【DE】“My bartenders spend 50% of their working time cooking”  

Kopps is one of the top destinations for vegan cuisine in Berlin – but it is also increasingly making a name for itself as a bar – and the food accompaniment with and without alcohol, made to a high degree from homemade drinks, also sets the quality bar high. Jan-Peter Wulf sat down at the bar with bar manager Jannick Stillger.

 

How wonderfully the beverage accompaniment in the bar-restaurant ‘Kopps’ aromatically “nudges” a dish in one direction or the other and how elaborately it is made at the same time is particularly evident at the end of our visit: behind the dish of blueberries with shiitake mushrooms, cloudberry, sesame and chocolate are two champagne flutes. One filled with the alcoholic accompaniment and one with the non-alcoholic variety. The “without” tingles sweetly and sourly; together with the food, the result is an invigorating, almost refreshing ensemble in the mouth. The “with” in turn frames the fruity-hearty dish. In one case, corresponding-supplementing, in another underlining. Jamaican rum, forest blueberry from pure mother juice, salted caramel, a shot of organic cola, two types of herbal bitters and a fermented milk punch form the complex food-accompanying drink with alcohol. The fermented milk punch is also used in the alcohol-free version.

 

Little trade secrets

 

“We’re just a little bit proud of this one, it’s our own development,” explains bar manager Jannick Stillger. Orange and apricot are refined with soy-based plant milk and then stored for a fortnight, during which time the liquid ferments using an in-house mother ferment until a tasty and intense fermented drink has formed. How this works exactly, remains a company secret, Stillger adds with a smile.

 

Wine fining for the drink “without”

 

The accompaniment to the third of the seven courses, Jerusalem artichoke with hazelnut, wheat and autumn trumpets, also illustrates how much know-how and work is invested in pairing here: A Scheurebe is added to the glass as an alcoholic accompaniment, and in the non-alcoholic one, too, in principle, namely replicated. The bar refines a single-varietal Scheurebe grape juice in organic quality with rosemary, lemon peel and cinnamon – notes that can be clearly tasted from the wine. But not only that: “We also give the non-alcoholic drink a wine look,” says Stillger, “a nice sheen, so that the guest gets the same value.” To achieve this, the grape juice is heated, pectinase is added and the turbidity is squeezed out in the centrifuge.

 

Forecast and food pairing

 

From the kitchen comes a forecast of which dishes will soon be on the menu (this happens on a rolling basis). Stillger and his team use this to develop the accompanying drinks. “Food pairing is practically a science. So you can plan and write it down before you’ve even tasted the dish, because you know which flavours will go.” In the end, he says, it’s all about fine-tuning – how intense is the dish, is it spicy or does it have more subtle notes? Do you want to resonate with it on one level or create something corresponding? The latter is shown very well in the non-alcoholic drink “with celery and porcini mushrooms”, as it is functionally called on the menu: Merlot grape juice, marjoram and celery are used for this, as well as ‘barbecue’ (what exactly is hidden behind this component, is again kept secret). The strong, typical BBQ note that you smell when you drink it complements the hearty dish almost perfectly.  “For me, it’s just the right thing. Craft at its limit,” says Stillger. He doesn’t look much at what other restaurant bars are doing in this respect but trusts his own skills and his desire to try out new things.

From the kitchen to the bar

 

At this point, it should be noted that Stillger has a bit of a home advantage, or rather a lot of prior knowledge. Before he became a bartender, he was a chef himself. He learned the profession in 2013 at the Roomers Hotel in Frankfurt, which is also known for its excellent bar. He then moved to the ‘Moriki’ and was also a member of the national youth team of chefs. In 2017, he came to Berlin with the Gekko Group, which operates the Roomers and the Moriki, among others – in their new project ‘Provocateur’ as a working student chef, in parallel with his self-study in business administration with a focus on hospitality.

 

Almost 50% order the accompaniment in non-alcoholic form

 

“At Provocateur, we served a small food pairing with the cocktails, and that’s when I first came into contact with it,” he recalls. And after a few months, he changed sides, moving from the kitchen of the hotel restaurant ‘Golden Phoenix’ to the bar of the Charlottenburg hotel. When he moved to ‘Kopps’ about two and a half years ago, he also helped set the course for the two beverage accompaniments of the menu, which have been served exclusively since then. “Non-alcoholic drinks have become a real hobbyhorse for me,” says Stillger. And meanwhile, the choice of accompaniment is almost fifty-fifty.

 

Does it pay off?

 

But is it worth all the effort that goes into the accompanying drinks? Besides the above, a warm mix of cauliflower, oats, white truffle and nutmeg foamed à la minute into a kind of cappuccino to accompany the potato with elderberry and “caviar of the field” or a non-alcoholic cocktail of jujube (Chinese red date), Assam, verjus and “bubble tea” pearls of vegetable caviar would be further examples of the investment in time and ingredients. It does: “We sell 90% of cocktails from the bar menu in advance and almost always a drink accompaniment with the menu,” Stillger explains. As of September 2022, the accompaniment is 52 euros for seven drinks (both with and without alcohol), so that with a full course plus a drink beforehand, around 150 euros can already be booked – and that is absolutely justified for the overall culinary service that guests receive here. A restaurant that is almost always very well filled is proof that the concept, and thus the calculation, is working.

 

Vegetable Cuisine

 

Launched almost eleven years ago with many meat substitutes in what was then still a rather rough vegan restaurant world, “Kopps is now without a doubt one of the city’s addresses when it comes to plant-based fine dining. Vegetable cuisine,” as Stillger puts it so nicely. But the concept also includes working sustainably and has done so from the very beginning. Green electricity has been used since the opening. Water consumption in the sanitary facilities has been significantly reduced through flow control. Bottled water as a beverage has been completely eliminated; water is treated and freshly tapped. The menu in front of us is made of meadow grass instead of wood. The products are of organic quality and neither in the kitchen nor at the bar are products with animal ingredients used. “We work a lot with regional products and with micro-producers – right down to the vintner, who also makes a spirit that he otherwise doesn’t sell in big quantities,” says Stillger. The reuse of leftovers is also part of the process: “I don’t need the pulp, but for cooking, the pulp of a green apple, for example, is almost better than the whole fruit and very tasty. There’s not much more needed to make a great sorbet out of it. And from the sugar in which the Jerusalem artichoke was preserved, we make a syrup for the bar.”

 

“Sustainability has become a tool for many”

 

There are many small and large building blocks that create an ecologically and economically sustainable overall picture here. “Sustainability has become a tool lately,” Stillger finds. While it is commendable that so many are concerned with this topic, it must also be done properly, not just symbolically or even as greenwashing. How consistently it is done here, is also shown by the fact that ‘Kopps’ owner Ilhami Terzi is currently training to become a sustainability consultant.

 

Cocktail accompaniment: be inspired or simply enjoy it

 

From all this, the attention to detail, the passion and the consistency with which work is carried out at the bar and in the kitchen of the ‘Kopps’, guests can take away a lot and be inspired. But they can also “just” enjoy themselves and spend a great evening in a beautiful restaurant with optically and gustatorily appealing food and drink. And that’s just how it should be. And who knows: what the ‘Kopps’ and also the bar-restaurants Bonvivant and Golvet already offer, namely a dining experience with cocktails, will probably soon be a beautiful new standard rather than the exception.

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