Masterchef S04 ep4 : Michael Hoffmann, Restaurant Margeaux, [Berlin]

Interview with Michael Hoffmann

At Margaux, his own restaurant right in the centre of Berlin , Michael Hoffmann makes vegetables the stars of his dishes and uses his expert knowledge of ingredients to create exceptional cuisine. Hoffmann works with extreme precision and in a reductive style to create exact flavours. For his aubergine with coriander and Jerusalem artichoke, the aubergine is candied for several weeks then caramelised in olive oil, which produces a kind of dried fruit that unleashes totally new flavours in combination with the smoked Jerusalem artichoke purée, crispy salad stalks and a coriander emulsion. The seasonal vegetable platter, served with an intense vegetable bouillon, has become his signature dish. Cooking all the vegetables individually brings out each of their characters in a wonderful way, allowing their separate flavours to shine through and to combine together to capture the essence of the season.


Margeaux is the place where I work, Margeaux is my restaurant, Margeaux is as well my baby of course, but maybe
the name of Margeaux stays a bit more in the background while my own personal name is rather predominant for this
kitchen and what we do.
0:24 -

The first signs of me wanting to become a cook came from my grandmother. She grew fruit and vegetables in her own
garden. She loved to cooked for the whole family and I always used to enjoy that so much. So I never had to think too
much about what I wanted to become, it was clear, I wanted to become a cook. She cooked a special meal for the
family once a week. We had meat, nothing went to waste, there was also a dish made from the meat leftovers. We
used vegetables from her garden. There was always good produce, no special products, just regular German products
that grew in her backyard soil and she always cooked them so nicely and that always inspired me. Jams were made
from the fruit, then bottled. Vegetables were picked and pickled for the rest of the year. So my big inspiration was to
become a cook. It made me happy. At 10 years of age I could bake cookies, but I couldn't fix my bike. So for me there
was no question, I wanted to become a cook. I wanted to be part of that world.
1:56 -

In our small village, of 2000 inhabitants, there was one hotel and that's where I learned my profession. I didn't know
about the existence of kitchens being awarded Michelin stars, I had never heard of the master cook Eckart
Witzigmann, or others like him.
2:25 -

In this small hotel, I learned a middle-class kitchen, a perfect craft. And then my chef encouraged me to leave home
and study in different kitchens. Back then, at the beginning of the eighties, it was very important to go to Switzerland
to learn a more international style of cooking.
2:51 -

In Switzerland I worked in holiday resorts, where wintersports took place or where in summer people went to the
mountains and so on [laughs]. I worked there in just normal hotels.
3:10 -

That was in 1989, so at the end of the eighties, I worked with a cook who once worked in a restaurant with one
Michelin Star, and he was telling all about it and I thought that was very exciting. And that's when I said: 'that would
interest me', and so I went to Munich.
3:37 -

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

Of course that was a big change for me. Everything was cooked 'à la minute' , it had to cooked to perfection, the
aesthetics on the plate were important. There was a whole different hierarchy in the kitchen, it was much stricter, and
the produce were different, super fresh. There was a focus on quality and that inspired me a lot. I wasn't shocked, I
was fascinated. Initially it was hard for me.
4:09 -

Back then the culinary stronghold in Germany was in Munich, there were 2 restaurants with 3 Michelin stars: 'Eckart
Witzigmann' und 'Heinz Winkler'. I worked in an American company, Hilton, and I actually wanted to go to America. At
the same time I also applied to these restaurants and was accepted. I was 22, and went to work for Eckart
4:46 -

On my first day I was so fearful and afraid that I would do everything wrong BUT I noticed as well that they were also
"just cooking with water". But they looked upon things differently. Their procedure was different. I said to myself 'I
want to learn this system, I'm with one of the biggest chefs right now, I´m young and I can learn a lot'. I was hard on
myself and I said I'm going to pull this through. I was there for one year and a half, then had a short break in another
restaurant with 2 Michelin stars and then I went back when I was 24 to Witzigmann to became his sous-chef.
5:45 -

I could not understand it, it was the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' of a restaurant. What happened there and then is not
anymore possible today. The organisation wasn't good, the arrangements weren't good, but one thing was good; this
man had an incredible feeling when it came to cooking, and that's why I didn't care about all the rest, I was absorbing,
I was learning.
6:15 -

One and a half year as sous-chef and one and a half year as chef, 'chef de partie'.
Then you get the certificate from Eckart Witzigmann and all the doors in the whole world open up to you.
6:35 -

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

After that I actually wanted to continue learning, in another 3 star restaurant. I applied everywhere, in Italy, in France,
and I could have started anywhere , but I didn't because I said to myself that it was so hard and you don't earn
anything. I thought,' no way this doesn't work,' so I tried to find another way. Then I worked in a small 'Bistro' as cook
and dishwasher to earn some money first of all and then I worked as a chef near Bremen, north-Germany. There, I
initially did everything wrong, yes everything wrong. I tried to work creatively, with perfection, certain products, but
the people that lived there weren't interested in this style of cooking.
7:42 -

I did that for one year and then I applied everywhere, I wanted to cook properly again. I went to Hamburg, and was
chef there in a 1 Star restaurant, 'Le Canard', and was chef for 2 years there.
Afterwards I did everything, I got the big chance to organize everything, staff, menu, restaurant, manage everything in
the kitchen, I learned a lot. But I have sown, and the chef has harvested, and I was always the man behind the curtain.
And then I said I don't like it no more, this cannot be , I'm here every day 16,18,20 hours and nobody was talking
about me. By then I was ready to quit the job and do something completely different. By accident I read in the
newspaper 'Neustädter', that they were looking for a chef in hotel 'Vier Jahreszeiten' in Hamburg. I was 28 , a major
opportunity to enter in such a hierarchy with back then 50 chefs, 50 cooks. And I was allowed to run that small
restaurant how I wanted.
9:17 -

In the rest of Germany the cooks are inspired by the north - Scandinavia and south - France, Italy Spain, everywhere.
Berlin is totally different, and the way my kitchen has evolved, it would never have evolved in this way if I had been in
Munich or Hamburg. That was thanks to Berlin.
9:40 -


Jewellery Theatre Elements

I had been offered in Berlin to create a new restaurant. At the beginning, the first 3 years, I was employed, I was chef
here, nothing more. And 3 years later we took over. Berlin was a coincidence. What we did 12 years ago has nothing
to do with how our kitchen is today. Berlin has changed my kitchen a lot, because Berlin is very tolerant, and the
whole world comes to Berlin. The whole world.
10:16 -

Berlin is a poor city, and we live from the fact that the whole world visits Berlin. And Berlin permits everything, you can
do the craziest concepts. Hamburg for example, survives from the people that live there, they are less flexible, and
that's also ok. And that had changed it all for me. In Berlin I had much more courage to invent something new,
something different. But my kitchen had evolved so far, not because in Spain they cook like this or in Scandinavia like
that, but because here in Berlin, from inside of me, my mind, my point of view had changed. That means that today
we take responsibility for the environment, responsibility to not use certain products that I have used for years,
because the time for that has passed.
11:27 -

So certain products, for example, no tuna fish, no foie gras, no veal anymore. I want to know when we process animal
products, where do these come from. The chicken may come from France from the Brès area , that's ok, but I want to
know how the animal lived. We have very little meat. We work a lot with vegetables, with herbs. And 3 years ago I
made a section where we have a vegetable menu, and a menu with vegetables, fish and meat. That means the
vegetables are always the star on the dish, and fish and meat are the garnish. Since we do this, and the people know
about this, we have more and more customers.
12:33 -

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

The idea is of course that everything is very natural, that you perceive the shape of the vegetable and not that
everything is mashed. But the main point is that we grow our vegetables ourselves. We have our own garden, and I
define and I decide which plants I sow, which ones I plant in the garden, I decide in which stadium I harvest them,
small or big, and many stories arose from this. I have products that nobody has and that you can't buy anywhere, and
that's the fun part. And the main reason is that in the different variety of vegetables there are a lot more different
flavours than in fish and meat. It is more difficult to create something new with vegetables, it takes more thinking and
experimenting but I enjoy it a lot more. And the guest experiences something you normally don't see in Germany, all
what can be done with vegetables.
13:57 -

The idea also comes when buying the seed and reading about the product, but the real inspiration comes from the
garden when the vegetables are born in their very original shape. When working in the garden with the vegetables,
the herbs, and harvesting and smelling them, the qualty and freshness, then my brain starts working and thinking
what can I do with this. And then it's kind of like a computer hard drive, I start calling up things that I once prepared,
cooked in some way in the past 30 years, and I experiment with that. Of course we also do normal things, what every
child can prepare. But there are also vegetable preparations that can take up to 6 weeks, until they are ready to be
14:58 -

Many years ago there was a small group that came regularly for dinner, and one day I approached their table and
said: 'If you would ever like to try something special, then you should call and I'd prepare it with pleasure and organise
it all'. I said, "If maybe you would like to have a whole lamb shank carved at the table"... That call actually came a few
days later and the first thing they asked for was: 'moose' . And then I pulled that subject ' moose'. We had a moose
delivered, we did everything, prepared 16 courses just from the moose with moose carapaccio on crispbread, the
swedish flag on the table. The dishes kept on coming again and again. It was about truffle, about Germany,
everything, it was very funny.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Michael Hoffman, Restaurant Margeaux, Berline]