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Bringing emotions to the plate

Interview with Alfons Schuhbeck, celebrity chef, ambassador of spices and entrepreneur

European Food: Mr. Schuhbeck, ‘Spice up your life’ is your motto. What is the thinking behind this slogan?

Alfons Schuhbeck: I believe that ‘spice up your life’ is valid in every occupation, but it is especially relevant in the gastronomy sector. Only seasoning can change the taste of a dish. But seasoning does not just add flavour, it also enhances health. Herbs and spices are the only medicines which taste good; Hildegard von Bingen recognized that way back in the middle ages. This knowledge has sadly been lost. Everyone uses salt and pepper, but hardly anyone knows about the additional medicinal uses of herbs and spices. For the past 16 years, I have had a doctor here in the company, whose scientific work has focused on making this knowledge accessible once again. This plays a central role in my activities.

European Food: You have travelled a lot, most recently in Africa and Asia. During your journeys, you have become familiar with many kitchens and types of seasoning. What discoveries have you brought back to Europe?

Alfons Schuhbeck: I have visited many countries, from Morocco to China, and have looked very carefully at the local seasonings. An important question was, for example, why people in those countries use particular herbs and spices in their cooking, or why they believe they must use them to stay healthy. This formed the basis of my knowledge. Cumin, for example, is used in hot climates to aid digestion. At the same time, I developed huge respect for these countries and their traditions.

European Food: Let’s talk about your career. You are a starred chef, an author, a restaurant owner and, last but not least, a businessman. Is it difficult to bring all these roles under one umbrella?

“Seasoning does not just add flavour, it also enhances health.” Alfons Schuhbeck

Alfons Schuhbeck: With respect to the Platzl as a location, I was simply lucky that I was able to fulfil my dream of opening a spice shop there. In this area there were no ice cream cafes; I launched one of those too. I did it all step by step. Just to give my name to a product, that is not my thing; that’s why I had to create my own products, as you can see with the spices. I created every mix of herbs and spices in my shop myself. The same for tea and muesli. I’m proud of that. Every day, I reproach myself for doing too little, but there are natural limits. Important for me is that I have shown passion and discipline. You can’t just learn that, but it’s how you go far in life.

European Food: When you compare Alfons Schuhbeck the chef with Alfons Schuhbeck the businessman, what has one learnt from the other?

Alfons Schuhbeck: Well, if you want an analogy, in my heart I’m a chef, in my head I’m a businessman! Both roles have to be fun. It is clear that you can’t achieve your goals every day, but you should never give up. Ultimately, the road always leads forwards. You shouldn’t live your life as if you are in a lift; if you do, you don’t see every single floor. There is a saying: Treat people well on the way up, because you will meet them again on the way down. That applies to business as well as our private lives. The more we respect other people, the more we can expect later.

European Food: Over the years, your name has become a well-known brand. How do you perceive this development?

Alfons Schuhbeck: There are, of course, two sides to it. You are photographed countless times a day. I am naturally happy when I meet someone new. Sometimes though, it is also uncomfortable; that’s just a fact. I always have to weigh up whether what I am doing is likely to damage the Schuhbeck brand.

European Food: Finally, your opinion: what does a dish need in order for its recipe to be included in your next cookery book?

Alfons Schuhbeck: This question is not easy to answer. On the one hand, I have travelled extensively in countries where herbs and spices have hugely inspired me. On the other hand, I have made my name with down-to-earth, regional cuisine. To bring these two worlds together is my goal. The more I achieve that and, at the same time, bring emotions to the table as well, the better it is for my guests. Bayern cuisine was, at one time, a festive style of cooking, out of which we today have to make a bright, interesting and above all healthy cuisine. That works, but you have to make a real effort and not just hide behind traditional recipes.

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