Felix Schneider and the Etz in Nuremberg hold two Michelin stars. Schneider relies on regional and sustainably-sourced products and believes in culinary mindfulness. (Almost) all of the ingredients in his kitchen are made in-house – everything from ham and butter to soy sauce and miso. We paid a visit to a man who wastes nothing
Michelin Star Chef Felix Schneider and the Etz in Nuremberg
"Everything we need grows abundantly right over in the Knoblauchsland region (lit: Garlic Country) outside of Nuremberg", Felix Schneider reassures us. He has a husky voice, gardener’s hands and is dressed in cargo shorts and a hoodie. For being a celebrity chef, he’s remarkably down to earth. So down to earth in fact, that he spends a lot of time shovelling worm-ridden soil onto the compost heap of his 3,000 square metre vegetable garden near the city.
Felix is teetering between rage and despair. His melons and tomato plants are infested with snails. It’s been raining non-stop for days and blossom end rot has destroyed almost all of the courgettes. Schneider wipes the sweat off his stubble-covered scalp, squints and goes back to smiling.
"I want to understand everything about my raw materials. That’s why I do the gardening myself. What does it take to bring the full taste potential out of my turnips and peas? How crispy can Romaine lettuce get? How much oomph does wild dill have?" These are the burning questions on Felix Schneider’s mind.
Jars and Barrels Full of Sun, Rain and Wind
He needs these vegetables for the Etz, the restaurant he opened together with chefs Stefan Frank and Thomas Prosiegel in Nuremberg in September 2021. The word ‘etz’ means ‘now’ in Franconian. That fits perfectly because you won’t find anything in Schneider’s establishment left over from yesterday or waiting for the day after tomorrow.
Even the most old-school chefs are amazed what Felix and his team are able to accomplish.
Vegetables, herbs, dairy, fish and meat don’t need to go on some arduous voyage during which they lose flavour and nutrients. Etz also signifies embracing the region and its seasons just as they are.
A concept this radical requires a lot of effort and know-how. It takes a lot of fermenting, curing, preserving and pickling during the spring, summer and autumn to ensure that Etz has delicacies to serve during the winter as well.
Even chefs who cooked back in the days when food preservation was still commonplace are amazed at how outstandingly Felix and his team capture the essence of sunshine, rain and wind in their jars and barrels. The world-renown Michelin Guide considers it a culinary experience worthy of two stars, four black couverts and a green star for authentic commitment to sustainable practices.
A Different Kind of Pleasure Trip
Etz guests are invited along on a five-hour-long exploration of culinary creativity. Everything is ready for the trip to start: the linen tablecloths are ironed, the little lamps illuminating the tables throughout the dark grey and blue themed restaurant are glowing and the team is standing around the gleaming golden pass talking over final details.
The team comprising three cooks, a sommelier, the maître d'hôtel, and four apprentices is ready for the dinner to start. The success of the team will depend on each of them to put on a great performance. The last rays of the summer sun are beating down on the asphalt outside. Inside, the tension is starting to mount.
Close Your Eyes and Just Savour
The first course is a warm up for the senses. Meticulously arranged on the plate are a wild carrot root, a nasturtium leaf, something that looks like a blade of grass but is bursting with aroma, a blossom, two blueberries and some kind of herb... Bit by bit the sensations overcome you. Spoonfuls of sorrel granita serve as a perfect palate cleanser. Close your eyes ...
This is an appetizer crafted to prime guests for their exploration of the fifteen courses to come. To prevent the diners from worrying about going home hungry after seeing that initial plateful of raw herbs, the next course to be served is a sourdough chard pastry. It’s prepared for us openly on the metre-long green marble counter top. Next up is a dish of baby greens. Of course this isn’t any old veg but was harvested by Felix Schneider a day earlier at his friend Peter Kunze’s place.
If the Quality Isn’t Outrageous, the Etz Doesn’t Serve it
Kunze’s special market garden is located in Roth. The biologist supplies all of the best cooks in Southern Germany. "I cultivate all of these plants from seed here in-house. Only the bloody best varieties too. Then I take care of them. They’re supposed to thrive, after all. They don’t need any synthetic fertilizers, just good soil and some nitrogen. It’s a tonne of work but worth the hassle. Absolutely crucial: don’t harvest anything until it’s fully ripe."
Peter Kunze passes around a plate of fresh Dixie Golden Giant tomatoes, seasoned with a few drops of a sunflower oil with a subtle nutty flavour. The tomato is delicious, fruity and sweet.
"How do you expect me to cook something that’s extraordinary if I’m buying the same ingredients as everyone else?"
"How do you expect me to cook something that’s extraordinary if I’m buying the same ingredients as everyone else? If the quality isn’t absolutely bonkers, I don’t want anything to do with it", Felix reiterates before biting into the marvellous yellow fruit.
Kunze nods, "I love spending time in kitchens just observing how my products are transformed. It’s a great pleasure for me to help the cooks out any way I can." Felix interjects in agreement. "That’s so true. If I say that I want the perfect Goldilocks cucumber – not too bitter, not too watery – he goes and cultivates the exact variety that I had in mind."
Let Nothing Go to Waste
Felix Schneider would never dispose of something that’s edible. At this point, the ‘nose-to-tail’ philosophy has taken hold across the culinary landscape. It promotes cooking every part of an animal, from its snout to its tail, instead of just using choice cuts. At Etz they apply the same thinking to fish and vegetables as well, fully embracing ‘fin-to-gill’ and ‘root-to-fruit’ cooking.
While the sturgeon itself is served grilled, the chef uses its offal to make a seasoning sauce called garum. After being fermented in brine undergoing multiple rounds of filtration, what was ostensibly waste turns into a savoury, transparent, auburn-coloured liquid.
The garum is what gives the bowl of raw trout and lemon leaf over ginger nage that special kick. Farmer Sebastian Salomon supplied the sturgeon from his fishery near Haslach.
The Magic of Spores
One day a week is dedicated exclusively to producing ingredients as well as to tasting and testing. The 200-square-metre production facility in the restaurant’s backyard is also where they make umami, identified in Japanese cuisine as the fifth basic flavour alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The culprit is Koji; its spores to be exact.
This fungus is the source of the complex blend of sweet and savoury aroma that has restaurant critics and Etz diners alike in raptures. Koji is also responsible for the natural umami taste found in soy sauce and miso.
It’s even used to ferment Wagyu beef ham, making it unbelievably tender. It takes the afternoon tea to a whole new level. And the freshly-baked bread that it comes served with is one of a kind. Stefan Frank gives all the credit for its exceptional taste and aroma to ‘Bread Pitt’. That’s how the restaurateur lovingly refers to the mother dough he’s spent the last nine years nurturing with fresh flour and water.
The Great Radish Sensation
It's curtain-up for summer radishes. Just how extravagant can roots get? They seem downright minimalistic compared with the sumptuous meal we’d just finished. There are five distinct radish-filled spring rolls bathing in buttermilk and bay leaf oil.
The dish isn’t just visually reminiscent of a Japanese garden, it’s a Zen eating experience as well. Paired this time with crispness, spice and texture. Then it’s time for the sturgeon to perform its solo. It’s being grilled in the open kitchen for all to see.
The epilogue features frozen cherries topped with meadowsweet cordial and a beetroot over crushed ice with yoghurt and olive herb. This last act – a culinary trip through summer – was designed to activate every single one of the 10,000 taste buds to which a human tongue is home.
Sure, none of us are capable of putting all of them to use consciously. During the course of the evening a ton got tickled though and many more really came alive for the first time.