At 36, Limerick-born chef Alan Micks has worked all over the world, with stints at the five-star Lanesborough in London, in the grand hotel of his home country, Dublin’s stately Merrion, in Melbourne and Auckland, as well as with Wiley Dufresne (WD 40)and Marcus Samuelson (Aquavit) in New York. It’s only apt, then, that the wiry, black-haired Irishman has found his stove and made a big splash in Berlin, the Continent’s burgeoning playground-for-the-global-literati, old-school and new.
The Ferocious Celt In Repose: Alan Micks in the Michelberger dining room. (Photo: Guy Martin)
For his part, Chef Micks is hitting a sweet mid-career stride, during which, every time he fires up the grill or picks up a knife, every culinary twist and turn of the vagabond years leap off the flame or the blade and onto the plate. Great chefs become composers in this phase of their lives; their meals are symphonic, their cuisine is the history of their travels, and that is happening at Micks’ stove right now. This week he kicks off his eclectic-yet-classic fall menu in the Hotel Michelberger, where he’s been marshaling the hotel’s all-organic offerings since 2014.
Sashimi DeLuxe, Via Irish Fish Chowder: Cured wild North Sea trout, green apple and celeriac garnish, lemon sorrel, and almond milk. (Photo: Guy Martin)
Whether you’re bashing through Berlin on business or pleasure, Micks’ broad menu, from North Sea-run trout to blood sausage with mashed potatoes to grilled mackerel with purslane, will stand up any number of repeated visits. Micks has his own hunter in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern countryside between Berlin and the North Sea who brings in the wild boar and venison, and who runs a team of foragers all summer long in the north German forests to supply Micks with rare wild herbs and berries, purslane, lemon sorrel, yarrow, rosehips, and fir shoots.
The meeting of Micks and north Germany’s organic farmers and hunters is a match that has taken some social and political engineering. Basically, the Wall had to fall. It’s taken the full quarter-century since the fall of the Wall for the lovably insane organic farmers to tame the Mecklenburg and Brandenburg countryside, and those farms are now fueling a food revolution in Berlin that approximates what the Union Square Greenmarket did for the chefs of Manhattan twenty-five years ago. Alan Micks and his international staff at the Michelberger – a Frenchman, a Kiwi, a Belgian, an Irishman, and a German – are at the dagger point of that vanguard, and they easily lead Berlin in pure body-slamming culinary innovation, delivering an exquisitely-tuned mashup of old-German, French, Italian, Irish, English, and Pacific Rim influences.
Autumn In The Brandenburg Woods and Fields: Grilled pointed cabbage, grilled mushrooms, roasted parmesan, mushroom broth. (Photo: Guy Martin)
The poster-boy for that melange on the new menu is the wild sea-run trout paired with sorrel, a raw-apple-and-celeriac garnish, roasted almonds, and homemade almond milk.
“We get the fish from the Danish-German fishermen in the islands off the coast, and we air dry the filets,” says Micks with epic nonchalance, “the almonds come from Greece and are fat, so they give off a good rich milk when we grind ’em up. We get good apples in the fall, so we cut them lengthwise really fine, almost like tiny little french fries, but fresh.”
The result is a fresh, pillowy, protein-filled, sweet and tart bowl from the ocean and the woods, a raw, nutty chowder that could as easily come from Ireland as it could come from the South China Sea. It’s that 8,000-mile reach that’s key to understanding the Micks stove.
Micks and the Michelberger have gained tremendous ground in the three years since he’s been at the stove. The hotel, founded by Nadine May and Tom Michelberger in a former 19th-century factory building in East Berlin in 2009, has become the business-hang for the media and music executives from the offices along the eastern reaches of the River Spree – Universal has their offices directly across the river, and the dozens of clubs in Kreuzberg and Freidrichshain draw the city’s new-media and music elite. Which is why the restaurant, and the hotel, are jammed to the rafters every night during Berlin’s two annual fashion weeks. The private library bookable at the Michelberger, just above and behind Micks’ kitchen, seats eighteen comfortably, for which people also queue.
Fresh Off The Boat: Grilled mackerel, heirlooms, homemade ricotta, purslane and basil garnish. (Photo: Guy Martin)
But even if you’re just rolling in for a simple, fortifying weekday business lunch of bangers-and-mash, Micks has a surprise in store: an organic sausage, roasted and crumbled over his patented smoked-butter mashed potatoes. Berliners are not known for their love of mashed potatoes, but they’re mad for this plate.
The classic Micks interplay of the raw versus the cooked shows through on the entire card. The wild rose hips he gets from the foragers he crushes into sauces to garnish the quince-and-rice pudding. His bresaola comes from an organic, and lovably insane, buffalo farmer in Brandenburg.
“Some things you have to cook,” says Micks, summing up his brutal-yet-tender approach to managing the countryside bounty. “And some things you can just cook by cuttin’ ’em with a good knife or hittin’ ’em with a hammer.”