Germany's youngest female Michelin-star chef Julia Komp is chasing flavours in India
Julia Komp is not a chef who likes to play it safe. Whether it’s the coriander ice cream in her ode to the tomato or chasing culinary skill across the Asian continent. Nineteen countries in less than a year might we add, and still counting. As the youngest female chef in Germany to helm a Michelin-star restaurant, Schloss Loersfeld — at 27 — when most chefs are still breaking into the mould, this firecracker of a woman is rewriting the set course menu of a chef’s career. We caught up with Komp, now 30, as part of a five-city culinary tour with ITC Hotels, starting with ITC Grand Chola in Chennai.
Over a sit-down chat at Ottimo, the property’s Italian restaurant, we discover a little about the woman behind the sleek black chef’s uniform that is she known to wear. For instance, she was all of 16 when she bagged an apprenticeship at a three-star Michelin restaurant, inspired by binge-watching hours of Jamie Oliver on television as a 10-year-old. “I think I own every book he’s written,” she says with a laugh. And she began cooking even younger. “I was four when my great grandmother and I would bake together in the kitchen,” she reminisces of her childhood home in Overath, 20 km from Cologne. Her earliest memories of cooking as a little girl involve whipping up a salad dressing, “because it was the easiest thing to do,” she shares emphatically in her heavy German accent.
The first three years of working as a chef — there were no weekends, no weddings, no birthday parties. I was even afraid to ask if I could have Saturday off. I could not ask, because I knew the answer before asking...
— Julia Komp
Peas be with you
These days, however, her veggies arrive at your table in exotic new avatars — as we sampled over an exquisite six-course dinner later in the week. Star-shaped tofu sits daintily in a syrupy bed of orange — made of carrots with acidic hints of tomato and yuzu juice with pops of green from a combination of peas and softer textured spheres filled with pea mash. Instead of toiling away within the confines of a kitchen, to push the boundaries of innovation, Komp tells us that she prefers to seek out new ideas by visiting new places.
Plane to plate
That is why she has been between a hotel kitchen and aeroplane window, almost every few days for the past seven months. We ask her if she’s homesick. But she responds, “Not at all, I would do this all my life if it wasn’t so expensive.” From the Philippines, she picked up new methods of fermentation, from Japan, an exploration of 150-year-old soya sauce and from India... “Everyone I have spoken to has told me that what you will taste from North to South is entirely different. And that’s the thing about India.” She elaborates with a comparison to her home country, “If you asked me for the most popular dishes in Germany, I might be able to name five, and if you were to ask me for my favourites, then perhaps I could name two. But in India, there is just has so much to cover!”
In a Michelin minute
As the youngest German female chef to helm a Michelin-star restaurant, we have to ask — what is your secret sauce?
I think it’s passion. When you really like what you do, you are very strong. You can reach everything — but you have to fight for it.
What are some of the food trends in 2019 that you are enjoying playing with?
Right now with all the travel, everything is new for me. It’s not about a specific trend. My best ideas come from travel and memories.
What are your thoughts on fad diets, paleo, keto, vegan...
Oh! They kill me... (laughs)
What is comfort food for you?
A BBQ, because it gets the whole family together. I also love a good steak and salad.
Name one ingredient you cannot do without in your kitchen.
What cooking shows do you enjoy?
I have no time for TV at the moment.
A lot of chefs have passion and work insane hours. What is the recipe to being a chef that has the
ability to get that Michelin star?
There are plenty of chefs who are magic, but they don’t necessarily want to lead. Another thing that makes a huge difference at the end of a meal, is that I don’t say ‘I’, I say ‘we’. A chef is only as good as his or her team.
What do you think about being married to your work vs being married. As a woman, working extremely long hours, how does one have it all?
This is very easy. When you find a good person, you will make it happen. Secondly, you need somebody who is motivated like you — but in another business. I would never marry a chef, that would
Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.
In my kitchen, there is always music, I cannot work without music. From the Billboard charts to Spanish music to German rap. But rock, never! Pitbull and Rihanna, I really enjoy.
What do you like to do on your day off?
Gym and then meet a friend, or go to an expo. But one thing that I never do is cook!
Straight off the menu
As for what’s next with this woman on a tasting mission, it comes as no surprise when she tells us that a restaurant with her name on the door, is on the cards by the end of the year. What we don’t expect is the choice of cuisine. “This is going to be a modern-style restaurant in Germany, influenced by Indian and Arabic flavours,” we’re told. Quite the opposite of Hell’s Kitchen, as Komp prides herself on creating a nurturing environment in her kitchen to foster creativity and team spirit. But she clarifies with her blunt no-nonsense humour, “If a chef gives me s***, I will want to kill him. But in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t make sense to yell, that only makes things worse. It’s important to stay calm and walk away. Everything else can be handled after service.”
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