Quickly becoming a prime location for food innovators and futurists to discuss and explore the future of sustainable food culture, by day HERMANN’S is an all-day restaurant & cafe with a visionary difference, and by night a stylish event space for food-related events, panels and discussions. Not only are the lunches there absolutely delicious, but the highly-talented kitchen staff (and indeed whole team!) are very sustainable in their approach. We sent inspiring founders Verena Bahlsen and Laura Jaspers a few questions to learn more about what HERMANN’S vision is all about…
How did you two first meet, and what inspired you to build such a unique space with ambitious goals?
We first met in London in 2014. We literally spent our first two hours together strolling through delis and cafes in Marylebone and nerding out over new food brands, new dishes and ingredients we were excited about!
That afternoon we both found common ground over the common belief that food culture will, and must, radically change in the near future to rectify the sustainability and health issues that are inherent to our current food system.
We became obsessed with that thought- what would a new food culture would look like, and how one could engage a community around this discussion?
It never felt like we made the conscious decision to open HERMANN’S – at some point we were so deep into our ideas and plans that we couldn’t not do it anymore.
How would you define the goals of HERMANN’S in your own words?
Our HERMAN’S team seeks to find the world’s most interesting, or promising, or sometimes just fun ideas on how to make food healthier and more sustainable.
We bring those ideas back to Berlin and translate them into our cooking and baking.
We are explorers and makers – we love exploring which new ingredients and techniques can make our dishes delicious, nourishing AND planet friendly.
Our goal is to share our explorations with you, our guests, and hopefully get a conversation going (over lunch) on how we can make food better in the future.
What do you grow, ferment and bake on site?
We planted our own little garden in our backyard. There we grow everything from tomatoes, herbs or sweet potatoes to more experimental ingredients, like tigernuts.
We bake all of our cakes on site, using only unrefined and natural sweeteners, no white flour, and whatever grains, spices or fruits we can add for taste and nourishment.
We ferment our own kimchi, our own miso paste, and we’ve even befriended a local start-up who are fermenting water kefir drinks next to our bar.
The name HERMANN’S is a homage to Hermann Bahlsen, who was known to be an innovator who founded the popular biscuit brand Bahlsens, which to this day unusually remains independently financed and still very successful. What was it about Hermann Bahlsen that made him such a respected innovator and encouraged you to name the business after him?
We are a little obsessed with Hermann Bahlsen 😉
We discovered that he wasn’t actually a baker, but an explorer and a ‘finder’- he traveled the world, at a time when this wasn’t normal at all (1890s), and found ideas and technologies where others didn’t think to look.
He brought them back to Hannover, Germany, and built the company Bahlsen out of them. He discovered the idea of a thin, crunchy cake in the UK (British Shortbread) and brought it back to Germany.
His first biscuits were actually called “Bahlsen Cakes”. Because Germans couldn’t pronounce that name the word Keks eventually developed- so Hermann actually invented the German word for cookie.
He discovered the use of conveyor belts in Chicago’s meatpacking district, and applied the same technology to be able to scale his biscuit production- even before Henry Ford got the idea!
We wanted to create a restaurant that explores, finds, and then creates. At that point the name HERMANN’S was a no-brainer.
And what principles do you follow at HERMANN’S that you would say might be inspired by your family heritage?
We are absolutely obsessed with craft – sometimes to a crazily German point.
We love the process as much as the end result- the time and care it takes to make dough rise, to pickle vegetables, to smoke meat.
Our chef could tell each guest a ten-minute story about each of our dishes- thats how much we’ve thought and experimented with them before they hit the menu.
With such ambition, what made you decide to open HERMANN’S in Berlin, rather than other capital cities?
Our roots are fully German, but we love the role Berlin is gaining in the European cultural landscape.
Our team is crazy diverse – we currently have 12 different nationalities. We are excited to welcome all of those nationalities to our capital city, because we like seeing and experiencing how they mix with our German heritage.
HERMANN’S has now been open in Berlin for nearly 2 years, and we’ve never regretted that decision.
What would you say are the three biggest challenges to the food industry in Europe right now, and what potential methods do you envisage as possibilities for change?
That’s a big big question, probably not answered in a few sentences 🙂 And truth be told, we don’t know what the solutions will be.
Broadly speaking, we now see an industrialised food system that was built over 100 years ago, and since then hasn’t been able to adapt to new requirements.
A future food system needs to
A) Start with sustainable agricultural practices that protect the planet and the nutrients in the food that’s grown,
B) Create products and eating habits that use our resources wisely and incorporate a vast biodiversity that we have lost, and
C) needs to channel food waste into other, equally valuable uses.
You’ve sourced quite a talented team there, including the very talented chef, Andrea Iannicella, previously at Dottir. What is your main focus and concepts with the food served?
We are really lucky to have our head chef Andrea Iannicella.
Andrea has a contemporary, progressive food background which really fit in with our food vision of being delicious, nourishing and planet-friendly. It’s a constant challenge in the kitchen as to how to get all three of those values in one dish, but our team is up for it.
The lunchtime menu is one of the best value lunches we know in Berlin in respect to both quality of ingredients and cookery skills. Many restaurant owners might feel it would be tough to create enough profit from the dishes given your highly sought after staff and top ingredients used, but we get the feeling unlike most businesses, profit on food & drink is not the sole objective of HERMANN’S…?
It’s important for us to be profitable as a business, but it’s also important for us to keep healthy food accessible and affordable.
It can be a difficult balance, but we believe it’s not only possible but necessary.
Which restaurants or cafes anywhere in the world do you see as most inspiring for the future of food?
Those restaurants are real pioneers when it comes to sustainability and they inspire us.
The space at HERMANN’S is not only very large and bright, but beautifully stylish too. What were the inspirations in creating the design?
We love the charm of the old vintage Berlin look, but we were going for something different.
We spent time with our designer Freehaus in London with architects Jon Hagos and Tom Bell. We were inspired by the Scandinavian-Japanese hybrid aesthetic of minimalism, its future forward and reflective of our values.
We believe that food should be simple, alive and nourishing. The natural light, plant life, and organic elements of the space reflect what we serve and the world we want to move toward.
What are your thoughts to replacement meats, like the Impossible Burgers or Der Vegetarische Metzger?
We love to see people innovate. Alternative meats is a direction a lot of people are heading in. People want to eat plants but not give up on old pleasures.
The trick is how to keep those products as natural, delicious and compassionate as possible. A lot of different kinds of companies are investing, experimenting and even foraging for a plant-based or at least a flexitarian future, and we’re all about it.
With waste being a serious topic right now many people are discussing, do you feel there is a danger of some cafes or restaurants cashing-in on zero waste popularity, but are not being as transparent or honest as they should be about their actual wastage?
Zero-waste is a real challenge, and everyone interprets it differently.
We did a zero-waste dinner ourselves with Restaurant Nolla in Helsinki and learned about how difficult the process was, but also rewarding.
Being open and transparent about the sustainability struggle then leads to more collaboration and more solutions.
Tell us about some forgotten ingredients that have been used on your menu?
Right now, we are all about the jackfruit. Jackfruit is in vogue now, but a year ago barely anyone outside of Brazil or South-East Asia had heard of it.
Andrea has made a jackfruit burger that actual tastes like pulled pork, it’s not a new idea but it is in Berlin.
Right now, the tamarind tree has influenced our summer drinks.
And we always love to use ancient grains like spelt, emmer, amaranth, teff and tigernut which we have in our garden.
What have been the biggest challenge in creating HERMANN’S?
We are not trying to take sides in the food sustainability debate, but bridge between worlds.
That can be a difficult position when people feel so passionate about food and what it represents, but we need more people to serve as connectors between different food ideologies.
What do you see the future of HERMANN’S being?
We see HERMANN’S Berlin as only the start.
We would love to organize pop-ups around the world similar to Noma and learn from other global cultures, but for now we are taking root in Berlin.
We also work as an event space, so through out clients we’ve become really connected to the Berlin community and want to keep working on those relationships.
Complete the following sentence “For us, Berlin is…”
For us, Berlin is a new generation of cosmopolitan city- after cultural epicentres like New York, London, LA, Berlin is the start of something new, and fresh, and hopeful.
HERMANN’S is a truly fantastic space and a real treat to enjoy lunch at – which trust us, for the quality of food and amazing cooking skills showcased is incredible value (the lunch mains are between 11-14). Be sure to let us know what you think when you go!