Gastowners – Stefan Hartmann
I met chef Stefan Hartmann at a time when we were both going through writer’s block. Relating to someone on a personal level of self-inflicted purgatory made me feel a bit better and opened up some space for empathy. I recognized the size of the shoes Hartmann had to fill as Vancouver’s first Michelin chef with the new fine dining restaurant, Bauhaus, at 1 East Cordova only days away from opening.
“I’m so overwhelmed right now,” said Hartmann who just recently arrived from Germany. “Things are happening so fast.”
“I was supposed to write a new menu over the past two days and there has been like a block,” he said motioning toward his head. “I hate it, but that is how it is, but you can’t be creative all the time.”
Although he already has completed several menus for the Bauhaus portfolio, Stefan doesn’t feel as if he is over-preparing since he plans to change the menu every four to six weeks on the basis of in-season fare. He is also overseeing many of the major renovations at the location that once housed Gastown’s beloved Boneta.
Added to all that is the pressure of meeting the expectations set up when film director and Bauhaus financier, Uwe Boll, told the media that he was opening what was to be “the best restaurant in Vancouver.”
“I’m nervous as shit right now,” Stefan admitted. “It better be great. That’s what everybody expects. I have never been a person who says great things about myself. I just really love what I’m doing.”
“As a new guy in a new city you don’t just come in and say, ‘I’m going to be the best,’” he added. “Also, when you go out with a beautiful person you may have a perfect moment, but can you have the same moment the next morning over coffee? So there is no such thing as a best restaurant. I think we will have a really beautiful place. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, and some won’t care. I can only be there and do my job.”
Stefan says he can handle the pressure, and that it is worth it have the experience of practically building Bauhaus from the ground up. He is also looking forward to reclaiming the joy of cooking.
“I lost a lot of money on one of my restaurants four years ago so I closed them both after awhile, “ he said. “My Michelin star restaurant ran really well but my second restaurant did not. Every mistake you could make I made at that restaurant. Soon I was having no fun at all.”
He went on to explain that he considers the fun component integral to loving what one does. “What I like about food and the handcraft of cooking is the mixture of being highly professional but also having lots of fun,” he said. “Cooking used to be always very serious. Being a chef you had to be serious and very strict.”
I asked if that was why chefs on culinary shows screamed at the contestants even though they were usually only three feet away. Stefan just rolled his eyes and shook his head at the reference to Gordon Ramsey.
“Yelling is a normal thing in the kitchen because it’s so noisy,” he explained. “We have about 10 different words in German for ‘yelling’. You have to be loud and you have to be recognized. Just imagine you’re sitting somewhere paying $200 for food and the excuse that the food was not good is…’sorry’. That’s not acceptable.”
When I asked about his Michelin star he shook his head again, explaining that the experience he gained through the success and the failure of his own restaurants in Germany make him even more confident about what he is planning to do in Gastown.
“I am not interested in awards anymore,” Stefan said. “I have seen it; I have done it. For me, this restaurant needs to grow each year. Everyone is excited about what is going to happen in the first three months. First three months? I just want to do a good job. At six months we are going to be better, after 12 months we are going to be good, after 18 months we are going to be great, after two years I want us to be fantastic. You should never plan a restaurant for a year, you should plan it for five years because we want to be something great, and greatness will not be achieved in three months. It takes time.”
I asked why he believed so strongly that this new venture would sustain that kind of longevity in a neighbourhood where businesses that aren’t a good fit often meet a timely demise.
He explained that he feels that the city could benefit from some more fine dining since Vancouverites love their food and that he plans to bring something very different to the table with Bauhaus.
“It is going to be high end, but I always said that we were never going to be a serious restaurant, so it’s going to be fun too,” he said. “It’s not finalized, but I had an idea to have a cigarette girl, you know like from the 20s, with a tray, but fill it with pastries, pralines and truffles…even if I run around with a tray, I don’t care!”
I asked Stefan how he felt about calling Vancouver home for what could be quite a while. My question was met with a big smile and warm praise.
“Gastown has welcomed me so much,” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t say anything bad about the people here. Nothing!”
He explained that Bill from Nutturno was the first chef he met. “Bill was describing a drink with fois gras infusion,” he said. “I told him we were opening Bauhaus and we started drinking. He then introduced me to a lot of people. This was two weeks after I arrived.”
“My girlfriend lives in Gastown…everything for me is in Gastown right now,” he continued. “I love the people here. They are all creative, and not just resting in what they’ve got. They all want more and even if they have achieved something already, they are still getting better and better.”
By Dani Kremeniuk
Photos by Todd Duncan