Masterchef S04 ep5 : Kolja Kleeberg, Vau Restaurant , [Berlin]

Interview with Kolja Kleeberg

Situated in the center of Berlin, not far from the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, Head Chef Kolja Kleeberg was the protégé of famous Josef Viehhauser before he started his very popular VAU.  Kolja Kleeberg strives to use as much local ingredients from Berlin or at least Germany as possible and succeeds quite well with that. The menu often changes, but dishes like aspic of suckling pig with sauerkraut; lobster with mango and black olives; and ox cheek braised in balsamico with thyme polenta and sautéed radicchio are typical dishes from the mind of Kolja Kleeberg.


I'm Kolja Klieber and we're here in my restaurant VAU in the old historic center of Berlin in
Berlin Mitte, near Giandarme Markt. Some say one of the most beautiful places all over

My origin is German. My first name is Russian but this was a funny idea of my father's side,it's
the abbreviation of Nicolai, but I'm born in Cologne. 01:33

VAU is a restaurant. We're here since the 17th of February, 1997. Quite a few years after the
wall was torn down but it's still the spirit of pioneers coming to the New Berlin, trying to
recreate the souls of Berlin that once was fifty years or more, gold.02:06

Since I was fourteen, fifteen, my aim was to go to the theatre and I wanted to become an actor
and a singer. My mother was a teacher in primary school and my father was professor in law.
But my father understood both things. He was still his conoserand he showed me how to have
fun in the kitchen. He loved being on stage. He loved talking to his students. So this might have
been similar.02:48

I have been working at the theatre, playing small characters. So I did five or six auditions, just
to know that the theatre world was not waiting for me.And so I was at the age of twenty-two
then and I thought, hmm, coming back from the auditions, I thought, it might be a good idea to
have some other profession beside to be safe and there was just one thing I knew already could
do very well and I could have fun with and this was cooking. From the age of fourteen, I started
cooking at home, having fun, of course without time pressure and without being professional.
But I knew I had taste. I knew I loved working with ingredients, with products and I knew I love
working with people.03:56

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

I think it was a lack of self-confidence at that time and this was the reason exactly why I went
into the kitchen hiding in the kitchen, doing something I knew I could do very well and this was
also the reason why I started in a very small restaurant. I was just together with the owner, so we
were two and right from the very beginning I started work from half past nine in the morning,
till 1 o'clock in the night and after I would say three four months, i was doing all the meals
plus. In fact first year, i was working seven days per week, because we were open on six days
and the seventh day was my school day. 04:56

At this time, middle of the eighties we had one of the first very famous cooking shows in
German television,(German phrase), eating like God in Germany. That was the time I started
looking at them in my break sometimes and I thought, yes, this is what I like to learn, this is
what they are talking about. 05:31

The first one and a half year when I was learning in this very small restaurant, I learnt real
classic cuisine with sauce Machonvanan, with sauce a la shibboleth,with a cat on looking one.
so after the first one and a half years, when the owner closed down, he sent me to Missioners
star restaurant and from then on, I was always working in Missioners star restaurants, working
with Caviar and lobster,preparing a la minute, preparing for real stress al carte service and at the
aged of twenty-four then, this was my first contact with really professional cuisine. 06:27

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

So I was quite lucky that Gordon let us do what we wanted to do, so there wasn't a case he
suddenly like he said to me,what you're going to change when you buy it and I say nothing, the
only thing I'm going to change is the stationery because I'm doing the food I like to do, I'm
running it the way I wanted it because I have that level of freedom with him. I think if I' been
restricted and I didn't,then it would be a slightly different case, but because I was very free to do
what I wanted I, we just carried on. We just developed the food as we've gone on and on. 21:20

It's probably got more advanced, maybe more technical, it certainly developed but Diego and I
have a very similar style, because he's my head chef so he's been influenced by me, cause
we've worked together for so long and now he's developed in his own style and we pick things
up from each other. But he's keeping the essence of the, it has to be seasonal and it's got to taste
good. I don't want to put anything on the plate that is super less. You know just for the sake of
putting it on, it’s going to work, yea, it's like point. People remember taste, they don't remember
rubbish, You know I was recently in Paris, a three star and it was a tomato salad,which probably
the best tomato salad I'd tasted in my life, because they were the best tomatoes in the world.
There was a little bit of soya on there,there was a little bit of red cabbage, a little bit of red
onion, it was superb, you know, so you can't not buy. 22:24

Jewellery Theatre Elements

The first one and a half years, I learnt quickly how things have to taste. The next one and a half
years, I learnt how a professional missioners star cuisine had to be prepared. Kind ofa military.
In Paris I learnt that also the French chefs are cooking with water, as the German saying:
(German Phrase). At that time we were always looking to France,the gods are working there.
When I returned, I learnt those gods were also human beings. I came back, i was working in an
Italian restaurant after two months, I had learnt everything that was happening in the kitchen.
But I stayed there for rather long time because the Paton was the first chef, patron I get to know
and he showed me how a patron working in the kitchen can be the host in the restaurant. It was
his restaurant. Then i went to Switzerland also learning very, very many very interesting things
in the kitchen, but the chef there, Idiowaitsgaga,was the first one who showed me how to work
with your antlered. In the evening, when we have a very stress a la carte service, sometimes he
offered us a glass of champagne and he says, "'well done guys, here's to your health," then we
say, "oh thank you, thank you boss." And he always said , "No it's me, I have to thank you, that
was the first time I learnt how to treat the people working for you.08:31

93, I came to Berlin, to this very, very pulsating city, three and a half years after the wall was
torn down. At that time, Berlin was the only city you could go to, if you wanted to do something
new or something on your own. To go to Munich, to Cologne, to Stuttgart, would have meant
going somewhere where the cake is already divided. Due to a very, very funnycoincidence,
where I got to know the man who opened Restaurant Vau. It was the end of 96 and he was not
from the Gastronomy business, so he did not know people in Gastronomy, he just knew one
person,Joseph Heaza, from Lokamarg in Hamburg. And in fact the true story Vau was for
Heaza, because he was the culinary mentor but he was also wasnot from Berlin, he was from
Hamburg and I was the first one he got to know, so we had, he said,"Colia, you're going to help
me make this the best restaurant in town. My working contract said atleast 16 points in Gomio
first year, at least one star Missioner in second year and this was a challenge. But in fact I had a
very, very good team to start with. One of the guys I was working with was Icornedo from the
restaurant, the restaurant and the daughter in Zurich now. 10:23

What we're doing here is always team work. I'm kind of a mastermind, but I cannot say every
dish on the menu, is my creation. It's always the creation of the team. Sometimes one plate is
one of my guys alone. He puts it together in his mind and then he shows it to me, gives it to
taste and maybe I say, "Great, hundred per cent your idea,hundred per cent like this,he'll put, it
will come on the menu.And that's I am working. 11:13

With a twinkle in the eye, I'd say what we're doing Berlin cuisine because I don't like to work
with importers. I don't like to say what we're doing is French, then I could no pasta and as
Berlin is so multi influenced, multi-cultural, and that's what I try to capture, but in a very, very
simple way. 11:48

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

On our plates you will always find a dish that you can easily understand. I don't like twelve
different tasters and twelve different products on the plate. Always finding idea on the

One of our lunch dishes is kind of a Turkish inspired dish which is cooked octopus with chick
pea puree and falafel. The first and the second spoon will give you the idea, ah, that's great.
That there's always something that you not expect from the very first moment. Like on this dish,
lemon puree, which gives you certain acidity.12:54

When I took over the restaurant in 2002. I took it over. I had to go either one way just doing TV
shows and being a chef on the screen, maybe earning more money because you don't have
thirty-eight employees behind you or having and giving a place like home. And that was the
point when Irealize I am a chef that did not start the job because I was in love only with the
products and that's the reason I'm not staying in the kitchen because I started the job because I
love feeding people and having guests.13:59

There are so many famous names that have been in here,where of course, we had Brad Angelina
actually sitting in this place here. We had Tom Cruise, when he was doing the Vel car, this was
funny because the hotel that made the reservation made the reservation for Mr. Smith and we
say," ok Mr. Smith, so we have a table for four people. Yes but it has to be a very special table,
No problem Mr. Smith will be satisfied and we need a room only for those four people. I said,
how can I do this? I just had my restaurant and then the conciorsaid it's a very, very special M.
Smith. yea, but I don't have another room, I cannot create another room. Ok then we get you a
Spanish, a Spanish wall. Ok, if you want to and then Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes and two
others stepped in and they wanted to put the Spanish wall and we said,"oh no, take it away, take
it away,leave it away, we just want to have a nice evening. He was so easy to handle, very, very

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Kolja Kleeberg, VAU Restaurant, [Berlin]