Martin Klein meets Thomas Bühner

A golden treasure for dessert

The scent of learning, cleaning agents and linoleum wafts through long and deserted corridors. The students of Osnabrück University have broken up for Easter. Three-star chef Thomas Bühner introduces me to professor Derhake, who heads the Laboratory of Computer Aided Engineering. Using a 3D plotter, the professor prints out an enlarged replica of a 2000-year-old gold coin, on which the image of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, is clearly distinguishable. Why the effort? Just 20 km to the north of Osnabrück lies Kalkriese, where eight perfectly preserved gold coins were found last summer. These support the theory that Kalkriese was the real site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Back then, in the year 9 AD, three Roman legions were wiped out by an alliance of Germanic tribes. The battle represented a turning point in the history of Germania. Archaeologists from the museum in Kalkriese suggested that Thomas should acknowledge the discovery in his cuisine. Bühner is a thinker among our chefs. He regularly works with scientists and even holds a lecture at Osnabrück University together with the physicist Thomas Vilgis. He studied the discovery site and developed a dessert consisting of a coin made from concentrated carrot juice with a hint of licorice and coated with real gold. Airy crumbs of chocolate symbolise the fertile ground in which the coins lay undiscovered for millennia. He fills a fake field stone with a sorbet made of carrot leaves. Rust-brown chocolate spaghetti represents the blood that was spilled during the battle. It all sounds very well thought-out. When I eventually bite into Bühner’s coin, I’m convinced: the gold coin is real... really good! Thomas hands me the replica. I’ll create a silicone mould of it later on, so that I can mint the coins for his Guest Chef menu back in Salzburg.

The la vie restaurant is situated on the market square, in the heart of Osnabrück’s pedestrian zone. Located inside an elegant, classicist building, it stands out from the Gothic gabled houses by the market. The building and restaurant are owned by Jürgen Großmann, former CEO of the energy company RWE. The la vie pop-up tasty kitchen is situated behind it, in a so-called “Steinwerk”, a formidable stone building from the Middle Ages. This is where Thomas serves top-class cuisine in a laid-back atmosphere. All of the guests sit around the same table, and there’s even a student menu from Tuesday to Thursday. I’m delighted that Thomas has invited my camera team to dinner. They usually spend days filming reports about delicious dishes, but they never have the chance to try what this great food actually tastes like. Thomas has summarised his recipes for me in a little cookbook. It contains absolutely everything that I’ll need to prepare his Guest Chef menu at Restaurant Ikarus. This means that, during my time in Osnabrück, I can concentrate fully on the fine details that are so important to him.

His stocks and sauces are fantastic. To start with, we cook up a saffron stock for the tender cod with raw wagyu. It goes without saying that Thomas only uses the finest middle section of the fish, and the best wagyu that money can buy. The stock is Thomas’ own interpretation of Japanese dashi. A broth made from kohlrabi, soy beans and sea kelp forms the basis for it. After cooking it for half an hour, Thomas very briefly strains the stock to make it slightly thicker. He then adds lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger, galangal, saffron and – most importantly – air-dried cod and dried cod roe to the sieved liquid. The chef believes that, if only the best piece of the fish is served, then good use should also be made of all the other parts. Dried fish pieces serve as a substitute for the bonito flakes that are usually used in Japanese dashi. This gives the broth a rich and meaty flavour. In the second phase, the stock is no longer simmering. It is simply left to infuse like a tea. The result is slightly opaque, and as concentrated as a double consommé. Although the saffron dominates, its scent is carried by fresh Asian aromas. The stock for his classic dish – white asparagus, squid, imperial caviare, carbonara style – is cooked in an equally unconventional way. We smoke some kohlrabi slices and thick pieces of squid in a metal bowl while gradually turning up the heat. This releases the juices of the kohlrabi and squid, making the smoky stock taste wonderful.

For a second Bühner classic, we first need to procure some sea salt – “from Grönemeyer”. I’m a little confused, considering that the nearest ocean is not exactly around the corner. And when I hear the name Grönemeyer, I think of Herbert. But Thomas actually means a cousin of the German singer, who extracts sea water from the ground below Bad Essen. It is the 220-million-year-old residue from a primordial sea, rich in minerals and full of flavour. At the family-run plant, the Grönemeyers dry part of the brine into ancient sea salt and fill the rest directly into spray bottles. Thomas uses the brine to salt some vegetable chips. Grains of salt do not stick to the surface of vegetables very well at all. Brine, on the other hand, can be perfectly dosed, and it evaporates within seconds under a heat lamp. We use it to season some dried and fried chips to make a vegetable muesli. The crispy vegetable chips are spread over a parsley root foam. An additional surprise comes in the form of an oat flake ice cream at the bottom of the bowl. The dish plays with the guest’s expectations in an almost neuroscientific way: the word “muesli” triggers neuronal associations with sweet breakfast, while the words “parsley root, vegetable and chips” prepare the brain for savoury pleasures. The brain can only unravel this contradiction by overcoming the norms of perception and opening itself up to fresh, new impressions. Some chefs use culinary provocation to create a similar effect. Thomas Bühner, the thinker, chooses a more subtle approach with his language. I can’t wait to present his magnificent art to you at Restaurant Ikarus! 

Recorded by Hans Gerlach

"LA VIE"

Krahnstraße 1-2
49074 Osnabrück
Germany

Tel.: +49 5413 31150

Web: www.restaurant-lavie.de

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