D.he Danube rises from a neoclassical source pot in front of the Princely Fürstenberg Castle in Donaueschingen and is sent from there on a 2800-kilometer journey, on which it touches more countries than any other rivers on earth. Your water never comes back to Donaueschingen, but everyone does if they throw a coin over their shoulder into the spring pot. So says the legend, and it is true. The proof of this lies in front of us on the table in the form of a highly concentrated veal broth with a miniature ravioli, an onion fritters with crème fraîche that are tender to the point of fragility, a mariachis-like corn taco with tuna mousse and an aristocratic Norway lobster with passepierre algae, lime caviar and cucumber Relish – four fabulous greetings from the kitchen, which attest to their creator a culinary love of homeland as well as cosmopolitanism.
In his childhood, Manuel Ulrich threw many coins into the source of the Danube and thus tied himself forever to his native city. In the Hotel Öschberghof in front of the gates he learned to cook because he loved to hang around in the kitchen from an early age, then went to Lech am Arlberg for a winter season, to Christoph Rüffer’s “Haerlin” in Hamburg for a year and a half Year to Torsten Michel in the Baiersbronn “Schwarzwaldstube”. In 2019, drunk with homesickness, he returned to the Öschberghof as head chef of the “Ösch Noir”, which had meanwhile been transformed into a luxurious golf, wellness and conference hotel. So he does not share his longing for the big wide world with the Danube. Instead, he has long been living in the house he grew up in and never wants to leave because happiness is so close to him.
A chamber concert doesn’t need a Tschingderassabum
Since last March, Ulrich has consisted of two Michelin stars, which he cooked for himself in a very short time despite only anecdotal work experience in top foreign kitchens. Now he is performing a parfait of duck liver with rhubarb and almonds as a culinary chamber concert for three voices without any Tschingderassabum: the almond coats the liver, is roasted and processed into cream, the rhubarb comes as jus, chutney, compote and marinated with thyme on the table – everything together leads to the ideal harmonization of sweetness and acidity, power and finesse, intensity and lightness. And it is with a light heart that Ulrich dispenses with old-fashioned clutter such as the ineradicable brioche.
In the best moments of his menu, he always succeeds in this interplay of concentration and variation, this juggling with a few ingredients in a variety of forms, for example with the triple oyster. It lies poached on an airy pillow made of potato foam, raw in a potato and chive shell on kohlrabi sticks and as a tartare in a wonton made of kohlrabi, where an oyster nage with dill and chive oil marries the whole thing into a beautiful aromatic trinity. This is no spectacular cooking for the showroom, no avant-garde alchemist’s kitchen for the front pages, but a clever and precise, as plausible as astonishing craftsmanship with the means of classic haute cuisine.
No chance against the taste Goliath
The char from Black Forest breeding has to experience that even in Donaueschingen there is no master from heaven, but sometimes the child falls into the spring well. The tender animal is cooked glassy at minimal temperature and thus even more sensitive, but then put in a crispy batter like in heavy armor. And for the unequal duel, there are also glazed radishes, grated radishes, blanched peas, a raven-black fish jus and a flavored Goliath of pea puree against the char, who has no chance of winning this plate tournament.
Manuel Ulrich achieved amazing things at the age of 34 and found his way almost all by himself. It is in the nature of things that it is not yet the culinary royal route for all courses. The roasted sweetbreads with veal head ragout, morels and spinach in all sorts of variations may be heavy fare for sensitive gourmets on the edge of the aromatic over-intensification, a somewhat too loud competition of tastes for the plate hegemony. But the next course, the lamb from the Swabian Alb, is a revelation of aroma harmony and technical mastery: the back is roasted pink and almost melts on the tongue because of its tenderness. The leg and shoulder fill a cannelloni with a cream of dried tomatoes as a Bolognese ragout, whereby the proportion between the batter and the filling comes close to Euclid’s golden ratio. There is also a present, but not rumbling entourage, a tomato compote, a pecorino hollandaise, a cream of black garlic and seared white asparagus, the consistency of which is exactly that of the lamb, because it was previously cooked sous vide for a very short time – One minute in lively heat in brown butter is enough for the ideal completion, because every second longer would make the capricious stick vegetables become sloppy.
As immeasurable as the chef’s love of home is, he categorically rejects it as a dogma at his stove, where the Baiersbronn char is allowed to live in peaceful coexistence with the Norway lobster from the Faroe Islands. And for dessert he serves us exoticism made from pistachio mousse, matcha ganache, miso ice cream and marinated lime fillets – made from lots of ingredients that not even the Danube gets to know on its long journey through ten countries. Maybe Manuel Ulrich is right after all. Maybe you don’t always have to travel to find happiness.