Brash, daring and provocative, Michelin star chef Tim Raue set out to elicit a reaction – and what a reaction he’s received. After tousling his way out of a turbulent upbringing in Berlin’s gritty Kreuzberg neighbourhood, Tim earned the position of head chef at the ripe age of 23, and in 2007 received both his first Michelin star at Swissôtel’s Restaurant 44, as well as the coveted title of Gault-Millau Chef of the Year. Credited with revitalising the German culinary scene, his ascendancy continued with two Michelin stars for his eminent Tim Raue Restaurant, holding spot 34 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2016.
The Tim Raue universe is one in which harmony bores and balance is complacency. Where the palette is shocked and the senses endlessly exhilarated, confronted in dishes with the same voracious intensity as the artist who crafted them. With an ever-expanding empire of restaurants, television appearances, cookbooks and accolades, Tim is unabashed in his ambition and unapologetic in his extravagances, acting out in every realm he inhabits that principal adage of history’s most revolutionary creators: Be the best or nothing at all.
What first drew you to pursue a career as a chef? At what point did you realise it was something you’d enjoy and excel at?
I wanted to pursue a creative profession, and since I, unfortunately didn't go to school that often, I had to say goodbye to my A-levels and learn a trade, which turned out to be an absolute stroke of luck for me. Initially, it was my talent for leading a team that enabled me to rise to the position of head chef, and only then did my talent for creating unique worlds of flavours emerge. With each award, I became bolder and more detailed in my craftsmanship, and thus my ascent took place, step by step.
You reached head chef at a very young age. How does the pressure to build a name for yourself at the outset of your career compare with the pressure to uphold the name you’ve created today?
I came from the street and had nothing but my name. I sprayed it on walls as a teenager to make myself visible. On the plate, I found the opportunity to make my culinary signature visible with my pronounced seasoning.
Every plate – and you send several hundred of them per service to the guests – must be perfect!
You must love the pressure – otherwise, it's no fun and you won't be happy in the kitchen. It's like sport: you can just jog around a lake, or you can go running and detail every kilometer with a heart rate monitor, using the best equipment on your body, and carried by the will to get the best out of yourself.
How do you sustain the level of discipline displayed in your career? Does it come naturally to you or, is it a challenge?
For me, discipline is the red line which I work my way along through the day. The biggest problem in my youth was the lack of discipline, the disregard for authority, and the lack of aim.
In my training, I began to set myself milestones for each day: by 8:00 you have 18 sheet cakes ready, by 9:00 you have the herb trays stocked, by 9:30 you have put them away, by 11:00 you have set up the post, by 12:00 you have cut two boxes of bread. That's how I still work and live today. I put every appointment, every phone call, everything I must do in my calendar and work through it.
Your dishes have a strong influence on Asian cuisine. What is it about Asian cuisine that you find so exciting?
I was impressed by the sweet and sour play of Thai cuisine with its incisive spiciness, the purism of Japanese cuisine, and the centuries-old technique of Chinese cuisine, and I enjoy these cuisines, which is why I combined them with French cuisine and ingredients from Europe to create my very own, highly individual cuisine.
From the initial idea for a dish to the plating: what would you say is the most artistic or creative part of a chef’s process?
This question requires a 10-page essay as an answer. The process is so lengthy & complex. Most of the time, a product combination is created first – a combination I have previously eaten, or which came about through a moment of inspiration. Like salmon and tomato, for example, the dish my best friend cooked for me: the salmon tender and slowly cooked over low heat, with tomato water, which he had made up with butter. Very puristic: just salmon, sauce, and a little tarragon.
My friend cooks extremely refined and almost without spices so that the clarity of the flavours of the basic products is in the foreground. This made it easy for me to take his dish as a starting point and create a dish around it. We cook salmon in orange butter, serve it with spheres of tomato salad and cream of green aniseed, along with tomato water with rice vinegar & red chilli, and clarified orange butter. It took us 4 weeks to define every detail, every ingredient, and every proportion of the dish.
You’re known for provoking rather than harmonising in your cooking – what’s the most provocative dish you’ve made or surprising element you’ve introduced?
At the beginning of my career, I cooked particularly “loudly”, by which I mean I employed particularly harsh aromatic accents of sweet-acidic-hotness.
I wanted the guests to taste that this is TIM RAUE.
Today, I'm much more relaxed and the flavours are therefore more balanced, but I'm a long way from harmony and the French balance of flavours, and I really enjoy that!
You’ve said there are two parts to your personality: the creative chef who wants to surprise his guests and the businessman who needs to fill the restaurant and make things run smoothly. How do you balance these two sides in your work?
The two are constantly in conflict with each other; that's a good thing. I'm constantly exchanging thoughts with both sides. That's why I often need time for myself to think things through from both sides. I don't like music or general noise, because I want to think.
Having received such prestigious recognition in your personal work, how do you define success in your life?
At the beginning of my career, success meant above all being noticed. I could usually only enjoy the awards for a few minutes because I was already focusing on the next higher rating. Then, at some point, the national peak was reached, and the time came to maintain the level. Suddenly, the international awards came…and then came the television. Of course, I measure success in turnover, in awards, but also in the satisfaction of the staff and the guests. Basically, the most important thing for my salvation is that I am happy with myself, feel proud of my work, and don't rush through my life like a maniac.
Some of Berlin’s best chefs have come out of your kitchen. What sort of mentor do you try to be to your team?
I set an example. Be unique, believe in yourself but also reflect on your every action. Apologise when you mess up. Be hardworking, strong-willed and disciplined, and humble – and be that every day! I try to accompany our staff, trust them, motivate them, challenge them and encourage them. I am perfectionist in quality and implementation, understanding in the personal sphere, and always honest and straightforward.
If you practice this relentless, ‘tough love' leadership in the kitchen, to what extent are you responsible for the mental health of the team working under you? For both your team and you, is this approach sustainable?
I am constantly working on my mental strength, be it with mediation or with therapies. If I notice that one of my employees is not feeling well, however, I speak to him/her directly and try to support, listen, and help.
What was the process like writing an autobiography and why was it important to you to do so, apart from the money 🙂 ?
It was a reflection on my life so far, written by Stefen Adrian, with whom I spent countless hours. He processed my stories and descriptions, and as he did so, I had the time to think through everything again. It was a fantastic process that gave me many good insights into dealing with myself and others.
Do you think your openness about your story makes for a more personal experience among guests at your restaurants?
Of course, this brings me closer to the guests and to people in general. They usually already know a bit more about me and talk to me about it, which makes it easier to get into conversation with each other.
Is there a particular dish that has a nostalgic value or special meaning for you?
My grandmother's Königsberger Klopse (Traditional German dish of cooked meatballs in white sauce with capers) and false hare are wonderful childhood memories.
When you’ve built a brand around an image of yourself as an eccentric, difficult, or hot-headed figure, does it become difficult in your personal life to counteract or grow out of these characteristics?
No. The most important thing I had to learn quickly with success: a lot of people want something from you. There are thousands of people who want vouchers for raffles, greetings to their loved ones on their birthday, people who want you to cook at their house – but that's not your problem, it's theirs! Professionally, I have drawn an outer wall that filters requests and protects me. Privately, I am very shy and reserved. The little time I have I spend with my wife and the small circle of friends I have that take me as I am.
Every chef in your kitchen wears a stylish chef’s uniform and Nikes. Is Nike a brand that has particular significance to you and is this an effort to impart inspiration in your team or a purely aesthetic one?
Everyone has their own ticks. Mine is certainly that I've always had a penchant for fashion, and I can live that out in the kitchen uniform. Nike is simply my sneaker brand, without being sponsored all the time. I also believe that uniforms can be something positive: there is no rank insignia in our company, so we are all the same at that moment, whether trainee or chef.
On your relationship with designer pieces in your youth, you’ve said: “If it wasn’t affordable to us, it was a status symbol”. Now that you can afford such things, how has their meaning to you changed?
Status symbols are still important to me, as they convey to me what I have achieved. I generally find it hard to be happy about successes for more than a few seconds and, the status symbols that I use, especially in everyday life, visualise to me, “you have made it to a certain point”.
We know you have a great love for fine wine – do you have any desire to venture into winemaking in the future?
Just like fashion, I have a soft spot for wine too. But I don't want to design anything, I just want to wear it, and I just want to enjoy wine. There are collaborations with winemakers like Jochen Dreissigacker, Markus Schneider, and Andre Macionga who vinify wines especially for our restaurants, but I haven't picked a single grape in the process.
By the way, what I find enormously important with wine is the glass from which it is drunk, which is often shamefully miserable. We work with Zwiesel Kristallglas in all our restaurants, and I even have a travel case with glasses for the wines I like best – red Burgundy and Bordeaux – so that I can appreciate the wines properly and offer them the appropriate room to develop. A little bit of quirk is allowed sometimes!
We’ve heard your dog has a rather sophisticated palette. What’s a regular entrée on her menu prepared by her Michelin star companion?
She loves chicken hearts, freshly sautéed. As she is on a diet, soft boiled carrots with finely shredded dried pigeon meat are her highlight.When we have Cantonese pork ribs and baked duck on the bone at home, she sits at my feet and gives me such a heart-breaking look every time that I find it incredibly difficult not to give her anything. She is so keen on it that her nose drips.
It seems there are particular cities especially close to your heart. We’re wondering – what’s your favourite city? And what are the top 5 spots there you’d recommend to your best friend when he or she’s in town?
Phew, there are a few: NYC-London-Madrid-Paris, and in Asia Singapore and Hong Kong especially.
In Hong Kong, I can think of a few things right away. I prefer to sleep at The Upper House, where the view over to Kowloon is wonderful, and the rooms are Japanese-simple equipped with yoga mats. Above all, you can drive down to the shopping mall Pacific Place which the hotel sits on top of and go shopping at Lane Crawford, perhaps the best department store in the world.
Lung King Heen is the best Cantonese restaurant in the world and worth a visit for me. The Schöni Gallery, run by Nicole Schöni, shows the most important living and contemporary Chinese artists making political statements.
For me, Hong Kong embodies intensity, consumerism, and great cuisine. There are also contemplative places, like Lamma Island, just a short ferry ride away, where you can hike and enjoy super fresh seafood at its seafood restaurants.