Berlin Cooking Club, German Food (and a word in your ear about Supper Clubs)

Mel and Kelsie are probably strolling down a stretch of beach in Castelldefels as I write this.

It was their idea, the Berlin Cooking Club. The inaugural club had just 4 cooks and guests. Then it moved on to The Dairy. And yesterday it was hosted in Caroline and Tobias’s (of the famed Thyme supper club) spacious flat. 6 cooks, a cocktail girl and 11 guests.Included among the guests: Kristi and Dave who host a supper club of their own called Zuhause that is tearing its way to the top of the “Supper Clubs in Berlin you MUST visit” list.  (If the stunning photos on their website are not reason enough for you to go, Irish born Dave and Canadian Kirsti are immediately likeable, the kind of people you want to make dinner plans with within 10 minutes of knowing.)A cooking club is different from a supper club, it’s a group of cooking enthusiasts who meet regularly.  Each cook makes one dish, or perhaps pair up to make one big dish.  At our cooking club, we always set a theme (yesterday was German food, the time before Swedish, the time before that Lebanese) but with all those cooks in the kitchen, each with his or her own aesthetic, palette and idea of portion size, there are quirky variations between courses.  Unexpected sights in the vista occur, you know, you are driving by, pine trees whooshing past you, pine tree, pine tree, pine tree and then - oh, coconut tree.  Makes you want to stop the car and get out, or wake up (depending on which way you are inclined).  As a guest, the inevitable incongruity might appeal to you or not, the hook being the rock bottom cost (€15 per head yesterday including drinks) and the chance to meet other people’s vetted friends.As a cook, it’s as a convivial way as I can imagine to spend a few hours, utterly devoid of competition, replete with encouragement and ideas.

I volunteered to make dessert, I imagined a ‘schwarzwälder kirschtorte’ (black forest cake to you and me).  I love the combination of sour cherries and chocolate but I didn’t fancy the syrup laden, whipped cream plastered, chocolate shaving covered cake with gaudy glacé cherries perched perkily in yet more whipped cream.  I also didn’t want to be wrestling with a large cake or baking two cakes for that matter.  My vague idea was that I would make a sheet cake, use a circular cutter to portion it out (something that saved me when somehow our party increased in number from 14 to 18 in the last half an hour).  Syrup on top of that.  Sour cherry compote thickened with cornflour and flavoured with cinnamon, orange juice with a good glug of my grandmother’s homemade cherry liquor.  Mini meringues on the outside of that.  A small scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on top of that.  Then a crazy wig of chocolate squiggles.Except the chocolate squiggles didn’t quite come to be.  I nabbed the idea from Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz’s Mission Street Food.  The idea being a homemade version of chocolate magic shell, made up of coconut fat and chocolate (ratio of 1.5 : 1).

“So I am supposed to squirt this chocolate into ice water and then it will set into squiggles.” I enthuse to some of the other cooks.
4 of us hunch over the bowl of ice water, I squirt, we hold our breath.  The chocolate sauce spreads out like an oil spill, not a squiggle in sight.
Tobias walks into the kitchen, finds us all huddled together, heads inclined over a large metal bowl.   He joins us to see what we were looking at.  ”Why are we all staring at a bowl of mouldy water?” he asks.
“It’s not mould, it’s chocolate, we are trying to make chocolate squiggles, it’s not working.” I reply.
“Try holding the nozzle underneath.” suggests Caroline.  I do, I squirt, the squiggles looked vaguely fecal.  We abandon that idea.
“Why not just use normal chocolate without the coconut fat?” Stephan asked “Or more chocolate?”
“No, you know what, let’s just do it as Smucker’s intended,  as a chocolate hat for the ice cream.” I resolved (although I’ve still got the stuff in a squeezy bottle in my fridge and believe you me, this isn’t over, I am going to figure out this squiggle business!)
That my friends, is the beauty of a cooking club.  It takes you from bumbling along silently in the kitchen, where mishaps are deflating and lonely, to part of a group of curious people pitching in to save your day or less dramatically your dessert.  And lets face it, would I ever make a dessert with 6 separate components for my family of 2 adults and 1 seriously fussy 3-year-old?  Umm, no.  For a dinner party of 6? Well if I’m also making, canapés, a starter and main course - then probably not (although sometimes I do it).  For 14 people and eventually, 18? Yes! I like that challenge, especially when people end up enjoying what I’ve made.

To attend the Berlin Cooking Club, you have to be invited by one of the cooks (so get to know us!) but of course you can always start your own.  I thoroughly recommend it, more fun than a book club!Supper clubs are open to all.  And you really do need to go to a supper club because some of the best food you will eat in Berlin may just be at a supper club!  Certainly that is where you will find people behind the stove that care about what they are cooking and the ingredients they are using, you will be treated nicely, usually you will meet interesting people and pay well under what you would expect to for a similar meal in a restaurant. Read more of this post

Perfetto Supermarkets in Karstadt Department Stores, Berlin

Premium ↑

KaDeWe Foodhall           FrischeParadies

Galeries Lafayette Food Hall

Perfetto at Karstadt       Galeria Food Hall         LPG (organic)         Bio Company (organic)

Rewe                Kaiser’s           Ullrich (the zoo branch is open on Sunday!)         Edeka Group       Mitte Meer

Lidl           Netto         Aldi       Penny Markt

Budget ↓

More and more, I’m thinking that what you need for a successful dinner party is a generous spirit.  A host (ess) trembling with trepidation over whether you like the salmon mousse (or these days clarified salmon agar agar jelly with charcoal powder and botargo shavings) is an instant mood killer.

Lighting is more important than how many components your dessert has and whether it’s served on slate with tear drop shaped smears that look like miniature people didn’t heed the CAUTION WET FLOOR signs and slipped and slid to their peril (the slate manufacturer is now being sued).Last night I went to dinner party hosted by Caroline and Tobias of the Thyme Supper Club.  They could give classes on dinner parties.  There’s faint music, filling in any lulls in conversation - not that there are many of those as the couple separate and move around the guests acting like a light wind helping the tinder catch.We make our way through Prosecco, white wine then red and finally port to go with the cheese: Comté, Stichelton (on sale at Kollwitzplatz Saturday Farmers market Caroline tells me), Taleggio & Cheddar.I promise to invite them round to our house in the new year.  As I write this I think I will try to emulate their style then simultaneously I think of turning a Simon Hopkinson recipe I read for a prune and Armagnac custard into a tart - maybe with some sort of praline or a bruleed top, or a scoop of home-made ice cream and some jelly…that apple jelly I made at my last dinner party having been a huge success…Bah! Who am I kidding, I’m a long way from dinner party harmony but going to a really good one always inspires me.

I’ve got just the place to do all my shopping for it: the Perfetto Supermarkets at Karstadt.  This may just be as close as I will ever get to finding a Berlin equivalent to my beloved Waitrose.  As with all Berlin supermarkets, they should call in some Brand Consultants to do away with cluttered inconsistent logos and definitely some interior decorators specializing in lighting because there are some alarmingly murky corners where I can’t make out the small print on the back of the packets (or maybe that’s my impeding age). Read more of this post

Thyme Supper Club, Prenzlauer Berg

I attended the Thyme Supper Club in Prenzlauer Berg on Friday evening.  Hosted by Caroline and Tobias in a grand old apartment with burgundy walls featuring Tobias’s paintings.

I had a frightening initial ten minutes when I  realized that all the other guests were speaking German!  ”Do you speak German?” one asked? “No” I answered. I got a perfunctory nod and the group returned to their native tongue.  ”Eh Gad!”  I thought, this is going to be one long meal…

The evening quickly righted itself when a spunky English-speaking young woman walked in.  We got to chatting and after a few minutes we realized we had already met each other virtually!  She was the author of Sclachtplatte and when she figured out who I was she exclaimed “Oh My God! You’re the Foodie in Berlin?!”, to which the whole room went quiet and stared.  Could this have been my shot at 15 minutes of fame?

The table was set for 18, a large paper lamp dangling over it served as the main source of light, with a few candles licking at the shadows in the corners of the room.

A fat glass full of fresh thyme was the centerpiece for the table.  The spartan centerpiece was indicative of the evening to come.  The food was elegant and self-confident.  Well sized portions, sitting naturally on the plate - prettier than you would serve yourself at home but not aspirational.  I am underlining this point because it is extremely difficult to achieve and your confidence as a cook must be profound to trust that you have done enough (recommended reading on this subject is a Platter of Figs by David Tanis). Read more of this post


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