Initially, Bernhard Moser's wanted to create a club for gourmets, but after a few bottles of wine during a night with friends, a festival was born instead.
“Eat! Berlin,” now in its fifth year, is currently underway.
Mr. Moser, who started out as a pastry chef at the age of seventeen, now also runs a wine school.
He showed off the building in Berlin where it is housed, pointing out the crawlspace where cabbage used to be stored, the kitchen whose open fire once heated the entire 300-year-old building and the garden and annex where his seminars take place.
The room was cozy, even dim, as its blue walls absorb light. That’s good for wine.
Mr. Moser, growing up, saw two possible career options, agriculture or tourism. He chose the latter, became a pastry baker and earned a Michelin star at the age of 17.
Mr. Moser told his story as his dachshund, Anton, snuggled into a blanket.
A multifaceted gourmet, Mr. Moser is originally from Austria, though he also has roots in East Berlin. His great-grandfather, Hermann Henselmann, was the city's former chief architect and built the iconic TV tower, as well as designing the grand boulevard Karl-Marx-Allee and the iconic House of Teachers building.
In the sixties, Mr. Henselmann’s daughter, Bernhard Moser's mother, fell in love with an Austrian construction engineer who was working in West Berlin.
In 1965, she was allowed to emigrate to Austria but had to promise never to settle in what was then West Germany, an oath she felt bound by all her life. She settled in Salzburg but remained homesick for the East Germany.
Mr. Moser, growing up, saw two possible career options, agriculture or tourism. He chose the latter, became a pastry baker and earning a Michelin star at the age of 17. That was 1990, the same year he visited Berlin for the first time.
He fell in love with the newly-unified city right away and started to spend his vacations there.
His grandfather struggled with reunification: He hated the Coca-Cola sign on the building where he once lived, and he forbade his family from tasting the soft-drink that symbolized the West.
Mr. Moser thrived and his love for the city grew. Once the Austrian hotel where he worked went bankrupt, he took jobs consulting Viennese coffee houses before finding a job at the Berlin Restaurant Harlekin in 2002.
It was a culinary awakening.
He brought fresh experience, having trained as a sommelier, become a food and beverage manager and studied business economics on the side.
When he set up his wine school, he first thought restaurant owners would be his students. But he found they were reluctant to take advice, whereas people who loved to drink wine were also eager to learn more about it. The students liked the school’s atmosphere where the focus was on wine, with only water and bread on the side, though sometimes there's cheese, or the cook prepares a tasting menu.
He was mulling a club for gourmets until that fateful evening with his friends, which led to setting up the “Eat! Berlin” festival in 2011. The first two years were tough, but were also a chance to learn. Later on, in 2012, he and his wife took on ownership of the festival, just before it was about to close down. It kept costs low and made decision-making faster – though they had lost €100,000, Mr. Moser said.
Mr. Moser stayed true to his vision to give gourmets a special culinary experience and remain accessible to less-experienced foodies too.
This year’s festival features individual events, including a night at a movie theater with a star cook, offering five courses along with five films. There's also a sushi and sashimi evening with Tim Raue, another star cook, and a baking session with Cynthia Barcomi, an American who has set up popular cafes in Berlin.
Right now, Mr. Moser is busy thinking about the future of the festival. Perhaps Mr. Moser's daughter will take over one day, he says, though she is just a year old.
This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]