“Cooking is bigger than just having a plate that tastes good”
Fridolin Ständer | Cook and owner of Zaunkönig, Wuppertal
For Fridolin Ständer, Wuppertaler cook and owner of the restaurant Zaunkönig, it is so natural to give life to different principles of sustainability in his kitchen, that it almost feels unnecessary to explain it. It is simply so and could not be otherwise. Which does not mean that it is something simple. An act of creation, as he says, cooking is not only about preparing something tasty. It is a bit more complicated than that. Creativity, childhood memories, carefully selected products and hard work are some of the ingredients that Fridolin puts in the pan. Our partner for the CSCP 10 year celebration, Fridolin fascinates us with his simplicity and passion for cooking.
Tell us about your background in cooking.
I started [cooking] very late, with about 24, 25. I did my cooking training in Berlin for two and a half years, and in 2003 I decided to become a cook. Since then I am cooking. After finishing my training, I collected experiences in different restaurants in different places – Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne – for about 5, 6 years, until I decided that I had to find a new way to continue. I think when you cook, you always come in this situation where you need to decide if you want to do it for somebody else or for yourself. In this kind of job where you work really hard and you don’t make a lot of money, at least you need something you love. You want to do something you want to do. I guess it is kind of normal to dream to have your own little place, and this was the same with me.
What is your connection to Wuppertal?
I am Wuppertaler (laughter). I was away for six years, but it was in Wuppertal where I had the possibility to open my own restaurant. It was in 2008, 2009 when my mother and I opened Zaunkönig here in Wuppertal. Back home (laughter), back to the roots.
Do you think there is a connection between cooking and sustainable lifestyles?
There has to be. If you run a good restaurant today, you can’t just cook what you want to, what you think that tastes good, disregarding where [the products] come from, or how animals are treated. We become more and more sensible for this subject. So, of course, we have to exist, we have to be cool, we have to make money and we have to cook nice things, but it does really matter where things come from and you have to make big decisions today. So ‘Nachhaltigkeit’, what it is called again in English? Sustainability. It is one very big subject. Every person who is running a garden or has made the experience to grow vegetables, this person experiences how it is like to be responsible for the products that are used in the kitchen. It is all a question of respect, and going really into the topic. Again, it is a matter for me of very important decisions.
I remember when I worked in a restaurant in Berlin, for example, where people could order meals on the phone, order whatever they wanted, based on a fixed menu that was there for the past six months. I think this kind of work does not make any sense anymore. It is absolutely natural that you look what is going on around you, what is good in a sense of not just what is tasting good, but also what is good for the environment, for the people that are taking care of all these products. So it is bigger than just having a plate that tastes good, you have to consider more things, and this is one very important aspect of being a good cook today.
For you, exercising sustainable practices sounds so natural…
It is complicated. I don’t want to make it sound like it is just a very pure and fantastic idea to run your own garden, for example. It is a lot of work to have a garden and it is not easy. A lot of things don’t work out as you want. I always remember my grandmother, for example. She used to run a very big garden and, even back then, it was not normal to be self sufficient in food production in Wuppertal. But she did everything by herself, she had fruits, vegetables, animals. Today I understand more and more how beautiful it was what she did. I think this is a work we have to do, somehow, as this is the only way where things start to make sense to us. But it is far from being easy. This is not the fast way. Being responsible for what you do is really hard work.
Sometimes your clients come often, maybe twice or three times a month, and they want to have nice meals and different menus. So as a cook you may need to restrict yourself in terms of access to different products, but this also means you have to become more creative with the ingredients you have.
Where does your creativity come from?
I don’t really have an answer for this… It just comes, and sometimes it doesn’t come. This kind of restaurant lives from creativity and from love for what you do. I consider myself a quite creative person, but creative has its high moments. So I have moments when I have very good ideas, but I think it is also ok if there are times when I have no ideas. So sometimes we change the whole menu in a couple of days, and sometimes we stay with some dishes and concepts for a longer time. It is a very honest way to cook here. I am very glad to have the freedom and the possibility to be honest here. Because if I don’t have the input of creation, we keep on going with good stuff we did maybe last week. But if we are in a creative moment, sometimes we spend the night here, we cook some things, and we are just waiting to open up the next day at 6 pm to present our new creation. This is beautiful. So you asked my where it comes from… I just love what I do.
We are very curious to hear about fermentation. What makes it so special?
Fermentation is nothing new. Everything we do here is more like a revival happening. I have these moments when I can go back to my childhood, when I went to my grandmother’s place, and she used to make ‘Sauerkraut’ fermentation in her cellar. I still remember this acid, sour smell typically from this kind of fermentation. I have this in my mind. So if I smell this, I am immediately back in this time.
I met people that did cheese and I never considered this as an act of fermentation. I considered this as somebody who made cheese, or who made beer at home, or somebody who collected fruits or vegetables to preserve for the winter. So, when we talk about fermentation, for me there is a moment when all these experiences start to come together.
In this specific place we have a new playground. With technological development, conservation is not anymore the reason for doing fermentation. Fermentation is like some act of playing and working with food. With the simplest ingredients, you can prepare something different and new for our time.
Cooking and fermentation are a type of work that fits absolutely to our time today. I think the special thing about fermentation is that it is something that lives. It is something organic. You have a process that enables creation. Cooking is always an act of creativity and of creation, and fermentation is a very beautiful way to work with this creativity.