Berlinale Blog – From Switchblade to Kitchen Knife: Tim Raue

     |    Wednesday, der 15. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

For purposes of complete disclosure, I am not so interested in haute cuisine. A) I just can’t afford it and b) I don’t understand the “importance” just as I don’t understand the urgency that some people have about fashion. But that’s just me and for purposes of even more disclosure I did in fact get a chance to eat at Tim Raue’s flagship restaurant in Berlin and I would have to say I enjoyed it immensely. This was a couple of years ago as part of an interview I did with Thomas Struck the director of the Culinary Cinema section and even today I still like to tell the story about how when the waiter delivered one of the courses, both Thomas and I were struck so dumb by the aroma, that we literally just stopped in mid-sentence and stared mutely at our plates. I’m not sure how long we were doing it but long enough that Chef Tim had to come over himself to snap us out of it, and dig in before it got cold.

This is all to say that despite my above mentioned bias, I felt I had a bit of vested interest in writing about Abigail Fuller’s entry in the Netflix Chef Table series, “Chef’s Table – Tim Raue” (US 2017).

The film begins with the obligatory words of a few gourmands who assure us that not only is Tim Raue the best chef in Berlin but somehow for the food culture, he IS Berlin. Well I’m not in a position to get into that one but I will say that as a person, he is indeed very much a part of the city having been born as raised in one of it’s arguably most notorious, and definitely most colorful parts, Turkish Kreuzberg.

His story goes that he used to hide out in supermarkets to escape an abusive home life and that dealing with his own food every day became a sort of escape. Then, like a lot of his contemporaries he joined a neighborhood street gang and admits, “I had a lot of hate as a kid and in the end became violent.”

Having to chose a vocation at the end of high school he was offered work as a gardener, painter, or cook. He chose the last and while it ultimately saved his life, ironically it was his experience in the gangs that helped him succeed. The hierarchy of the kitchen was, “was a fight like in the streets,” he says. “I did everything for power and I became a head chef at 23.” But his gang attitude also included a fierce loyalty, “I can be mean but I never cheat my chefs, and I never betray them.”

The film also charts his development, learning, using, and then abandoning the traditional haute cuisine and his discovery of the variety and improvisational aspects of Asian cooking while on a trip Singapore – which became the foundation for a new form of expression and his current reputation. I imagine this show runs stylistically true to the normal format of the series, but in Tim Raue we have a great character, with a great story and he tells it really well.

Addendum: one scene shows us Tim going back to his old haunts and, with visible pleasure, sticking his face into a rather tasty looking döner kebap sandwich. Since he is so deservedly known for his taste, I was curious to see what it was that he enjoys outside his kitchen. I hunted it down and was not particularly surprised to find – even on a damp and chilly late Sunday afternoon – that there was a line going halfway down the block. I guess not such a secret after all. Mustapha’s Gemüse Kebap at Mehringdamm 32.