Munich's gourmet restaurants are as colourful as its districts. We meet top chefs at places where they like to have lunch themselves. This time with: Benjamin Chmura from the Tantris. At his favourite snack bar Fuyuan, we order half the menu – including phenomenal dim sum and Peking duck.
The Tantris achieved world fame after opening in 1971 – it is not only Munich's oldest Michelin-starred restaurant, but was also the first place in Germany to be awarded two Michelin stars. Over the past 50 years, the greats of German culinary art have cooked in the Schwabing gourmet temple: Eckart Witzigmann, Heinz Winkler, Hans Haas. A few years ago, the restaurant was reopened with a new concept and under head chef Benjamin Chmura.
We meet the 35-year-old in his favourite snack bar in Augustenstrasse: The Fuyuan is a Chinese restaurant, best known for its Peking duck, but that's far from all, Chmura tells me: “They prepare their own dim sum; in the meantime, I have found out my favourites, which I always order. I also like the aubergine with minced pork and the Peking soup.”
The star chef doesn't live far away; by now, he has also convinced his family about the Fuyuan and they join him here regularly. I look around: It's Tuesday lunchtime and we've just managed to get a seat. There are many Chinese guests here – always a good sign.
Chmura orders five starters and three main courses for us, including half a Peking duck and quickly puts me at ease when he notices my sceptical look: “No worries, we'll manage.” The best dim sum are actually the ones with prawns and pork, the Peking duck tastes fantastic, with just the right sweetness, and the Chinese aubergine blows my mind every time because I can't prepare it myself in such an exciting way.
Chmura was born in Canada, grew up in Brussels, trained at the Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon and then cooked in London and Australia. His longest and most important stay was spent in France, most recently with the renowned three-star chef Michel Troisgros. “Among my French friends I was always the German; it was only in Germanythat I realised how French I actually am,“ he says. His mother is from Germany, so he also speaks fluent German. His father is the famous conductor Gabriel Chmura, a Polish Jew who emigrated to Israel after the end of the war and made a career in Paris, although he didn't speak a word of French at first.
“I inherited a lot from my father, including his ambition. When I do something, I want to be the best and make the most of it. At the Tantris, I am the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave.“ Chmura gained his first cooking experience at the tender age of 13 in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Brussels. When he ate there with his father, he would choose a seat facing the kitchen. After this internship, he fell in love with the job – and that hasn't changed to this day.
“When I was young, my father used to say: If one day you succeed in your career, it will be in Germany, because you are the most French German there is.“
“I am very happy that I can live out my passion. I don't count the hours and never cared about the money. I wanted it badly – and even more so when my mother was against me becoming a chef”, he says. His father supported him, also when he got the offer from the Tantris. Actually, Chmura was about to move to the USA with his wife at that time, but his father said that such a door would only open once: “When I was young, he used to say: If one day you succeed in your career, it will be in Germany, because you are the most French German there is.“
Benjamin Chmura's arrival in Munich in 2021 then turned out to be highly emotional: It was winter, Corona dominated the news and his father had unexpectedly passed away a few months earlier. At the same time, things got really busy at the Tantris: Chmura had to conduct interviews with his team, plan the new kitchen, fine-tune the concept, create menus. He had known the Tantris since he was six years old – his grandmother used to live in the same street, they often walked past. As a little boy, he would ask: “What is that huge orange building?”
The huge orange building also surprises with unexpected dimensions on the inside: People work on two floors – the basement houses the production kitchens, the bakery and patisserie, as well as a fish station and a butcher's shop, each with its own cold storage room, and the saucier room where stocks are prepared in cauldrons. Upstairs, the kitchen is divided into one half for the menu restaurant and one for the à la carte restaurant. There is a separate sink just for glasses, because naturally, you need the right glass for each of the 4000 wine choices.
When you look at the menu, you immediately notice: Benjamin Chmura cooks modern haute cuisine, taking Tantris back to his roots: “I learned French produce cuisine from families like the Haeberlins and the Troisgros. Of course, I also love Asian food, but I would never cook like that, because there are other people who can do it much better. A chef should cook the way he is, not the way he wants to be.”
”A chef should cook the way he is, not the way he wants to be.”
Chmura particularly likes to use anything that comes from the sea. He gets his fish from a supplier in Brittany who is also a good friend. In his business, all fishing is done by hand and under sustainable conditions: “People often only talk about the chefs, but the real stars are the people who strive every day for the products we work with, sometimes in life-threatening conditions.”
And how is a new dish created at the Tantris? Nature comes up with some combinations herself, the products are in season at the same time – like the scallop and the truffle. Served with savoy cabbage and a buttery shortcrust pastry – that makes sense to Chmura: “Food is a memory for me, it's like listening to music: Sometimes you hear a song and it reminds you of an evening or a certain person. And it’s the same for me with dishes.”