Tanja Grandits On The Creative Proccess Behind Her Stunning Monochromatic Plates

We talk to the head chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Stucki in Basel, Switzerland

By Weets Goh | 03 May, 2018 | Food, People, Profiles
2018-05-03 17:31:01 2018-05-07 10:55:57

Known for her distinctive style of monochromatic plates and masterful use of herbs and spices, chef Tanja Grandits presents plates that harmoniously combine one main ingredient, aroma and color. The german-born chef was the first woman chef to be awarded two Michelin stars in Switzerland, and has headed restaurant Stucki—opened by the late, legendary Hans Stucki—since 2008. We spoke to the chef at her recent four-hands collaboration with chef Benjamin Halat of CURATE.

How do you go about creating a dish? Do you start with the spice, main ingredient, or colour in mind?

When I create a dish, I start with the main ingredient. If it’s a vegetable dish, the colour of the main vegetable ingredient gives the colour of the dish. For example, if the main ingredient is carrot, the colour theme of the dish would be orange. If I am creating a veal dish, I would think of pairing it with ingredients with complementing colours such as aubergine or purple carrots. The second thing I think about is spice, and then I’ll think about adding oils, nuts, fruits and herbs afterwards.

Do you have a large chart somewhere showing a whole list of spices and colours?

No, everything is in my mind and on my team’s mind as we have worked together for 10 years.

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Pyrenean Sheep Cheese, Blueberry Pickles, Poppy Seed, Juniper Potato

Your menu changes so often–what do you do when you’re stuck or can’t come up with any ideas?

Whenever I see an interesting ingredient, I make a little note in my notebook. My ideas are always in there. I never get stuck because I love what I do so much. I get ideas from everything be it shopping, cooking or eating.

What is a herb or spice that you haven’t worked with yet, but would like to?

I don’t think so. Anything new I hear about or find interesting, I want to use it immediately. I’m a curious person.

What’s your favourite aromatic to work with?

I love all citrus flavours. I also love ginger and fresh herbs like basil. I first discovered ginger in an Asian shop in Tübingen back when I was 18 years old. Tübingen is a medium-sized town in the German region of Baden-Württemberg where I grew up.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from daily life. I can’t say it is art or music or these things. I’m curious and keep an open mind in my daily life. Farmers also come to our restaurant and bring with them their produce in different stages. These are mainly my inspiration. I think inspiration can be found anywhere.

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Deer, ginger quinoa, red cabbage, blackberry pickles

 How did the color-based dishes start? 

I started creating colour-based dishes when I took over Restaurant Stucki in 2008. It’s our tenth anniversary this year. At that time, I found that ingredients with similar colours taste very nice together. I find it very helpful to work with a colour theme. I let the colours guide me when creating dishes. As the colour theme focuses on one main ingredient and one main flavour, it also makes it very easy for guests to get it.

You’ve been at the restaurant for a decade now–do you feel like the (metaphorical) spirit of Hans Stucki occupies the place?

Maybe more so at the beginning. There’s a good spirit and nice atmosphere in the house. Hans Stucki is respected as the godfather of all chefs in Switzerland. Everybody enjoyed talking to him about everything. Now we have created our own spirit of family and friendship in the house. I live there with my daughter on the second floor while the restaurant is on the first floor.

Which of the four seasons brings your favourite flavours?

Summer is my favourite time. All the herbs have a lot of sun to grow. There will be herb flowers and I love summer vegetables, tomatoes and fresh goat cheese.

What music is playing in the kitchen during prep/service?

We just play the radio. My team will pick the radio station they like at the moment.

Before writing about food, Weets wrote about music, and is still waiting patiently for the day he spontaneously develops synaesthesia so he can reconcile the two.