Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig asks “what does Berlin taste like?”

There’s no taste as sweet as a berry you’ve plucked yourself. Especially a fat, vibrantly-colored raspberry so perfectly ripe it falls into your hand with just a gentle tug. It’s a memory so mouthwatering it might be enough to make you reach for that packet of Driscoll’s raspberries in the middle of December. Enough to convince you to eat small, dry, dull-colored berries that have traveled thousands of miles to sit on the shelf at the grocery store around the corner.

Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig asks "what does Berlin taste like?"

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Most of the food we buy – not just at grocery stores but at many restaurants as well – is like these out-of-season raspberries. Fruits and vegetables are harvested early, ripened in dark rooms, and gassed with hormones, before spending days in transit on trucks, ships, and planes. The current global food model means that we can eat whatever produce we want at any time of the year, and expand our diets to include exotic fruits and vegetables from far-flung places. However, it also means that, more often than not, we get woody, flaky asparagus; wilted, bland lettuce; and stale tomatoes that taste like cardboard.

The local food movement is the natural response to the current global food model, and it’s one that has been embraced all over the world. Consumers are demanding to be more connected to their food, and restaurants and grocery stores – even industry giants like Walmart – have responded by offering more locally grown produce.

Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Caroline Prange
Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Caroline Prange
Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Caroline Prange

In Berlin, Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig has taken the local food movement even further. The ingredients served at the restaurant are produced almost exclusively in the Berlin region, a philosophy that the restaurant’s owner Billy Wagner describes as “brutal lokal”. Head chef Micha Schäfer strives to preserve the taste of each ingredient in his cooking, and the 10 course menu changes depending on the season and availability.

Diners sit at the heart of the restaurant with a clear view of the kitchen. They’re not removed from the food being prepared, either by a convoluted global supply chain or a physical barrier within the restaurant. It’s an environment that encourages people, in Wagner’s words, to “Faß dein Essen mal wieder an”; to “start touching your food again”. This philosophy evolved not just out of Schäfer and Wagner’s appreciation for high quality, local ingredients; the restaurant and its food also seeks to answer a question that is important to the pair: what does Berlin taste like?

Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Caroline Prange
Michelin star restaurant Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Caroline Prange
Billy Wagner of Nobelhart und Schmutzig - Photo: Sophie Köchert

Unlike other cities, Berlin is not, in Wagner’s words “constrained by its history” because in Berlin “you do not have a past”. The restaurant is located in Friedrichstraße, just a few minutes’ walk from Checkpoint Charlie; a reminder of war, foreign occupation, and the politicization of food. While Berlin was divided, all of the groceries sold in the West were imported, while in the East the value of food lay in its quantity – its capacity to feed a hungry population – rather than in its quality. As a result, in Wagner’s opinion, there is no cuisine that Berlin is known for; no flavor or food that encapsulates the identity of the city.

At Nobelhart und Schmutzig, Wagner and Schäfer are seeking to find out what Berlin tastes like by starting from scratch. By respecting and highlighting the flavors that grow here, and by removing those that don’t.

Credits: Production Support by: Cinnamon Circle, Food photography by: Caroline Prange, Portrait of Billy By: Sophie Köchert

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