Clemens Rambichler (Sonnora): The Giant Leap
Born on the first of January, Clemens Rambichler acquired Sonnora on his birthday in 2021. He was 33 years old. After standing on the shoulders of a giant – Helmut Thieltges - from 2011 to 2017, he had proven his ability to lead the house following the sudden passing of his mentor. Big investments followed. The future looks bright.
The road to Dreis
Initially, Clemens Rambichler was very good at school; then he lost interest and decided to learn a job where he could see the tangible results of his work. “I could not be a banker,” he says, smiling, thinking maybe about his sister who works at Deutsche Bank at the other end of the world. He tried being a goldsmith first, then a carpenter, and finally decided to be a cook. His first experience at the Intercontinental Resort Hotel near his Berchtesgaden home hooked him immediately. “I liked the combination of the relaxed talk with the intensity and quality of the work.” He moved to another restaurant in the same hotel – Le Ciel – which had a Michelin star and after two years, bravely sent his CV to a restaurant that intrigued him: Sonnora, in Dreis, near Trier. Holding 3 Michelin stars since 1999 it didn’t have a website for a long time and was led by a charismatic chef – Helmut Thieltges – with strong principles and a small appetite for publicity. Arriving there in his perfect outfit and - what he felt - limited abilities, he felt a bit like Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Catch me if you can.”
“We don’t know better, we simply try harder”
Like father and son
“Overall, I protect my interests and those of my guests,” says Rambichler. A love of fast cars, nice watches, cigars, and fly fishing allowed the young chef to connect immediately with his boss. During our interview, he expressed complex ideas in a few words; talked a lot about the need to “focus” and concluded many sentences with “Ganz klar!” or “Very clear.” He has this rare vibe that only people who managed to cultivate the entirety of their talent can have. “I think that Mr. Thieltges knew that I knew nothing. But talent plays a small role in the kitchen: Diligence is key.” After a few “grandiose months” during which the young chef soaked up experiences and learned every day, Helmut Thiltges asked Rambichler about his plans: “If you want to stay, I will teach you everything I know.” He became a sous-chef and adopted the local mindset: “We don’t know better; we simply try harder. In the end, what really matters is what is on the plate. It starts with the sauces which take many hours to prepare. But it is nice.” One morning in 2017, Helmut Thieltges went to the hospital. Clemens took over in the kitchen for what he thought would be a few days - but a few weeks later, the team sat together after the death of their boss wondering about what to do next.
“In the end, what really matters is what is on the plate”
First, they decided to continue and see if clients would continue to come, with Ulrike Thieltges still welcoming the guests. “It could have been 50% less, which would have required a plan B.” The opposite happened: The numerous regulars who used to visit three times a year came four or five times. Gastronomic guides confirmed stellar ratings. Clemens Rambichler was named cook of the year 2018 by the illustrious Feinschmecker. New colleagues joined. They brought nuances and a positive dynamic. “Success was here, but there was a lot to do, technically and visually.” Sonnora was opened in 1978 and Clemens Rambichler and his wife Magdalena have been working at the restaurant since 2008. She became the Gault&Millau Sommelier of the year in 2012. Rambichler reached an agreement to buy Sonnora from Mrs. Thieltges on January first, 2021. While there is a new kitchen and new decoration – from very classic to modern - the legendary “Small torte of beef tartare with N25 caviar on potato rösti” remains. In every detail, this big jump into the future blends with a strong respect for the heritage: The Chef has an Instagram account, but he adopts the “no nonsense” approach of his mentor. The menu is stellar but Rambichler resists the temptation of being theatrical. The goal remains the same: “We have very diverse guests: Some come here simply because they can afford it. Others save money over a few months. In both cases, we strive to see them book another visit upon leaving Sonnora.” And this happens on the regular basis. “In the end, what really matters is what is on the plate” he concludes. “Ganz klar!”