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Two German chefs rustle up 10-course gastronomical odyssey

THE first guest chef of the year has graced these shores, and contrary to what one might expect, was not part of a hotel's promotional tour. German chef Tristan Brandt was enamored by Shanghai during his week-long stint at up-market Stiller's restaurant and is hoping to return as soon as he can.

The 23-year-old plies his trade as poissonier (fish cook) at L'Arnsbourg Baerenthal, a three-Michelin star restaurant deep in the woods of Strasbourg, France. Led by talented chef Jean-Georges Klein, the fine-dining restaurant serves modern European cuisine to the elite of Strasbourg society.

Given the region's location on the border with his native Germany, Brandt felt right at home in L'Arnsbourg kitchen. With its modern slant, the shy young chef was just as comfortable working with the talented Stefan Stiller here in Shanghai, and the respect was definitely mutual.

"It's not just good for me to have him here, it's also good for my young chefs," said chef Stiller, an authority on culinary talent. The German maestro ran the kitchen at Club Shanghai and Mimosa before opening his own venue at the Cool Docks.

"Not only are they very curious about what he can do, even though he is a bit quiet, they can also see him work hard and get the job done."

Brandt's visit culminated in a 10-course gastronomical odyssey, combining the talents of both chefs to produce a lip-smacking, mouth-watering menu of contemporary cuisine. Aided by the know-how of veteran chef Tommes (who goes by one name only), the menu, featuring such treats as Jerusalem artichoke veloute with watercress and frog leg, seared duck foie gras and glazed pigeon breast, was superbly executed to the delight of all in attendance.

This mirrored the avant-garde style of L'Arnsbourg, where the signature dish is an "explosive" trio of foie gras served in complicated trappings.

Like many chefs with abundant gastronomical talent, Brandt's passion for the culinary arts has its roots back home. Inspired by the delicious delights conjured by his mother, the Heidelberg native signed up for an apprenticeship at the tender age of 15.

After a comprehensive three years at the prestigious Land and Golfhotel in Stromberg, Brandt graduated to the one-Michelin-star Schwarz Das Restaurant in his hometown, where he was indoctrinated with the basics of classical cooking. Then he came under the wing of Harald Wolfahart at Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube in the heart of the Black Forest.

"Chef Wolfahart has been cooking the same style for 30 years, which is very classical, very high class but very, very traditional," explained Brandt in German through Stiller, who echoed his sentiments exactly. "He is not doing any molecular but staying with his concepts, with his roots, with his basics. Modern style of cooking is interesting, but maybe in five years people will look back to the traditional style.

"When trends are over, new things come up (to replace them) but at the end of the day, the product is always most important."

Given Brandt's rich and varied education, the young German made an excellent role model for his local counterparts.

He felt, however, that while their enthusiasm could not be faulted, their prior training regime was slightly behind when compared to that in Europe.

"They are interested and look at what I do, but in Germany I think you have a better apprenticeship," said Brandt, who was very keen to see the inner workings of a Chinese kitchen. "There is a difference between training standards."

Stiller himself admits that his team is learning all the time, and he is more than happy to bring in overseas talent not just to put on a show for dinner guests, but also to inspire his fledglings.

Hosting guest chefs has been a long running desire of Stiller's, and with his own restaurant, he is finally able to being this to fruition. The German has a few more lined up throughout the year, and local foodies are in for a treat this coming year.


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