Alexander Thiel, Executive Chef German Gymnasium, London

Alexander Thiel, Executive Chef German Gymnasium, London
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Interview: Alexander Thiel, Executive Chef of German Gymnasium at Kings Cross

German chef talks about the gastronomic scene in London and his plans for the restaurant.

Alexander Thiel is on a mission: he wants to show London there is lot more to German food than pork knuckle. He has been appointed as Executive Chef of German Gymnasium, a restaurant at Kings Cross and flagship of the restaurant group, D&D London. Thiel has a lot of experience as a restaurateur, he opened his own restaurant in Berlin as well as previously working for Barrafina and at Beaufort House, amongst others.

Falstaff: What do you find fascinating about London?

Alexander Thiel: London is one of the biggest melting pots in the world and incredibly diverse. The city and the people who live here are constantly changing.

That also applies to the gastronomic scene, doesn't it?

Without a doubt. Gastronomically, an incredible amount has happened in the past 15 years. In the early 1990s, London was a gastronomic desert apart from the top restaurants and hotels. I come from Berlin, where it was similar: there was only meatloaf, goulash and kebabs. But now there is so much more in both cities. In London, there are perfect places to eat on every corner. For example, there's a Vietnamese place that makes the best summer rolls – they're better than any I've had in Vietnam.

You are now the Executive Chef of German Gymnasium. What is unique about this restaurant?

It used to really be a German Gymnasium, and then it housed architects' offices, among other things. Today there is the Grand Café downstairs and the Restaurant on the first floor. This was reopened after I was hired. Because of its central location near the railway station, the Grand Café serves all the dishes that are stereotypically German – currywurst, sauerkraut and Wiener schnitzel, for example.

And on the first floor?

That's where we serve home-style cooking. My concept – or instead, my dream – is to prepare London for the fact that German food is more than just pork knuckle. The country has 16 federal states with different dishes. I want to teach that to the guests gently and slowly. For example, we currently have white asparagus on the menu, which is very popular in Germany but not too much in London yet.

So, the target group is all Londoners, not just those with German roots?

Yes, there are about 10,000 Germans living in London, and we are already very well-known among them. But we want to show everyone who lives in London what German cuisine can do. That sometimes takes some convincing. For example, the English don't want to be served fish with a head, but ´Trout Almondine´ (´Forelle Müllerin´) has a head – and look, it’s accepted. The audience has become more open.

You mentioned Wiener Schnitzel. But this is an Austrian dish; I must mention, as an Austrian.

Yes, our dishes come not only from Germany but, more precisely, from German-speaking countries. I have worked in Switzerland and Austria. That has an effect. The influences are manifold, for example, those of Hungarian cuisine in Austria – see stuffed peppers, which we also offer.

How does the tense situation of many private households affect gastronomy?

Peak sales, like in 2019, are hardly achievable. To reach the figures that were usual before the pandemic, you have to work very hard. At the same time, London is more resistant than other regions in the UK anyway.

What about the wine list of your restaurant?

We have mainly wines from Germany, also some from Austria. In this respect, we also need to convince people. English people cannot believe a whole book could be filled with wines from small countries like Austria and Switzerland.

Robert Prazak
Robert Prazak
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