Luisa Weiss talks about her new book, My Berlin Kitchen, and reveals some of her favourite local foodie spots…
For me, the idea of ‘soul food’ is connected to those specific meals, flavours and smells that extend beyond the mere pleasures of the palate to embrace memories of family and home.
My own (admittedly odd) example is the combination of fried egg, cheese, mayonaise and sweet pickle relish my parents used to make for lunch on Sundays: the taste instantly transports me back to my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table in my uncomfortable Sunday clothes stuffing my face as quickly as possible so that I can go outside and play.
A similar notion prompted Luisa Weiss, aka the Wednesday Chef, to write her new book My Berlin Kitchen, a combination of memoir and cookbook that rekindles memories of growing up in Berlin through recipes.
In the book, Weiss draws on personal stories of living in New York and Italy as well as Berlin and how she has used the kitchen to battle constant homesickness.
While her childhood love of Pflaumenkuchen and roasted rabbit are a bit more exotic than my American fried egg sandwiches, that’s the beauty of soul food: it’s inherent to each individual…
Kirsten: My Berlin Kitchen seems almost like a personal memoir rather than a cookbook. How have your personal experiences influenced your cooking? Are there any particular recipes which remind you of your Berlin home?
Luisa: My Berlin Kitchen is a memoir with recipes – each chapter tells a piece of the story and since, for me, cooking is a big part of my life, each chapter has a recipe that fits that particular story. I spent my childhood and a lot of my adulthood traveling back and forth between my parents and found this experience rather destabilizing, especially when it came to feeling rooted to a particular place.
Cooking was my way of anchoring myself in the world – if I cooked the same sauce in my New York kitchen or my Paris kitchen, it made it smell like home. Quarkauflauf, a rustic soufflé made with Quark and sour cherries, reminds me very much of my childhood in what was then West Berlin. My nanny Joanie made it for me often.
Kirsten: What food do you most associate with Berlin?
Luisa: To me, Berlin tastes like rib-sticking German comfort food – bowls of thick pea or potato soup with Würstchen cut into them or a steaming hot currywurst (but only a good one, mind!) eaten outside in the freezing cold.
Kirsten: What is your favourite Berlin restaurant?
Luisa: I don’t have a favourite Berlin restaurant, per se, but real Berlin experiences, to me, are having lunch on the 6th floor of KaDeWe (a fish sandwich, eaten out of hand, for example, or potato pancakes with tiny shrimp on top) or at Rogacki which buzzes at midday, going to Cafe Einstein for a fancy-ish dinner (and ordering the Kaiserschmarrn for dessert!) and having brunch at the Literaturhaus on Fasanenstrasse.
Kirsten: Where do you go to get your ingredients?
Luisa: The market at Karl-August-Platz on Saturdays is just lovely and the currywurst at Klausenerplatz on Fridays is among the best in the city. Brotgarten is one of the oldest organic bakeries in Berlin and their Mehrkornbrot is fabulous. The Baumkuchen at Buchwald is world-class. I like to buy fish at Frischeparadies on Merseburger Strasse.
Kirsten: As a complete foodie novice, what advice would you give to someone like me just beginning to cook in Berlin? It can be hard sometimes as an ex-pat to find the same ingredients I use back home – any advice on how to adapt?
Luisa: If you’re just beginning to cook, you’re fine – it’s if you’re a more adventurous cook and on the hunt for ingredients you were used to finding in the US or UK that you might be challenged in Berlin.
You might have to cast a slightly wider net – heading out to different neighborhoods to get all the ingredients you need. But there are really very few things you absolutely cannot find in Berlin – for me, it’s Tuscan kale and mustard greens. Also, whenever I go to the States, I bring back baking powder, cream of tartar and vanilla extract.