Johannes King (53) – the king of Sylt
Without a doubt, Johannes King runs one of the world's finest and most beautiful Michelin-star rated restaurants/hotels. We visited him at this incredible property, Söl’ringhof, in Rantum on the island of Sylt.
“This here,” says Johannes King, pointing to a caricature with a prominent nose, “was drawn for me by Frank Schätzing.” The best-selling author and friend of King’s, penned his best-selling novel The Swarm at Söl’ring Hof, King’s hotel.
Kings real-life distinct nose may have been a factor in his ability to sniff out success: his hotel and restaurant “Söl’ring Hof” in Rantum (on the German island of Sylt) is recognized as one of the world’s finest and most beautiful Michelin-starred restaurants. The star chef has held his two Michelin stars for nearly 13 years.
“Life in the Black Forest was like paradise.“
In order to fully appreciate the culinary artistry of Johannes King, guests need a dose of curiosity and plenty of time. Also some money since the cheapest room will set you back €450.00. In return, you can expect an exceptionally stylish country abode boasting a thatched roof and a prime seaside location, as well as a restaurant that brings together regional cuisine and top-class culinary artistry in perfect harmony. Sophisticated and authentic, King combines the finest rarities with simple ingredients for an indescribable taste sensation.
Anyone looking to understand King and his culinary style should start by going back to his childhood on a farm in the Black Forest. Johannes was the youngest of 10 children. “Life in the Black Forest was like paradise. We had vegetables and an orchard; we made butter and buttermilk. We had bees, rabbits, chickens, pigs and cows. We had to chop beet, bring in the hay, and feed the cows seven days a week. I was a paper boy at the age of seven, delivering newspapers at 5.30 in the morning. That certainly kept my feet on the ground!“
It’s easy to see why King’s childhood made him the man he is today. He often refers to it, telling stories about slaughtering animals and curing meat on his family farm. As the smallest, he was the only one who could fit inside the cramped chimney to hang up ribs and ham for smoking – experiences that King will never forget “This had a huge influence on me. What does cold smoke or cured pork belly smell like? You had respect for the meat that eventually ended up on your plate. You knew the animal, were there when it was slaughtered, and had hung it up in the chimney. This gives you a certain appreciation for food, and you don’t waste anything.“
The 53-year-old chef very rarely uses anything other than local produce, although that doesn’t automatically translate into quality: “If a farmer uses the wrong soil or grows the wrong potatoes, it is still a regional product, but it doesn’t stop it from tasting bad. That’s why quality and culinary identity comes first,” explains King. He points out that he doesn’t want to eat a shrimp soup in Bavaria, or Weisswurst in Sylt. “For me, culinary identity is everything that grows within a region in a particular season and that gives the region its signature dishes.“
“If you want to do something new, you have to improve on what has come before – otherwise, you might as well not bother.“
King aims to create dishes that are indicative of the season and region in which they are eaten. This does not, however, limit creativity in the slightest: “Quite the opposite: we are challenged to be creative, and our diet is much healthier when we eat produce in harmony with the cycles of nature. After all, this is when the nutritional value is greatest,” adds King.
When selecting produce, the star chef leaves nothing to chance. Fruit, vegetables, and herbs are grown in his own cottage garden. Fish and seafood are supplied by local fishermen or are caught from the waters of the North Sea using the restaurant’s own fishing boat. It is extremely important to King that none of his fish swim in waters south of Hamburg. This presents a challenge, as buckling, gurnard, and lemon sole are not exactly high on the wish lists of diners at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Anyone observing King at work in the kitchen will inevitably be impressed by the calm and focused manner in which he instructs his team – with the support of head chef Jan-Philipp Berner. His hands are as steady as those of a surgeon, while his orders to the team are delivered quietly yet with precision. What does he see as his defining characteristic? “Perseverance. And I enjoy my work. I still have the urge to improve and to develop new ideas. However, quality has to be at the root of it all. If you want to do something new, you have to improve on what has come before – otherwise, you might as well not bother.“
Even back in his days as an apprentice, King remembers that BIRKENSTOCKs were the “ultimate kitchen shoes.” “But they were expensive. Anyone who could afford them was pretty cool. There was a certain materialistic element involved, and the notion of also wanting to have them.” He eventually bought his first pair at the end of his apprenticeship.
Nowadays, the BIRKENSTOCK KAY is one of the models he wears: “I have been wearing BIRKENSTOCK shoes for more than 30 years; for me, it’s about a feeling of well-being. You have to be kind to your feet; after all, they support us all our lives ...“