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Top Chef: Anna Vinarsky and Ferdinand von Kalm

INTERVIEW! Former schoolmates Anna Vinarsky and Ferdinand von Kalm talk about food trends, what Germans should know about chipotle chili and most importantly, their Mexican restaurant Chupenga,

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Left to right: Anna Vinarsky, Ferdinand von Kalm, Elena Lowish

An existential crisis and a trip around the world inspired Swiss expats and former business school classmates Anna Vinarsky, Elena Lowish (not interviewed) and Ferdinand von Kalm to launch their own modern Mexican restaurant in Berlin. The result? Chupenga in the heart of Mitte, serving burritos, tacos, salads and more.

So the idea for Chupenga came from… a Russian chain restaurant?

Anna: Yes. We had quit our jobs, wanted a career change and had been travelling around for a long time. We actually just wanted a break from sightseeing and were tired, so we walked into a random restaurant in St. Petersburg. And there, in the most unlikely place – and I can say that, because I’m part Russian – we were so inspired by the extreme efficiency which the chefs showed. They had an open kitchen so you could see everything that was going on; it was like a little factory. We adopted that philosophy of transparency. In our restaurant you can see the avocados being smashed and the limes being pressed every day. 

The food trend you hate the most?

Anna: We are opponents of food trends in general, as they are – as the word implies – something temporary. Low-carb diets, for instance, are hard to sustain over a longer period, and if you are on a low budget, you can’t really follow a food trend. We are fans of balanced nutrition, and we see it as our job to cater to everybody, not a particular group of people. 

The best-selling item at your restaurant?

Ferdinand: It’s no doubt the guacamole. People go crazy for it. You can have it with every dish on our menu or even buy it separately. Recently we had a group of Mexican students here, and we were really curious to see their reaction to the food – they loved it! And in particular the guacamole… 

A cooking tip…

Anna: The Germans should really know more about the chipotle chili – a smoked, dried jalapeno. It‘s the single best spice and has an amazing, round and smokey flavour. I didn’t know about it until we started experimenting with the recipes, and I was beyond excited when I tried it for the first time. You can use it in lots of different recipes, not only Mexican ones – and you can buy it in the Metro supermarket. 

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)…

Anna: Masaniello in Neukölln close to Hasenheide. There are so many “Neapolitan” pizza places in Berlin, but this one is the real deal. It looks like it’s stuck in the 1960s, and most guests are actually Italian. The best pizza in Berlin. 

The best thing about having a restaurant in Berlin?

Ferdinand: All the different people you meet. We are surprised how many super- interesting people come in here. Some of our regulars are the Canadian ice hockey players from Eisbären Berlin – they come here after training, starving. One of the guys always orders a plate with three different kinds of meat and nothing else. 

Anna: Al Gore also visited us. I know him a bit through my previous job, and I told him I was opening a restaurant and that he should come by. And so he did…. we made sure to post that one on Facebook. 

The worst…

Ferdinand: Berlin has such a huge amount of food offerings, so the competition is big. People have a lot of choices – that’s the downside. You have to keep the customer happy, otherwise he’ll just go to the next place.

Chupenga, Mohrenstr. 42, Mitte, U-Bhf Hausvogteiplatz, Mon-Fri 11:30-20:00