Chef Hartmann’s childhood experiences with his uncle helped inspire him to become a chef. His uncle had a farm with a hotel and restaurant attached. Hartmann explains that seeing his uncle working in the kitchen every day and making chocolate truffles with him as a child sparked his interest in cooking professionally.
Canadian Chefs Profiled: Stefan Hartmann, Vancouver B.C
Stefan Hartmann is a classically trained German chef with a Michelin star. He cooks modern German food using classical techniques at Bauhaus in Vancouver.
Chef Stefan Hartmann
Rather than picking out specific people that influenced him, Hartmann says that all of the chefs he worked for were like mentors for him. He points out that he thinks of a restaurant like a family and explains, “You spend more time at the restaurant than you do anywhere else. Sometimes you have a good family and sometimes you have a bad family but I was a lucky guy. I always had great chefs to work with.”
In terms of other experiences that the chef found influential, Hartmann talks about the chance to work at the best restaurants in the world and get access to the world’s best ingredients. He says, “I didn’t care if Arnold Schwarzenegger was sitting outside. I wasn’t into that, but when you came into the restaurant in the morning and grabbed a beautiful tomato or some fresh basil, it was something really special.”
The food at Bauhaus is firmly rooted in the German tradition but Hartmann says he’s taken dishes from the Austrian and Hungarian repertoires as well. He says that he’ll delineate the food from lunch service to dinner service. He explains, “At lunch we’ll do it in the classical way. You’ll get nicely cooked food that’s simple at a good price. In the evening, we'll do fine dining so I'll interpret the food in a modern way.”
Hartmann adds that while his approach is modern, he still favours classical cooking techniques. He uses the example of sous vide cooking versus traditional braising and says that he prefers the traditional approach because, “the sauce is so important and when you braise it in a vacuum pack, there’s no sauce. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but for some dishes it isn’t right.”
Hartmann says that, for him, the flavour of the dish is the most important factor. Or course, he says that presentation matters, but he and the restaurant’s owner Uwe Boll* agree that the taste of the dishes has to be paramount.
When it comes to creating new dishes, the chef says that the process really depends on the day for him. He explains that sometimes serendipity plays a role. Hartmann elaborates, “Sometimes you make a little mistake and you think about what you did wrong, but you realize that the mistake wasn’t that bad and you might do it that way again.” He adds that sometimes simply being around beautiful ingredients can spur the creative process.
Having a good relationship with farmers is crucial according to Hartmann. He says that it will take him two years to build up new relationships with farmers in Canada, but points out that when he was in Germany, he worked closely with the farmers that supplied him. He explains, “You could go to a farmer and you could ask him for what you wanted. If I wanted him to cut the lettuce way younger than he did for anyone else, I could go talk to him about it. You have to trust the farmers and they have to trust you.”
Being a good head chef is a balancing act for Hartmann. He says that there has to be a mixture of patience and firmness with the kitchen team. He elaborates by saying that he keeps a close watch on his cooks but, as long as they’re truthful with him, he’ll help them correct mistakes. He adds, “I’m always very patient with mistakes because I need to teach people.”
Another crucial trait for a head chef is being a part of the team in Hartmann’s opinion. He says, “Don’t be the guy who’s standing up there on his own, be part of the team! You are nothing without them and they are nothing without you.”
The accolade of a Michelin star is something chefs in Europe strive for. Hartmann explains, while it is an honour for him to have received the award, he’s a cook above all else. He adds that working towards an award is misguided and says, “You have to leave the restaurant at the end of the day and know that even if you make a mistake, you did the best you could. If you made a mistake, you think about what you can do better and the next day you do it.”
He adds, “If you’re only cooking for a Michelin star, what for? They don’t write your menu and they don’t pay your staff.”
Hartmann’s love for cooking is what keeps him motivated. He says that he’s thirty-eight years old and he’s been cooking since he was sixteen. He says, “When you see me with great produce, I still look like a sixteen year old!” He also talks about the fact that unlike the movie industry, for example, he gets instant feedback on what he does. He says, “ It can be painful, but on the other hand, every day is a new day in this business.”
He concludes by saying, “Of course, there days that you don’t want to stand in the kitchen from eight a.m. until midnight. Some days you hate it but then you open up a fresh fish case and see the most beautiful turbot you’ve ever seen in your life. After twenty two years, you still get excited.”
*Uwe Boll is a German film director famous for his horror movies and video game film adaptations. He owns Bauhaus restaurant.
One of Chef Hartmann's dessert creations.