnered some small successes, creating bold, beautiful flavor palettes.
But when he began searching for work, he learned that no one wanted to hire him since he had grown up in Kreuzberg.
Starting from the bottom…
Tim eventually found work at Chalet Suisse, a lower-grade restaurant than the ones he’d intended to work at. All the same, he worked his way up through a series of restaurants and, incredibly, became head chef of Rosenbaum at the age of twenty-three. His rise to leadership was a revelation in his eyes. He was the one in charge, the one telling others what to do. He had control — the control he’d lacked growing up.
And he wanted to become the best. He began experimenting with bold flavors, and received bad reviews. Critics were accustomed to eating French cuisine in fine dining restaurants. Tim realized he had to make a change. So he researched French cuisine. He made his menu subtler and more nuanced. These changes garnered him the title Chef of the Year from Gault-Millau in 2007.
But Tim wasn’t happy. He didn’t feel like himself.
The journey to Singapore…
Then, Tim Raue took a trip to Singapore. At the time, Singapore was the capital of modernist Asian cuisine, which combined traditional Cantonese cooking with flavors from Thailand, Vietnam, and South Asia. In Singapore, Tim opened his eyes to a whole new world of foods and flavors. He had never eaten at an Asian-themed fine dining restaurant.
And he decided right away that he wanted to create such a restaurant in Germany.
At the time, the influx of the younger generation, a generation who cared about food and eating, had begun to change the culinary scene of Berlin. Still, Tim’s restaurant concept was a long shot. The flavors he used were too bold for some, his combinations too out-of-the-box for others. Yet he achieved success, first in two restaurants themed off of China and Japan, then at Restaurant Tim Raue. That, his current restaurant, received two Michelin stars in 2012.
Eater characterized this episode as a “misfire.” I’m not so sure. I found Tim’s narrative — his journey from the streets to the pinnacle of the German culinary scene — moving. Sure, the episode isn’t simple and one-dimensional, like the last one (which I found far less compelling), but neither is Tim Raue. He’s rough around the edges. So is this episode.
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