The central theme of this Chef’s Table episode is ego. Chef/restaurateur Tim Raue freely admits that he’s got a big one, and it helped him become a titan of the Berlin culinary scene. As a matter of fact, some of the local food writers think Raue is the de facto best chef in Berlin. Author Ursula Heinzelmann remarks: “If Tim Raue didn’t exist for Berlin’s food scene, you’d need to invent him, because he represents so much of what Berlin and food is all about.” Here are the major moments in Tim Raue’s rise to stardom, as told through Chef’s Table:
• As a boy, Raue lived in Kreuzberg, one of the poorest parts of Berlin, with his mother. But at nine years old, he moved in with his dad, who was an angry guy who beat Tim often. The chef remembers going to the hospital, and bleeding out of his eyes and ears. Young Tim would spend his pocket money in the supermarket, which he says was a safe place that felt like “an escape from the ordinary world.”
• During his teenage years, Raue hooked up with a gang called the 36 Boys, which he describes as “a bunch of guys searching for fights to see who was tougher, who was leading the pack, who’s leading the city.” The chef recalls “beating, robberies, seeking for violence to feel like I had control of my life.“
• Raue was smart enough to avoid pursuing a career as a full-time criminal, and instead took the advice of a school counselor to learn a trade. He always like food, so he settled on cooking. “I realized I had the chance with food to break out of my normal life and get as far from the street as it was possible,” Raue says.
• Tim aimed for spots in the top kitchens of Berlin, but nobody wanted to take him because he was from rough-and-tumble Kreuzberg. So he worked at a shitty restaurant to get his foot in the door, and he soon realized that a life in the kitchen was “like on the street, having fights.” Raue reflects on his competitive nature back then: “I was the biggest pain in the ass for all my colleagues. I did everything for power, because power showed me how I was able to go from as far from the street as it was possible.”
• He eventually worked his way up the ladder and got a prominent job at Berlin’s Swissôtel, but the critics complained that his food was over-spiced and strange. Raue admits: “At that time, I was not self-confident with what I was doing.” Following this disappointing bit of feedback, he immersed himself in cookbooks and culinary magazines, trying to learn French and German traditions, so that he could compete with the fine dining heavyweights in Berlin.
• After years of doubling down and working on elevating his cuisine, Raue won accolades — including a Michelin star — and his restaurant was packed. But despite this success, the chef was still unhappy and he didn’t know why.
• His big breakthrough happened while on a trip to Singapore, where he sampled food from local chefs who were mixing and matching elements of Cantonese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine. Here’s Raue on the dish that changed his life:
I went to a restaurant where I ordered the steamed cod, served like a Chinese steamed fish dish, but on the top there was a Thai-style mango salad. It was sweet, sour, crispy. It was like a roller-coaster on my mouth. I was so amazed, I ordered that dish four times. It really blew me away. After the fourth day, what I understood was the French idea of cooking, it’s not me. It is harmony. All the dishes [have] to be balanced, and I don’t have that harmony. I’m not that kind of balance. It was a moment of awakening, because it was so new. The spiciness, the fire, the aggressive flavors. I thought, “Yeah, that’s me.”
• Inspired by this trip, Tim began incorporating elements of Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine into his food. This experimentation lead to the creation of his flagship dining establishment, Restaurant Tim Raue. Local critics believe this opening signaled a shift in the Berlin dining scene and further cemented Raue’s legacy as one of the city’s most important chefs. Critic Dr. Stefan Elfenbein explains the impact of this restaurant: “Berlin took off. It was a new Germany... Tim Rauer was one of the people to make Berlin the most exciting city, food-wise, in Germany.”
• Circling back to the theme of ego, Raue sees the restaurant as an extension of himself: “I create my own universe. If I walk in the restaurant, that is the most successful moment for me because I see that I was able to control [this] bad energy and turn it into something which is beautiful.“