Chef de cuisine at Hotel Bayerischer Hof’s Atelier restaurant since 2014, Jan Hartwig won the restaurant its second Michelin star in a mere 18 months on the back of his creative and seasonal menu. Passionate about food from a young age – not just preparing it, but enjoying the warm social atmosphere around a table of it – he went on to train in some of Germany’s top kitchens, including three-Michelin-starred Aqua in The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg, where he progressed to eventually lead a team of nine chefs. At Atelier – a restaurant with contemporary design masterminded by Belgian art dealer Axel Vervoordt – Hartwig places an emphasis on regional and seasonal ingredients that, much like the restaurant’s uncluttered design, highlights the quality of the produce over throwaway frivolity. In his mid-thirties, he has achieved what many chefs are still pursuing late into their career, and while some would ride the coattails of this acclaim to expand or begin new ventures, Hartwig’s passion remains as focused as his cooking style. When asked what projects he’s planning for the future, he is steadfast, stating that his focus remains on the success of Atelier – all the better for gourmands seeking out an unforgettable dining experience in Munich.
You impressively pulled off obtaining a second Michelin star for Atelier in just 18 months. To what do you attribute this success?
Luckily, I did enjoy a very good education. Not only the training, but the whole time up until I obtained my first head chef position was very educational. Once you’ve learned the basic skills it is all about passion and commitment to the job to become good at what you do. And surely, my team did contribute as well. Working as a chef is hard sometimes but I try to motivate and encourage each and every one to get the best out of them.
Was the second star something you were actively working towards obtaining, or was it simply a happy accident of a job well done? And are you currently working at obtaining the third star?
Once you decide to work at a certain level, you’re inevitably facing a competition. And similar to any sport you naturally want to get acknowledgement and be the best at what you do. Obtaining Michelin stars is very rewarding but I try to stay focused on my work and my own goals.
You cite working under Christian Jürgens at Kastell and GästeHaus Erfort as being formative experiences in your career – can you explain why these positions were so important?
Every position I have held so far was significant to my career. Working with Christian Jürgens and also Sven Elverfeld for seven years were indeed formative and an influential experiences. Spending I-don’t-know-how-many hours together in the kitchen is intense; you get to know each other very well and that’s when you learn the most.
How did you know you wanted to be a chef?
My father is a chef, and ever since I can remember it was quite clear to me that I woud become one too. We often went out for dinner and my parents encouraged me to try everything. But it wasn’t just the food that excited me – I loved sitting together with my family and chatting around the table over a good meal.
What is the experience you hope to impart on your diners through your cooking?
Mostly a great, memorable experience. Most of my guests are people who are regular visitors of good restaurants all over the world. That makes it even more challenging for me to fascinate them with a menu they can remember for a long time (forever if possible!). And I want to face this challenge every day.
Are there any dining or restaurant trends at the moment that you feel have outlived their 15 minutes of fame and are ready to see retired?
I’m actually not interested in any trends and I don’t waste my time on assessing if my menu is still up to trend. I have noticed that people are more and more interested in the origin of the food they’re eating. If anything, I would say the most obvious trend is “back to the roots”: less show and more real, authentic dishes with great quality ingredients.
What about emerging dining destinations around the world – is there anywhere in particular that is piquing your interest at the moment?
I’m not a fan of hyping certain places or concepts. Every destination has its own character and I’m interested in all of them. I’m very keen on trying new things. If you keep your eyes open you sometimes discover the best things even if you don’t expect them.