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Catching up with Germany's culinary cop Tim Mälzer

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Catching up with Germany's culinary cop Tim Mälzer
Photo: DPA
17:01 CEST+02:00
Often called Germany's answer to Britain's Jamie Oliver, star chef Tim Mälzer recently opened up his own restaurant in Hamburg. Joseph Corcos bellies up to the table.

Relaxed, unpretentious and accessible, Tim Mälzer's new eatery very much mirrors the style of its famous creator.

Located in the heart of Hamburg's Sternschanze district, Mälzer opened “Bullerei” with his partner Patrick Rüther last month. Since then, the historic red-brick building has been packed with guests keen to find out if the celebrity chef can bring his low-key TV magic to the table.

“I wanted to make a place that would appeal to everybody, the kind of place where I would go with my friends before a night out,” the 38-year-old Mälzer recently told The Local.

“When I'm with my friends about to go out there's no need for five-star menu with expensive wines because after a while we'll get drunk anyway and won't appreciate it.”

The hip, young chef has grown a huge following in Germany with his wildly popular TV shows and cookbooks – much like to his former kitchen colleague Jamie Oliver has in Britain. But considering his career path, references to Oliver are inevitable.

While Oliver has been plying his trade as a TV chef for at least 12 years, Mälzer, nicknamed the Küchen Bulle, or ‘Kitchen Cop,' has only gained prominence in Germany in the last five.

“I'm not trying to copy Jamie,” Mälzer said, adding he doesn't mind the constant comparisons with Oliver. “I would say he's Elvis Presley, and I'm Shakin' Stevens. There's only one original and that's definitely Jamie. Everything starts with him.”

But the two star chefs both worked under world famous Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo at London's Neal Street Restaurant in the 1990s. And Contaldo's simple style and emphasis on fresh, tasty produce was undoubtedly a massive influence on the two young chefs.

Mälzer came to Contaldo after a stint at the London Ritz where he was almost sacked for coming in to work with ‘Born to Cook' scrawled on his hat. He recounts that at the Ritz “it was more about appearance than food,” and that he almost quit the chef business after his experience there.

He credits Contaldo with “restoring my passion for food” and setting the foundation for both his and Oliver's stellar careers since despite plenty of goofing around in the kitchen together.

“It was a lot of fun. We are both two funny guys and back then we were learning a lot,” he said. “But if you could see a video of us working at that place there's no way I would think we would be where we are today.”

Where exactly Mälzer is these days is deeply involved in the day-to-day operations at “Bullerei” – a place he calls a “pizzeria without the pizza.” He can often be seen outside taking a smoke break and chatting to customers next to his distinctive gold Mustang 68 FastBack.

Cooking in Converse

Just as his immaculate chef's whites are usually contrasted with well-worn jeans and a pair of battered Converse All-Star's, “Bullerei” – which is a play off Mälzer's Kitchen Cop nickname – is meant to reflect the contradictions of the surrounding Schanze neighbourhood.

(When asked the origins of his nickname Mälzer professes ignorance: “Maybe because Küchen Bulle kind of means a dickhead and I'm the opposite.”)

The Schanze district is known for its gritty cool, leftist riots and concerns about encroaching gentrification, encouraging Mälzer to open a place where it's “impossible to be underdressed.”

“We said if we're in Schanze we have to behave like we are in Schanze, concerning the price, food, way of serving and way of looking. But really this was the same style as I wanted to do things anyway,” Mälzer said.

The venture was also intended to ensure he spends more time in the kitchen and less on the TV.

“I'm happy I'm in the restaurant again and have something to keep me grounded,” he told The Local.

But he's far from giving up the public spotlight now that his boisterous, chatty style and enthusiasm have made the Hamburg native a household name in Germany. Public broadcaster ARD has even agreed to build him a new studio kitchen not far from “Bullerei” so his TV time won't keep him from cooking in his real kitchen.

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