Michel le Voguer is the affable, no-nonsense man behind Kreuzberg’s beloved Kiez stalwart Chez Michel. In the first of our Top Chef series, we asked him a few questions about the restaurant biz in Berlin.
The food trend you hate the most?
Trends come, peak, plateau for a couple of years – and go. It’s the same with food. And it’s supposed to be good as long as it’s trendy. Right now everyone loves burgers, and so everyone makes them. It’s great, but it’s still just a piece of meat and a bun.
The best-selling item at your restaurant?
It’s always been my steak-frites. It’s good meat and only €13 for 200g / with a salad! Hard to beat, no?
A cooking tip…
For a good steak, pre-heat your pan well and check that the meat is seared on both sides. And remember, no forks! It lets the blood out. Use tongs instead!
A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)…
My friend Claude at Le Pistou (Seelingstr. 34, Charlottenburg), has got the best soupe de poisson in Berlin. I always drop by for a soup and a skate wing (with butter sauce and capers, €18.50). For a good pizza, I go to Masaniello – opposite Hasenheide. Great traditional pizza, superb crust and quality toppings. The place is full of Italians and the boss is a real Neapolitan, always a good sign!
The best and the worst about having a restaurant in Berlin?
It’s so easy to open a restaurant here. There’s actually a lot less bureaucracy than in France! Then of course, and it’s hardly surprising to say this, but Berliners are a little thrifty when it comes to food. They want it cheap!
An anecdote about your restaurant…
When I opened my restaurant five and a half years ago, I hired a French gal from Toulouse to wait tables. She was great. Her problem is that she couldn’t speak, nor understand any German. People would order a merguez, she’d bring a steak! But somehow she’d always get out of it nicely with her great smile (she spent her first paycheck at the tattoo parlour next door and came back with “Child of the 1990s” on her hand!). Now, no matter how cute and charming, I try to hire people that speak German!
What does it take to be a good chef?
A good head – to have it on straight. You need to be able to take stress and keep healthy, i.e. keep your nose away from illicit substances.
What do you do when not cooking?
I read. Fiction, non-fiction everything. On weekends I ride my bike to flea markets to get some Marxist paraphernalia or I have a bite with friends. If I didn’t have to work, I’d be a happy Lebenskünstler!