Elaborate dish from a Michelin-starred kitchen in Munich.

Interview with Virginie Protat and Benjamin Chmura

“I’ve totally rediscovered horseradish”

Tantris is a legend among Germany’s restaurants and has been a culinary and architectural highlight of Munich ever since it was founded in 1971. Designed and built in the Olympic fever of the late 1960s, it has now reopened with a new concept: it comprises not just a table de hôte-type restaurant with new chef Benjamin Chmura (32) but also an à la carte eatery called Tantris DNA, where 30-year-old French Virginie Protat is in charge of the cooking.

Virginie and Benjamin, you both moved to Munich fresh from France for the relaunch of Tantris. How do you like the city?

Virginie Protat: I’d never been to Munich before. But when I arrived here, I had a few days to get to know the city and I fell in love with it instantly. The parks, the historical buildings, all the little markets – it all felt very good right away.

Benjamin Chmura: I actually have very fond memories of Munich. Part of my family lives here; including my grandmother – whose excellent potato soup I simply adore. It’s very simple: chicken stock, potatoes, a little cream and freshly ground pepper. All these details – this simplicity – have fascinated me ever since I was a child. And even though I had a fairly international upbringing, because my father was a conductor and we lived in a lot of different places, Munich was always a kind of second home for me. So coming back here now has been familiar in one way. But it was also fascinating to rediscover the city for myself. It’s so international here, there’s a lot of culturemusic and great people. And all the greenery! The big parks, the Isar and being close to the mountains. It’s a perfect mix.

Benjamin, you’re taking over as head chef of the table d’hôte restaurant. And you, Virginie, will be in charge of the à la carte restaurant Tantris DNA. Of course it’s no coincidence you ended up in Munich together.

Virginie Protat: We actually know each other from culinary school – we were at the Institut Paul Bocuse together in my home town of Lyon, Ben was a year above me. That’s where we got to learn the finer points of grande cuisine – the essence of French cooking – from a lot of very inspiring chefs.

Benjamin Chmura: After that, we each travelled halfway around the world – I went to England and Australia, among other places – and so we lost track of each other a bit. But we got back in touch through our mutual friend Maxime, the new head patissier at Tantris Maison Culinaire.

Tantris is not just a culinary venue, it’s also a place that has made German architectural history: with its iconic early 1970s pop design, it's even listed as a historic monument. Long-standing chef de cuisine Hans Haas was a native of Austria: will Tantris Maison Culinaire now become a French restaurant with the two of you?

Benjamin Chmura: The owners of Tantris, Sabine and Felix Eichbauer, were all about reviving the French roots of Tantris when I first met them. When the restaurant opened 50 years ago, it was Fritz Eichbauer’s vision to bring French haute cuisine to Munich with the first chef, Eckart Witzigmann. Witzigmann is an unrivalled chef whom I’ve since been fortunate enough to meet in person: he was greatly inspired by the periods he spent in France, for example with Haeberlin. So there’s a sense of continuity there as we now get to carry forward the original idea behind Tantris. And yes, grande cuisine will be reflected in our style, too – how we cook, choose our products and focus on the essentials, and in the way we present the food, too This art de vivre à la française was always embraced at Tantris from the very outset.

Virginie Protat: Beyond the underlying French flavour, what is so great here right now is the energy of this very young team: we have Italians, Canadians, Swiss, Dutch, Austrians and of course a lot of young German colleagues here in our two kitchens – it’s fun to share ideas and cook together in this dream kitchen. It’s all very bright and open, and of course the classic orange tiles are back again: as you say, the restaurant is a listed building.

What culinary delights await guests at Tantris?

Virginie Protat: At the DNA our guests will find some slight variations on the Tantris classics. But we also serve some very purist dishes such as pike dumplings and a traditionally handmade pâté en croûte with a fine frisée salad.

Benjamin Chmura: Here at Tantris, we’re very glad to serve our guests large set meals over several hours – something that everyone can really sit down and enjoy together. Each course has its own story to tell. Vegetables have a major element. That’s something I really love, so one sequence of the six- or eight-course menu will always be dedicated to a seasonal vegetable. Right now is the mushroom season, so we’re featuring porcini mushrooms, for example.

Have you discovered anything new here in Munich in terms of cuisine?

Benjamin Chmura: Personally, I’ve totally rediscovered horseradish – or Kren, as they say in this part of the world. I love spicy food – I’m a great fan of chilli and different types of pepper. My mother always put fresh horseradish in her soups. Just as I used to work with mustard in France, here you can use horseradish to add a dash of spicy power and finesse. It’s almost like a forgotten vegetable for me.

Virginie Protat: I discovered the little red radishes (Radieschen) here and also Markets the large white radish (Radi) – I immediately tried out a dish with them, including celery, apple, mayonnaise and a red king crab. I love that subtle, zesty taste. It reminded me of a very French snack, too: Radi Beurre, where you put a thin slice of butter in the middle of a radish, and the whole thing is lightly salted. That could actually be a Munich beer garden snack – it’s something the French love.

So there are definitely overlaps between Munich and French cuisine?

Benjamin Chmura: There are certainly some intriguing cross-connections. Of course you have Eckart Witzigmann as pioneer and the most important ambassador of French cuisine here – not least with all his cookery books. I’ve been a passionate collector of cookery books ever since I was 16, and that’s where you come across these links: soups, for example. In France, soups have always been incredibly important, but it’s something that’s almost been forgotten. My grandmother always made great soups: every meal started with one. That’s something we’re going to revive at the new Tantris Maison Culinaire.

 

 

Text: Nansen & Piccard; Photos: Frank Stolle
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