Nobelhart & Schmutzig: a political restaurant in Berlin
Ranked #17 in the “World’s 50 Best”, Nobelhart & Schmutzig is two-sided like any political body: a nice, seductive and vocal communication on the one side. And a strong - rather radical in this case - agenda on the other: to elevate agricultural products such as shallots, asparagus or cabbage to the level of royalty. 2 sides. 2 men. Billy, the owner; the speaker. Micha, the chef, the ideologist maybe; the whip for sure. He first studied theology. Together, the food extremists.
Eyes wide open
Don’t pretend that it wasn’t there. Right on the front door, a stone’s throw away from “Check Point Charly”, stickers are giving the finger to Trip advisor and Gault Millau. The fake Michelin sticker was removed under pressure: the place has a Michelin star after all. Keep on looking. The perfect set-up of the massive “U” where all guests have a direct view on the open kitchen. The DJ’s vinyls. The signs on the toilet’s door: “It took us 6 months to decide. In the end, we went for “Standing” vs “Seated”” says Micha Schäfer. Take a closer look: the special table for “the mayor”. The 154-page wine list: a manifesto. Everything here has a meaning. Every detail serves the purpose.
“During Covid, we did a lot of questionable things for the sake of surviving”. Billy Wagner
Are you fucking with me?
“We cook for the farmers, not for the guests”, says Billy Wagner, owner, but also one of the best sommeliers in Germany. He opened his restaurant in 2015 after 5 years at RUTZ in Berlin, which had 1 Michelin star at the time and now boasts 3. He hired Micha who spent 2 years at Villa Merton near Frankfurt, 2 stars at the time, with a strong social engagement. There you have it: two perfection maniacs on a mission to elevate simple products the hard way. “Recognition is where you put your money, not your mouth” says Schäfer. And relentlessly, they visit farmers, create strong bonds, share ancient techniques, establish sustainable prices. For the restaurant, “The price of the farmer is not the problem. Salaries are the problem”. And there you go: a 10-round dinner around very simple products, cooked with 3-4 ingredients at most. No pepper. Shallots from Markus Heyermann and buttermilk enjoyable like lobster. Bresse chicken from Lars Odefey, on its own. You’ll never want to eat regular chicken again. The more you eat and drink, the more you enjoy; think; reconsider; question. Surely, you can just enjoy the food, but you could find other addresses for that. This one is not JUST about eating and drinking. It is about engaging in a political conversation. Agreeing. Or not. Debating with the crew. And yourselves.
"Recognition is where you put your money, not your mouth ».Micha Schäfer
The name of the place translates to noble, hard and dirty. Billy and Micha appear brutally honest during interviews. In your face. No bullshit. Why do we rank 17th? “Nobody knows, but it serves the purpose”. Do you suffer contradictions, your online shop ships boxes to Munich? “We have many contradictions. And during Covid, we did a lot of questionable things for the sake of surviving”. Are you truly independent? “We always ask the same question: does it serve the purpose”. In the end, you get to realize that the food industry is a giant lobby and that Germany is the perfect epicenter to start a fight. Gastronomes here ask for ‘French cuisine’ and consumers expect a low price above all. Food in German translates to “Lebensmittel” or “mean to live”. Talk about low expectations. This is not a fight that you win with declarations or small moves. It is a power struggle. You need money. You need to raise an army. You need media power. You need talent. You need decades. An ability to outwork the other side. You need recognition. Someone at the World’s Top50 joined the ranks, it seems. The constant flow of clients is a first step towards a sustainable fight. To be continued.