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A date with Dieter


What a delightful surprise.  As I was in Cologne for a few days, I popped along to Dieter Müller's restaurant, in the nearby Schlosshotel Lerbach, to have a chat with the maestro himself and unexpectedly ended up sitting in on one of his cookery courses but more of this later. 

An appointment had been made and I’d done my research, discovering and being mightily impressed to learn that the German and Austrian restaurant and bar guide, Gault  Millau, have declared  Dieter Mueller to be “the best fish chef in the world!” and, along with its Michelin three stars, his restaurant is listed as one of the top fifty in the world.  This celebrated restaurant, is located in the picturesque Schlosshotel Lerbach, just  12 miles east of Cologne.  Dating back to 1384 the Manor house is situated in acres of beautiful parkland set amongst the green-clad hills of the Bergisches countryside, I couldn’t have chosen a better place to do an assignment and I thought of treating myself a handsome lunch. Unfortunately this was not to be because, unlike many of the half empty, top name restaurants in Germany, such is the popularity of this one that it is booked out a month or two in advance.

The maestro received me in the stylish hotel bar, its walls covered by a numbered collection of 150 Salvador Dali's Divine Comedy lithographs.  I admit to being a trifle overawed by what I had learned about him and I was tentatively expecting to meet either the German equivalent of the wiz kid, Jaime Oliver or the profane Gordon Ramsey, icons of British kitchens.  But I had no reason to feel intimidated.  Dieter Mueller turned out to be a charming and engagingly unassuming professional.  He told me that he had always dreamed of cooking in a manor house, having been inspired by similar places in France and he had been delighted when Thomas Althoff gave him opportunity to create the Dieter Mueller restaurant in his Schlosshotel Lerbach.  It has now been in business fourteen years, with Birgit, his wife, taking the role of hostess while Dieter  works behind the scenes creating his dishes, which have been described as being rich in flavour but light as a feather.

Originally from Baden-Wurttemberg, which borders with French Alsace, the sanctuary of gourmet cooking, Dieter learned the elementary rules of the kitchen from his mother before starting, at the age of 15, his culinary apprenticeship at the famous Hotel Bauer, in Muellheim/Baden. He graduated with distinction.  He then worked under Ernesto Schlegel at the Schweizerhof in Bern, Switzerland, followed by opportunities at Hotel Miramare Beach in Korfu, Greece and Hotel Schweizer Stuben in Wertheim Bettingen, Germany.  In 1992 his dedication to superb cooking finally saw him in the position of Chef de Cuisine of his own Dieter Mueller restaurant.
In 1993 he was rewarded with his first Michelin Star, his second in 1994, and the coveted third star in 1997.  His restaurant was awarded membership in Relais & Chateau and Relais Gourmand, as well as Tradition & Qualit.  In 2003 the Gourmet-Restaurant Dieter Mueller received the prestigious AAA Five Star Diamond Award. 

With such accolades behind him I was interested to know why he had not formed himself into a private industry as have so many of the Europe’s top chefs, with their restaurant chains and TV appearances?   He answered my question by listing the number of elite restaurants in Germany run by the big names in catering which have had to close down.  His belief is, that to maintain the high culinary standards required, a chef can only be truly dedicated to one establishment. This is confirmed by a role call of his guests; Mick Jagger,  Tina Turner and  designer Wolfgang Joop, and ex chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to name but a few. 

Such celebrities are attracted by his famous amouse bouche, those tasty appetizing  nibbles and his classical main courses.  I can see why. For example, Red Mullet served on potato salad with a vinaigrette of balsamico, tripe with croquettes of calf's head on a crepe of herbs with truffled leek, (I’ll definitely be trying this one when I get a reservation) or perhaps the crepinette from the Etouffe-Pigeon with a slice of black pudding, green asparagus and a sauce of truffles.  For dessert, a trilogy of Valrhona chocolate with citrus fruits. The beautifully appointed dining room with immaculately laid tables and a large picture windows looking across to the charming gardens serves to compliment such creations.

Anyhow, back to my lunch. As I had not reserved prior to my visit and the restaurant was fully booked, I was going to be out of luck, but Dieter kindly invited me to sit in on one of his cookery classes. In a specially designed high-tech, dream kitchen, I joined a group of six hobby cooks who were learning to prepare and cook a menu which consisted of:  Alsace Flammküchen;  a delectable light pea soup; poached Scotch salmon with a Mediterranean salad; roast veal with a herb crust and finally, a heavenly, creamy strawberry and rhubarb dessert.  Each course was accompanied by an appropriate glass (or two) of wine selected by Dieter, and throughout the session, he and his assistant chef answered questions, advised us and he reminisced about his experiences in some of the world’s best restaurants. At the end of which I felt confident enough to apply for the next, top chef's job at the Ritz in Paris.

Bryan R. Thomas
 

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