Talk about full circle. Sri Lankan-born, Berlin-raised Mathi Ganeshu, hired as head chef at French-Alsatian restaurant Gugelhof in July of this year, actually worked as kitchen help at the Kollwitzkiez institution 20 years ago, shortly after it opened. His kitchen passion ignited, he went on to study under the direction of respected chefs at several haunts in Hamburg and Berlin including Fischküche and Kranzler-Eck. Now he’s back and has crafted his own menu fit for seafood lovers, with a selection of fresh fish like trout braised with riesling. He also introduced an array of vegan options including a Flammkuchen with dried tomatoes, rosemary and pine nuts.
What kind of food do you cook?
Our menu is a blend of French and German with Alsatian food. We have German classics such as schnitzel, sauerkraut and Flammkuchen as well as French favourites like escargot, clafoutis and foie gras. There’s also an integration of other international touches such as chutney. For the winter months we are also serving a fondue dish for two.
What is your most popular item?
The most popular dishes would be our selection of Flammkuchen – right now we have a special with pumpkin, cranberries, mozzarella, and marinated beef. Or the choucroute: an Alsatian speciality with sauerkraut, black pudding, smoked sausage and cured pork cutlet with steamed potatoes and French mustard. However my favourite dishes are the tuna steak and the herring tartare on beetroot carpaccio. I like anything with fish.
What food trend do you hate the most?
It’s not really a trend, but I’m not a fan of Italian food. All of the pasta and pizza, it’s too heavy for me. Although I’ve worked in an Italian kitchen before, it’s my least favourite food to cook.
A cooking tip?
I like to add a bit of Japanese flavour when preparing fish, such as a soy and sake marinade. Fish isn’t as common in Berlin, but we get fresh fish from Hamburg two to three times a week for our seafood dishes.
A dining tip?
Borchardt, the French fusion restaurant appropriately located on Französische Straße. I enjoy any restaurant that can combine German and French cuisine.
What’s the best thing about being head chef at a restaurant in Berlin?
I’m just really happy to be back at the restaurant that I started out at 20 years ago. The transition to head chef was a challenge, with the responsibility of heading the kitchen and creating the menu, but I’m glad I get to put my personal touch on the food. It’s also nice to network with other chefs, Berlin has so many great restaurants to visit, and being a head chef definitely helps me get a table!
…and the worst?
Although I enjoy being at work – we have the best staff, many of which were also here 20 years ago – I wish I had more free time to play my favorite sport: football.