Of course, all things must come to an end... and the end of my visit was drawing ever nearer. But another thing that came to an end during my stay was the 45th year of my life- and what a birthday it was to be on the penultimate day of my visit! Simply being here was the greatest gift I could imagine anyway!
We held our usual staff breakfast at 10am and discussed the plan for the day, but Marcel was called out of the meeting rather abruptly. I said "I wonder what that was all about" and everybody shrugged, then there was a knock at the door and they all burst into song as Marcel came back inside with a mini birthday cake! Lit with one tiny candle, this single-portion cake was a cute gesture- this and the glass of sparkling wine that came with it brought a big smile to my face and meant much more than anything else could have, from a group of young kids who had been complete strangers to me just a week ago. Of course I cut the cake into 8 pieces and we each had one little bite each- anything else would have just be wrong! But the wine I knocked-back all by myself- it was my birthday after all! And off to work we went!
That's what Friends are for...
I had a full day ahead, no time for celebrating, not even a real chance to get in touch with home or for any of my friends or loved ones to get in touch with me- but that was just fine! I was in the best of hands here with my new-found friends at the Söl'ring Hof and couldn't have been happier! And they were such characters- each and every one!
Bernd, pictured below giving me his heart (or more accurately that of some less fortunate creature), was the friendliest man you could ever wish to meet- with a booming voice, an infectious good mood and seemingly boundless energy. He was up and working earlier than anyone else, as he ran the kitchen upstairs in the restaurant alone, serving up whatever the guests desired... he was a one-man show and a great one at that!
Anja, an ex-Frankfurt girl, was a little power-house of cooking energy- always focused, always quiet and always on top of her game... I learnt so much from her! She had a quiet but pleasant manner and had a lot of experience and expertise to her credit- there was seemingly nothing she couldn't do- including keeping cool whilst having to deal with me- haha! She was also the one, that somehow, invisibly, managed to cook up our staff meals every day- which was enough food for 15-20 people at least, whilst still preparing all of the fine and delicate ingredients for the evenings guests... pretty amazing! Confident but modest- and a lot of fun!
Florian and Maximilian were 2 great young guys too- Florian being the tallest in the group... and probably anywhere else for that matter! Both quiet guys, with great senses of humour, they also had a level of expertise and knowledge that much surpassed their ages... back when I had been that young, I would have been proud of having managed to boil rice without burning the saucepan!
The amazing thing with these guys, each and every one of them, was their willingness to share their knowledge and their patience in explaining things- so refreshing and totally charming to say the least!
Young Lars had a lot of experience, having been at a number of gastronomic addresses already previous to Söl'ring Hof- and also due to the fact that his folks own a successful hotel, guest house and catering business of their own. He also had the same sense of calm about him in the kitchen and he knew his stuff inside and out. He also happens to be quite the singer- haha! We hardly needed the radio anymore when he kicked-in with the chorus lines! I would kid with him that he should start a boy-band with the other guys whilst they are all young enough... show cooking with tunes! Now if that's not a winning idea, I don't know what is!
Have any of you heard-of, or seen the movie "Jumper"? That was the one, where the young hero had the ability to teleport- he would leap from one destination, flash through time and space and then re-appear in another, hundreds of miles away, just like that! Well, young Marius struck me as having similar powers on the day that he began leaping from both the life-guards shack and from the top of the dunes! The only place he would have re-appeared though, I fear... might have been the hospital!
He would make the downhill run down the full length of the boardwalk and fling himself into the air- just so! We took it in turns standing in front of the railing, so as to shield him from the impact, had he mis-judged or slipped when approaching his take-off! What a crazy guy! But his enthusiasm and energy were so infectious- we all had a hoot! But only one of us got covered in sand from head to toe and only one of us risked life and limb in doing so!
I know I have been singing the praises of one and all, but Andy was "The Man", when "THE MAN" wasn't there. He is not the head chef without good reason! Also a rather quiet guy, but with a killer sense of humour and the most fantastic skills as an imitator, this guy could give Robin Williams a run for his money! But I doubt that Robin Williams can cook as amazingly as he can! He will also be moving on to other things, revamping and reinventing a family set-up, with a traditional concept in cuisine, delivered in a no-fuss and contemporary way. If there is one thing I have learned from him, it is that most definitely "less is more" and it was fun and most gratifying to find that we shared the same point of view on most things culinary. These were indeed great people and it had been a great week!
After a full days work, tired and a little heavy-hearted after having said my good-byes to all of my new-found friends, I stumbled back to my room, packed my case, set my alarm and lay down to sleep. Yes, there were many more staff members at Sölring Hof and they had been so warm and friendly to me- they would just take too long to mention in detail- but I will miss them all for sure!
I was, as usual, nervous about waking up on time, the alarm working, getting to the airport and what have you... all things that would normally have kept me awake. Not on Sylt! This is the place where I finally learned to appreciate what the expression "getting your well-earned sleep" means in real-life! In MY real-life back home, I would claim that I earn my sleep too... I just don't get enough of it! But this was a whole new breed of tiredness that I was experiencing! Not that I was complaining- if you are doing what you love, even the longest hours all seem worthwhile.
Sleep was deep and dreamless, but relatively short, as I woke up in advance of the alarm... as always! I got freshened up, dressed, and brought my bed linen and towels back to the hotel laundry, went back and got my case, then back again to hand-in the keys to the guest house. Sigh! This was it- this really was goodbye!
Punctual to a fault, my favorite taxi driver, Merlin, appeared with the whole gang, packed me into the car with Oliver and we were soon on our way to Westerland and the airport. It was good seeing familiar faces and nice saying goodbye to them as I know we will meet again back home in Frankfurt. And after a fun but short flight with Oliver, I was back home in just over an hour... and my little dream, my great adventure was over!
Thanks for the Memories!
After a day or two back home, getting back into my own routine, returning to my job at the agency and my amateur cooking... I realized that things HAD changed. That I had changed. My outlook, my attitude and my whole sense of being. Things were better. I felt better... life was better! And yes- my cooking was better! All thanks to this wonderful experience, the wonderful place and the wonderful people. Something I will never, ever forget!
2 days into the working week, a parcel arrived for me at the agency. The content of the parcel was this. The most beautiful Johannes King book- filled with his wonderful dishes, personal and heart-warming images of him and his whole crew, of all that I have recounted for you and so very much more! A beautiful book that inspires and delights in every way... THANK YOU Johannes!
And though many people may own this culinary and literary masterpiece... I am proud to say that I own a copy with a personal dedication.
I hope you have enjoyed my banter, my recollections and enthusiasm for this culinary adventure- and I hope you all stay with me as I continue cooking, photographing and sharing my own ideas and dishes with you. It's good to be friends! And being friends is what life is all about!
Frankfurt am Main