Why the kitchen is the new living room and why people today express themselves through a stylish kitchen — Stevan Paul, food journalist, blogger and author of numerous cookbooks explains the new love for this ”lifestyle hub” — and for cooking, too.
Photos: Andrea Thode | Interview: Felix Denk
Mr Paul, you are a trained cook and you write about pretty much every aspect of food. Where do you spend most of your time — in the kitchen or at your desk?
It changes. There are times when I’m traveling a lot as a food journalist. And then I’ve got these phases again where I can completely concentrate on writing books. I actually do everything: think about the subject, produce the dish at the studio and write. That’s when I commute between my desk, the studio and, of course, my kitchen.
For many, the kitchen is the new living room. What’s the reason behind this?
In fact, the classic production kitchen that used to be the standard, and has been for a long time, is disappearing right now. Two new trends are taking its place. One is the big combined kitchen/living room which brings together cooking and eating. It is strongly centered around conviviality and what you need for that, of course, are open, beautiful rooms. Then it’s like a dream. One variant is the garden kitchen which has become very popular recently. It all started off a few years ago with Weber grills but then the guys — it’s mostly men — started to install a sink, a heat source and a big kitchen in the garden. On the other hand, the demographic change really does affect kitchens, particularly in big cities. There we have a population of singles with many single young people who work a lot and many single older people who no longer work. Property developers now build kitchens increasingly smaller because space is needed for living. All that is left is often just a small area where you can reheat your food. This is also the reason why streetfood has become such a big story — if you no longer eat at home you have to go somewhere else.
”THOSE WHO COOK TODAY AREN’T HUNGRY BUT THEY DO HAVE TASTE”
At the same time, there is a real boom about cooking — as you can see from the many cooking shows and new cookbooks.
That’s true. Many people are still buying cookbooks. These publishers do much better than those who publish literature, who have far greater losses. Readers appreciate well-made, informative cookbooks that go beyond a simple collection of recipes. I just don’t know how much of it is actually being cooked, though. I guess it is a bit like if you buy a “Schöner Wohnen” style magazine or “AD” design magazine, and then read it and really enjoy it, but still you don’t take the next step to renovating the whole house afterwards.
Where does the interest come from? Is it because you can’t digitize cooking? Because the kitchen is a place of real stuff, of things you can touch?
That also fits the rise of the new crafts — from craft beer to dry-aged steaks to third-wave coffee. We have a very young and enlightened target group and there are also a few middle-aged folks engaged in this, people like me, who can afford it and want it. They want to find flavors in the kitchen. You can see in the younger generation that they are fed up with industrial stuff. And that doesn’t always have to originate from a gourmet’s perspective. Particularly not with the young people, here self-optimization is a big issue. If I eat well then I’ll also be successful in my job, in my life.
The new cooking trends also feature pickles, preserves, fermenting and baking. Craft techniques that are time-consuming. Is that a corrective against the acceleration of our daily lives?
Possibly. But what seems to be over is the cookbook trend to prepare a three-course menu with four ingredients in eight minutes. Thank God! People are discovering the beauty of taking your time, the meditative element of cutting vegetables. That really is a great thing. I very much enjoy this. The smells, the scents when dough is rising and baking, that is a truly great thing. In the end, though, this is a narrow target group.
”OUR KITCHENS HAVE LONG BEEN PLACES WHERE WE EXPRESS A LOT ABOUT OURSELVES”
Today, the kitchen is an expression of your personality, and has been for some time. You couldn’t claim that about the so-called Frankfurt Kitchen, the last big invention on the market which was simply designed by the guiding principle of functionality.
Sure, the Frankfurt Kitchen was revolutionary in the 1920s. It was the prototype of the fitted kitchen. Today, it can no longer fulfill our demands and needs. What used to be functionality back then is individuality today. The kitchen is a lifestyle piece. This is already evident in the materials. Many new kitchens work with natural materials such as wood and stone, which were also underestimated for a long time in terms of their care needs and hygiene. That then is, for example, combined with steel. There are also new types of country house kitchens that are no longer as exuberant as they used to be in the past but instead feature beautiful rectangular tiles that have a lot of character. I like this very much. I reduced all plastic in my kitchen, I no longer like to touch it.
Your book “Philosophie des Kochens” (“The Philosophy of Cooking”) features the beautiful sentence: “Cooking today is more like free skating and a hobby than a necessity.” And you resume: “Those who cook today aren’t hungry, but they do have taste.”
(Laughs). I have to say that is the best-case scenario. I think the overused phrase ”You are what you eat” is still valid. Maybe even more than ever. Our kitchens have long been places where we express a lot about ourselves. They have become an important part of our lifestyle which we are happy to show others. You just have to compare it to the car. If you arrive in a big four-by-four you are likely to be met with a frown. They are completely out as lifestyle objects. It is a completely different thing to have a great kitchen — that expresses your own style, certainty in good taste, also your mindfulness and care when you consider the health and environmental aspects. It is simply so essential to nourish yourself that you can communicate on many levels in this way.
For you, the kitchen has been a workplace for a long time. How long have you been working in restaurants?
Six years. Always in award-winning restaurants from when I started my training. It was a hard but educational board which I’ll always be happy to surf on again. It is the foundation of everything I do.
Has work in the kitchen shaped who you are?
Yes. I went there when I was 17 and had no idea at all about anything. I learned to work in a concentrated and focused manner. That achievement can be fun as well and stress disappears somehow once you become absorbed in your work. These are the principles that today shape my entire life. I am very meticulous, very accurate. This helps me as an author of cookbooks. I know that it is a good thing not to have any mistakes in a recipe.
Do you actually enjoy cooking for guests?
I totally do. I really cook every evening. That is the time when my wife comes home. Then we sit in the kitchen, although it is rather small, at the table with two chairs. We then talk about the day, relax while I’m cooking, eat something small. That’s when I also try out things for the cookbooks. That’s the moment when we experience the kitchen as a living room.
If Stevan Paul didn’t exist, you would have to invent him. He is a real one-off in Germany’s gastronomy landscape. He worked in award-winning restaurants for many years, was one of the first food bloggers in Germany, has written 14 cookbooks — often taking the photos for them himself. He is a regular author for a number of magazines such as Feinschmecker, Mixology and Effilee and is the food critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He also published a novel “Der große Glander.” Paul lives and works in Hamburg.
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