culinarious • food adventures • writing

Martin Maier


A traditional churros stand in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Freshly made, warm, sweet and salty and people are queuing to grab some fatty but yet delicious goodies.

Cheesy Berlin

Cheesy Berlin

Oh Porto ...


Only a few years ago, few had ever heard of "Francesinha". And that was OK, there was no need to have ever bothered. Now all this has changed and people in and around Porto pride themselves with a new street food delicacy immigrants have brought back to the north of Portugal. "Ha Francesinha", that's what you find in any snack bar, or worse, even restaurants in this fascinating city.

Now, some say that Portugal is not a culinary heaven despite its already twelve Michelin starred restaurants (with mostly chefs from other countries in charge). And even so Portwine has long been rejected as an old people's favourite, mostly appealing (historically and today) to UK citizens, it has to be said that neither Portuguese cooking is necessarily uninteresting nor is Portwine particularly wrong.

In fact, Portugal's wines are among the finest in the world with varieties unheard of in other parts of the world. It is more due to the limited volumes produced every year that only few wines, usually the not-so-good choices, make it to other parts of the world. The Portugese tend to keep the good ones for themselves - clever move, I have to admit!

Portugese cooking often has a rustic charm but can be fairly solid and tasty. It is, yet again, typical that the great cooking cannot be found in the larger cities but rather in the countryside. And those who have ever tasted the incomparable Barroso beef will find it hard to go back to the beef we find on the shelves at home or in restaurants.

Having said all this, it is difficult to understand that a fully loaded "Tostas Mistas" is turned into a soggy something by pouring a "secret sauce" based on beer and tomatoes over it, drowning anything that might have been tasty a few seconds before. All the layers of meat and cheese inside a "Francesinha" are challenging enough for anyone, but the dripping sauce takes out all the beauty and simplicity of a "Tostas Mistas" with its classic queijo and fiambre, the ever present food choices in Portugal.

But "Francesinhas" are a popular choice by locals as much as tourists. Admittedly, every region has one (or more) of these crazy local dishes you cannot fully appreciate if not genetically prepared ready to do so. Why would anyone add vinegar to crisps? Deep frying a boiled egg with sausage like in a Scotch Egg? Have I mentioned Haggis? Alas, the "Francesinha" is no less obscure than many other "classics from other parts of the world.


Starry Nights in Portugal

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to dig in to some Michel star cooking near Lisbon. Guided by the acclaimed French Chef Antoine Westermann, the menu is executed and perfected by Chef Vincent Farges. The wine list is impressive and has great choices from all regions of Portugal (and also other parts of the world, if wanted), but the pleasure doesn't end there. But it's not just the wines, but the presence of award-winning Sommelier Inácio Loureiro makes dining a huge pleasure. The food is inspired by the French Nouvelle Cuisine and applies its finest techniques in the execution of any courses, although it is sometimes missing a more risky touch, at times, a more daring touch of Portuguese inspirations where it tends to be a bit conservative. However, you get a first class experience, great food, excellent service. I'm in!

Eating Stars

"Talking about a revolution" - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

It's been a a grayish and unpleasantly rainy mid-November afternoon, England had lost (once again) in a friendly against Germany the night before, when Jamie Oliver welcomed the crowd with his familiar "Hi guys".

Jamie Oliver has become a global brand, no doubt about that. These days, you not only find him in bookstores and on magazine shelves, but also any department store stocks kitchen equipment carrying his name on the label; knives, pots, pans, salt varieties, boards - you name it. And yet there is something truly authentic and passionate about him. The technically well justified label "celebrity chef" does not quite do him justice when he appears with his unpretentious boyish smile.

The event was held alongside a discrete dinner later that day with some major players in the German food industry and some other big names. He is reaching out to these (of course, not revealing any of the people involved) to finally get more of them supporting his campaign for better food.

"Pounds, Dollars, Euros - that's what makes companies change."

He is business man enough to know that his name does open doors but Jamie is carefully choosing his words, knowing too well what he is doing taking on the food industry. He is also aware of the fact that the greatest power is with the consumers. Companies will only ever change when it's affecting their profits. "Pounds, Dollars, Euros - that's what makes companies change." As simple as that.

The issue of obesity is a serious one, affecting most modern societies. Even if the US seem to be the worst affected, other countries are not as far behind as they might think. "I am not a very academic person but I understand the figures", he says. The issue of obesity and diabetes is to a great deal based on the food we eat, but with a long-term effect, "making people's lives some ten, fifteen years shorter". But unlike other murderers, you cannot come with guns or send drones.

If he had only one wish, it would be as simple as this: "Every kid leaving school at the age of 16 should have ten recipes to stake his life on, just imagine the difference!" So it is back to the communities as a starting point for change.

"If you can't cook and have no money, you are are really screwed."

"Let's be honest", he continues, "the first 1,5 years with the "Ministry of Food" were like really shit, ya know". He had to admit though that he has, more than once, seen school lunches in the UK far worse than what any fast food joint offers. And also poor areas where fresh ingredients were used and lunches turned out to be significantly better than in some far more prosperous areas. "But if you can't cook and have no money, you are are really screwed."

His continuous efforts with the "Ministry of Food" seemed to have paid off after a while. In the UK, McDonald's has made some significant changes in their meals (free range eggs) over the past seven years, whereas, according to Jamie, nothing has happened in the US, despite all his efforts to raise awareness with his campaigning for better school lunches over there. 

Now it is the third time round with the follow-up to his "Ministry of Food" campaign. The "Food Revolution Day" is coming in May 2014 and he is challenging Germany to play a bigger role there. In fact, Germany is embarrassingly misrepresented in the with only three so-called "ambassadors" as of yet, that there is room for improvement. It will be the third of its kind, and eventually it is now getting bigger with more companies getting involved. 

"I do a lot of things, I probably shouldn't be doing"

"I think 'responsibility' is the key word here". He has been extremely lucky with his career, something he had never expected. With all his businesses, dozens of restaurants to look after, it is hard to believe he still manages to get weekends off, devoting them solely to his family. He spends 40 days a year filming, most of the of the other time on what he is really good at. "Cooking, I think, and working on books".

"I'm an impatient person", he claims. Growing his first own vegetables and herbs in his garden only a few years ago taught him patience. "And I do a lot of things, I probably shouldn't be doing", to some smaller businesses he is dealing with outside the public eye. But it is important o make mistakes, he believes, "we don't make enough mistakes, they are great for learning". 

As soon as he gets going on recipes and cooking, sharing ideas for his Christmas Dinner with 24 members of his family present, he immediately lightens up. He pulls some ideas off his sleeve and comes up with details and techniques off his sleeve, and his passion for food is as authentic as ever. 

We all should cook more. And better food, using better ingredients. Right now. Go. 

Find out more about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day

The event was hosted by Apple and will be published as a video podcast shortly. 

Lafer lightens lunch

German celebrity chef Johan Lafer about school lunch and other projects that he is involved with.

[coming soon]

"And just a drizzle of ..."

Why cookbooks often fail their readers

Eating out