Those who enjoy cooking, or at least eating, will recognise this reaction to food that looks as appetizing as it smells: almost finished, just a little longer. Then it’s on your plate and then – finally! – the first spoonful enters your mouth. Delightful!
In this instance we’re talking about Shakshuka. This dish, which Israel fans at least will be aware of, uses “sunken eggs” – in this case in tomatoes, paprika and garlic. German cuisine is still a little unfamiliar with Shakshuka – so it’s all the more unusual that this Israeli delicacy has even made it’s way onto the canteen menu.
So why the effort? Is it not enough to put classics like currywurst with fries or spaghetti bolognese on the canteen menu, to fill up the largest number of people with the least amount of effort? Why not play it safe? “It’s no longer enough for people to just be full”, head chef Florian Kerl (32) recognises. “Varied and balanced cuisine is becoming more and more important to more and more people. Whether that’s at home or at work. Therefore we don’t want to offer our guests the same classics all the time.”
A new way of working in the canteen
Eating can not only make us happy, but also more productive in the process - and companies know that too. And so “New Work” – the change in values towards more flexibility at work – and the new working environment are not stopping at the rooms of the community canteen. “Investments in our canteen concept are investments in our employees”, recognises Katy Roewer, who in her role as Director of Services at OTTO is something of a gastronomy manager on campus. And these employees should not just simply be full after their lunch break, but happy, too.
Good nutrition for employees is also a subject for outside of company walls: “Within the labour market everyone is raving about the much-cited ‘war for talents’ – in many sectors, companies are competing for the best new talent. Especially in the digital economy. When people choose an employer in today’s market, alongside aspects like salary or position, the soft factors are also included in the decision-making process. With our gastronomy concept we want to offer applicants a clear incentive to choose our company”, says Roewer.
The new food concept is also a clear incentive for the 17 members of staff of the “Elbe”: they prepare all the dishes using front cooking. Everything is prepared fresh in front of the guests at the decentralised station.
When choosing ingredients, Florian Kerl values freshness, regional produce and sustainable purchasing. “Meat quality and animal welfare are directly linked”, the head chef stresses. Therefore he and his team are keeping the share of convenience food to a minimum. “Pre-breaded schnitzel is not something you’ll see here!”. They prefer to cut large pieces of fried meat directly in front of the guests – and are satisfied if this causes mouths to water: “The ‘show factor’ is a significant element of front cooking”, grins Kerl. Another is direct communication: those who have questions about the delicacies that are stewing, simmering and sizzling away in the dishes and pans can ask the chef directly. Transparency on a plate.
More restaurant, less canteen
After working several jobs within Hamburg’s hotel and gastronomy industries, Florian Kerl came to work at OTTO in 2013. He has been leading the team at the “Elbe” for around two years. Hamburg’s famous river was the namesake for the approximately 2,000 square-metre canteen with 750 seats, which after a complete renovation and new opening in October 2017 is much more reminiscent of a chic restaurant in Hamburg’s HafenCity than a lunch break room at a major company: the dining area is divided into multiple sections. Long community tables are not just there for eating, but also for interaction and communication, including outside of the lunch break. In this way the canteen also wants to be a modern meeting space, which underpins the change in working practices.
Hospitality: in the “Elbe”, colleagues eat with colleagues
It’s no coincidence that Kochwerk, the in-house operator of the “Elbe” and the other canteens and bistros on the OTTO campus, chose the slogan “a guest amongst colleagues”.
“We are fully committed to both humanity and hospitality”, says Kerl. That also includes giving recipe tips to inspired guests. So what makes his Shakshuka so irresistible that it has now become a regular feature on the “Elbe” menu? Kerl lists the familiar ingredients – and laughs. Like any chef, he doesn’t want to let us peer too far into his pan: “we need to keep a few secrets for ourselves, of course.”