In conversation with Jeannine Kessler, general manager of Restaurant Horváth in Berlin-Kreuzberg, about where she draws inspiration from, goals she would like to achieve with Die Gemeinschaft and the importance of comprehensive nutrition education.
What is special about the Horváth?
The Horváth has a mysterious authenticity. The rooms here spray an identity that is simply based on the history of the restaurant, which looks back on almost 100 years of restaurant activity. People who were here in the seventies still know the “Exil” – at that time it was the favorite place of David Bowie, Boys and many other celebrities and was well-known in the city.
The two previous owners of the Horváth were Austrians, as was my business partner and partner in life Sebastian Frank, while I am a Berliner – we are now uniting all of that here and that is what makes it so coherent. We take the things that were already here and implement them in a new way, because we see the history that is here in the walls a bit like our prehistory.
You founded Die Gemeinschaft together with Nobelhart & Schmutzig. What was your motivation for founding the association?
We wanted to create a network with the community that constantly inspires us and at the same time challenges us to constantly question ourselves and think smarter about certain processes. Challenging in the sense that we never tire of becoming more sustainable, better, more innovative. For this, it is indispensable to look beyond one’s own horizon and not only at oneself, but always at the big picture in context.
Are there things that have changed for you as a result of working together within the community?
Definitely. We are in an exchange with other restaurateurs and producers that is more transparent and sincere than ever before, and we are also beginning to understand agricultural processes better and to incorporate them into our daily work, which is beneficial for all sides. Therefore, the merger is ultimately beneficial for everyone. Our network within the community is so diverse that we can ask for or provide expertise in many different directions, we simply have completely different possibilities in a joint network and finds a greater hearing. This allows us to tackle and change things that might feel overwhelming as an individual in a completely different way. And the nice side effect is that many colleagues have become friends.
What goals do you want to achieve with the community?
I believe that becoming a non-profit is a big step forward for us. We have created a foundation that will carry us through the next few years and there are now simply more and better opportunities to think the community forward through Friederike and her team.
For me, there is also still a lot of potential in the network around the community, as there are many people who sympathize with us. If we pick up those, we can create an even stronger alliance that can also achieve a lot in nutrition education, for example – we are currently planning the Community Academy for this. The topic of nutrition education for children is particularly important to me, and is also strongly linked to communal catering in schools and day-care centres. There is clearly an educational aspect to consider here: What knowledge does a child actually need to be able to eat good food as an adult? And how do we get the children to learn these things now? How do we train them to eat good, seasonal food instead of supermarket strawberries in December?
As we grow, we should definitely look beyond our core issues and represent issues that are relevant to society as a whole and that fulfill a non-profit aspect. Because we have the aspiration to change something in society beyond our network.
What issues are particularly important to you that should change in the food system as a whole?
All the things that are now being initiated with the academy are investments in the future – and I think it’s really important that we focus now, bundle our energy and benefit from it later. The people we train and educate at the academy will take the knowledge they have learned back to their own fields and shape new tastes, which builds on each other. These people will then one day show others what good food is and how it can be processed. We want to help define what training as a cook, restaurant or hotel specialist looks like nowadays and ask ourselves how we can modernize it.
And what has been on our agenda for a long time is to strengthen the logistics network in the entire region, especially to significantly improve the opportunities for small producers. The market hall is already doing a disservice here, but we could also do more together.
“We have the ambition to make a difference in society beyond our network”.
How important is cooperation with other businesses for you, both gastronomic and agricultural?
Especially the current time of the lockdown has shown me how important close contact with other restaurants is. We gave each other tips, discussed things at eye level and tried to start joint actions – we are simply an industry that has always been rather under the radar for many and that is now – without a lobby – in a pretty bad position. And deserves much more appreciation. Showing what we do and how valuable our work actually is for the city is easier to implement collectively. It really helped me to be able to exchange ideas with other colleagues.
One of our next big goals is to expand this exchange on an agricultural level, but unfortunately Sebastian, as head chef, always lacks a bit of time. We still have real potential for development here, which we hope to be able to unfold after our rebuild. So far, we have always ordered in bundles via the market hall, but in the long term we want to go one step further and get closer to the producers. This year we started visiting producers, which was really good. To build this up even further, we also want to strengthen our team.
How can the overall cooperation between gastronomy and agriculture be reinforced?
I believe that we must create symbioses that benefit everyone. We must find points of contact where it makes sense for all sides to join forces. This is often much more sustainable because less money or energy is wasted.
And education always plays a role. You simply must show people what added value it has for them to spend more energy on certain things. If you can show the added value for the farm, the environment, and each person, it will become established in the long run. A great example was the farm visits and product rounds. They bring people into contact, and that’s really important.
Horváth, René Riis