From hunting and gathering food wherever it could be found, to living off the surrounding farmland, later importing food worldwide and now, thousands of years later, foraging is back in fashion. In Berlin, the circle has been closed by a collection of curious chefs.
How did we get here?
Early activity of hunter-gatherers – the practice of foraging food from your immediate surroundings – can be traced back 1.8 million years. Humans in the Lower Paleolithic times, also known as the Early Stone Age, “lived in forests and woodlands, which allowed them to collect eggs, nuts, and fruits” (Attenborough, Collins), and plants.
During the Middle Ages (5th to the 15th Century), despite the gradual modernisation of farming practices, the food consumed by the citizens of Europe continued largely to be dependent on seasons and geography. Families with little money ate that which was immediately available to them and, whilst nobility began to have access to imported spices from outside Europe, the foundations of each meal would been locally sourced from surrounding land and water. The 1400s saw the beginnings of a great shift in methods of acquiring food; from the 15th to the 17th Century, a period “known as the Age of Exploration and the Great Navigations” (Lumen), Europe began secure trade routes with Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania. The Columbian Exchange, the interchange between the New World (the Americas) and the Old World (Afro-Eurasia), instigated “the wide transfer of plants, animals, foods, communicable diseases, people (including slaves), and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres” (Lumen).
By the 1800s sugar, a symbol of freedom and status (Mintz), was a staple of the everyman’s diet. Fast forward to just before the breakout of the Second World War and European countries such as Britain were importing 70% of its food from overseas; “this required 20 million tons of shipping a year” (Cooks Info). Nowadays a country such as Britain will depend on importing non-seasonal produce to keep up with demand all year round. During winter, “half of all the UK’s food is imported” (BBC), for example, the UK imports “90% of all its lettuces” (BBC) throughout the colder months. These statistics are dramatically contrasted with the figures of the summer months: “in June, Britain produces 95% of its own salad leaves” (BBC) and by summer the UK is growing 60% of the tomatoes on the shelves (BBC).
Time For Change
Disenchanted by the necessity to fly-in produce, the culinary world has seen an interesting return to the hunter-gatherer spirit in recent years. With a growing awareness around the impact of industrial farming, “slow food” is becoming increasingly fashionable. Berlin, a city beloved for its slower pace of life and thriving food scene, plays host to a medley of restaurants all invested in slowing down to embrace local and seasonal produce.aware_ sat down with Claude Schoetz and Hannes Broecker, the owners of JAJA Wein, to hear more about their honest and curious methods of creating a unique culinary experience, in a bid to slow the pace of modern cuisine.
JAJA Wine (Weichselstraße 7, 12043 Berlin) is a thriving bistro based in Neukölln, one of Berlin’s southern districts. Creating under the moto “You and I eat (and drink) the same!”, JAJA serves natural wine, paired with food sourced from their own garden and local farmers.
aware_: In what ways does JAJA embrace the “farm to table” movement?
Claude: The philosophy behind “farm to table” is intrinsic to jaja. One of the owners grew up on a self-sufficient farm, so it’s really part of our identity. Because it’s very important to us personally, we of course apply this concept to all aspects of our business. For instance, our ceramics are made by Helka, Lisa Kosak, whose studio is in Neukölln. Our fish purveyors at 25 teiche use sustainable farming methods. The lebensmittel is all locally grown and purchased at markthalle neun. Even the water, preussen quelle, that we use is local and climate positive. 20% of our produce is homegrown, consisting of mainly herbs. Our exclusively produced cheese is from Urstrom kase, who are in Baruth
We use a local hunter for wildfleisch, I could go on…
We think it’s important where our food comes from and who is growing it. This provides a community, it’s important to take care of each other, and take responsibility for the ways we treat the environment. Farm to table is a political choice, it is the antithesis to the capitalistic way of consuming food.
aware_: How does engaging with the movement impact the culinary experience? What challenges come with choosing to create in this way?
Claude: We’re more creative with the produce so as to use every bit of what we buy, with no waste involved. It’s ever-changing because it’s seasonal so we rely on what the farmers have to offer. For example, if there’s too much rain and not enough sun, then the tomatoes won’t ripen, so it can of course be a challenge. But by working so closely together, we can ask the farmer if they can try to grow this or that variety, or very small cucumbers, for example. It’s a dynamic, collaborative experience. That’s not the most important thing, but it is a perk.
We’d like to point out that it’s the same with the wine; it’s a living product, and there has been a lot of rain this year so the yields are low. This is a challenge price-wise, the yields are low, the demand remains, so the prices increase.
aware_: Why do you think the farm to table movement has become so popular in recent years? Have you noticed a difference in how customers engage with their food?
Claude: People are becoming more conscious. It’s great that the impetus is there and hopefully it will continue to grow. That being said, it’s important to acknowledge that the food system is a catastrophic problem world-wide and most people cannot afford to eat sustainably; it’s a choice for the privileged. At non-bio supermarkets, the produce found there involves the exploitation of tens of thousands of migrants, and the earth. So, we do what we can to not contribute to that system. We offer the alternative option, a delicious one, and perhaps we can inspire those who have the means to support the folks that we work with, and celebrate the seasonal vegetables!
More champions of the farm to table movement taking the Berlin food scene by storm:
Dorfmitte 11, Gerswalde
Gaia, a culinary collaboration between chefs Julia Heifer and Zsuzsanna Toth, lies in the village of Gerswalde in the north eastern countryside surrounding Berlin. The restaurant sits in an exquisite glass house, with tables spilling out onto the grass outside, placed on the edge of an enchanting vegetable garden. The produce, much of which come from the soil directly next to your seat, is strictly seasonal and from which clever, innovative and delicate dishes are created.
Oderbergerstraße 56, 10435 Berlin
Arguably one of Berlin’s leading restaurants of the last few years, Otto Berlin sits in the family-oriented district of Prenzlauer Berg. Established by a rare OG Berliner Vadim Otto Ursus, the restaurant embraces a contemporary approach to classic German cuisine. WIth a test kitchen buzzing in a former GDR bungalow in Schorfheide – a biosphere reserve in Brandenburg near the Polish border – Ursus sources his ingredients from the surrounding countryside to create mouth-watering dishes year round.
Lychener Str. 37, 10437 Berlin, Germany
Café Frieda, siting on the sunny corner of Helmholtzplatz, is an ethereal experience right from the offset – the small marble tables stand glittering in the sun. A sister restaurant of Berlin’s Mrs Robinson’s, the restaurant uses local produce in order to create dishes the whole of Berlin is desperate to try. Their signature buckwheat croissant with fresh burrata & coffee husk syrup deliciously tests the boundaries of the beloved french pastry, whilst the whole crab served with the restaurant’s own fermented chilli sauce is a truly modern approach to a traditional, popular dish.
By Eliza Edwards