René Frank: Art You Can Eat
“How about some dessert?” In many restaurants, especially expensive Michelin-starred ones, the waiter will politely offer patrons something sweet accompanied by an espresso after the actual meal. But for René Frank, dessert is both the essence and purpose in life. You’ll find no sign, no flashy Michelin stars, no menus at the front of the Coda dessert bar in Berlin-Neukölln. Just a large white graffiti inscription that reads: “We make dollars.” A little welcome from the neighborhood kids, Frank explains. Though it is a bit misleading. Because the German pastry chef, who has won the Pâtissier of the Year award several times already, is not interested in American currency. He’s all about desserts. His concept is unique. Coda is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the world exclusively dedicated to dessert dining. Seven courses of dessert with the drinks to match. That made us curious.
How did you discover your passion for desserts?
Someone was always cooking something when I was growing up. The main courses were always left to the men in the family. My father, my grandfather, they were serious about cooking. As a child, I was naturally drawn to my grandmother, and she was in charge of the baking or making the desserts. That was a lot of fun for me. Not to mention tasty. And so it was clear at a relatively early age which direction I would later take. I remember something that I wrote into a classmate’s friendship book at the time: When I grow up, I want to become a policeman – or a pastry chef.
The subject of food and nutrition is literally on everybody’s lips at the moment…
Yeah, it’s fantastic! Awareness for food and for a balanced nutrition is booming. Especially here in Berlin I see that every day. And we’re basically just at the beginning. The pastry business still has a long way to go. One thing that is accelerating this trend is the fact that people are experiencing more stress in their daily lives, which lowers our resistance to overeating. Many people simply can no longer deal with everything as well as before. That’s quite normal. What we have to do is to think more consciously about what we want to eat and to question our consumption of milk, white flour, sugar and animal products in general.
“I have a very good memory for flavors. I also love to try unfamiliar things.”
So no more chocolate for breakfast?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we should no longer eat chocolate. I would certainly make a poor role model in this regard. What I am saying is that we need to become more responsible and aware.
Where do you find your ideas?
I have a very good memory for flavors. I remember the taste of things that I ate as a child. I also love to try unfamiliar things. Given the right quality, there is no product that doesn’t taste good if it is properly prepared. What I often do is that I remember a taste, a certain dish, and then I try to achieve that taste with alternative products. That inevitably leads me to something new.
A kind of creative recombination…
Something like that. Then there’s the fact that pâtisseries still lead a sort of shadow existence in Germany. Many restaurants attach great importance to their main courses or to their soups and starters. And there it’s very important which ingredients are used. But when it comes to dessert, nobody cares anymore what kind of eggs or which type of chocolate was used. And that hasn’t changed in fifty or even a hundred years. But that also means that we have an enormous playing field where we can combine traditional dishes with new products.
Why specialize in pastry cuisine?
As a young chef, I did it all. And I think I’ve got a pretty good background. But what I really like about confectionery and pastry-making is the great precision that goes into it. I work with exact quantities, temperature and time are always identical – and so the result always tastes the same. I’m a control freak. That’s probably why I like it so much.
How difficult, perhaps even frustrating, was it getting to this point?
I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. In part because we were getting so much headwind from critics who couldn’t understand why we didn’t just buy the chocolate instead of making it ourselves. The first Michelin star helped a lot. Michelin stars are still an untouchable seal of quality. This led to a broader level of understanding and recognition.
Why do you make the chocolate yourself anyway?
There are many ways to go in this field. But nobody walks the path consistently from beginning to end. What I want to say is that there is a path from bean to chocolate, or a path from chocolate to praline or to dessert, but hardly anyone wants to follow the entire path from bean to dessert. This is where we set ourselves apart. And we also pay attention to where all original products are sourced from. Because of course we could take the single origin bean from Ecuador, which sounds great in terms of marketing. But that’s not what we’re interested in. What we’re really concerned with is an aware approach to the products: where they come from, how they are grown, how and under what conditions they come to us, and what consequences this has. Things like that. So it’s clear that we can’t serve strawberries in November.
“What I really like about confectionery and pastry-making is the great precision that goes into it. I work with exact quantities, temperature and time are always identical – and so the result always tastes the same. I’m a control freak.”