When you think of standout cuisine, the kind that wins Michelin stars, what comes to mind? Certainly not a tiny town of 16,000-odd people tucked away somewhere in the Black Forest. This is a part of the world known more for witches handing out deadly apples, big and bad wolves, and lost children using a trail of breadcrumbs to get back home. The thickets of looming trees in this region block out the sun create a foreboding darkness. The Romans called it the 'Silva Nigra' and it has inspired Grimm folklore and all those childhood fairy tales full of scary characters we are all so familar with. But few know that the region is also home to fragrant herbs, edible flowers, exotic mushrooms, and a variety of wild fruits (including cherries for the region’s infamous chocolate-cherry gateau, the Black Forest cake), all of which have been used to great effect by contemporary regional chefs to create an outstanding haute cuisine.
The town we are talking about is Baiersbronn. Located in the state of Baden-Württemberg, close to the French border, it boasts not one, but eight Michelin stars, making it a must-stop on the fine dining trails of Europe.
The Food of Swabia
This area was part of Swabia, or Schwabenland, a cultural, historic and linguistic region in southwestern Germany. Traditional Swabian dishes are simple and packed with flavour. For instance, the spätzle, a popular noodle or pasta-like dish made with eggs, flour, nutmeg, and very distinctive to Swabia. The word is derived from the Swabian ‘spatz’ or 'little sparrow', to describe the shapes formed ranging from ‘small sparrows’ to ‘small buttons’. Its variations can be found in neighbouring countries like Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland, but it is the Swabian spätzle that has been recognised by the EU with a protected Geographical Indication status.
The Starry Trail
The Michelin story started when Schwarzwaldstube won the first Michelin star. This gourmet restaurant is located in the 200-year-old Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn. “Schwarzwald” is the Black Forest and the menu here includes ingredients sourced from local farms or foraged from the forest. You must sign up for the cooking lessons at the hotel, and pick up the ropes for creating the region’s famous gateau, the Black Forest chocolate cake.
Then there’s the restaurant in Hotel Bareiss which makes dishes using ingredients sourced from their farm as well as with mushrooms and herbs from the forest. Another Michelin-starred place is Schlossberg which also uses forest-sourced ingredients to great effect (think pine, and even the stinging nettle).
In the future, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients will play a big role in menus. Restaurants will increasingly use ethically grown, sustainable foods that do not impact the environment and keep not just the planet, but our health in a good place. Much like these simple and delicately flavoured dishes in which you get to taste the bounty of the forest.