In Germany’s North Western corner lies Osnabrück. A city that had very little to offer on a culinary basis, but now houses what is without doubt one of Germany’s very best restaurants: La Vie. In a way the remote location of this restaurant, a good two-hours from any serious competitor, might have played a role in the extraordinary developments that have taken place here. It might be partially due to this isolation that Thomas Bühner has had the chance to focus on his work, and drive his cooking ever closer to the pure flavour of a product. For that is what he seeks to translate into his dishes: The cleanest imagineable flavour. He doesn’t look for fancy combinations, far from it. In a way dishes like this one seem comforting in terms of flavours, far from revolutionary. But then again, what he does is purifying and intensifying elements that have been taken as given by chefs for decades. The most unconventional step he has taken so far is without doubt his venison jus, served with a dish that is (fittingly) called “pure venison” and an obvious candidate for an Iconic Dish.
The starting point for this sauce was a pretty simple idea: Taking the concept of a classic meat jus, but eliminating the added roasting aromas, the wine and all the other flavours that detract from the meat’s own flavour. When you actually think about it, it makes perfect sense. However as the classical confection of a jus has been taught to every cook in a better kitchen for decades, it takes quite a bit of detachment to get to this point. After experimenting with various methods, the final version of this jus really lives up to the expectations it creates: It is a liquid that tastes only of the meat. It has the complexity of a good wine, and the length of it, whilst bringing you the purest flavour of the actual meat you can get. The comparison to the wine makes sense here too: A good winemaker will look for the purest expression of a varietal, just as Bühner does in this sauce. It is an idea that seems so straightforward, but is so difficult to translate.
The way in which the plate is made up of elements that taste only of themselves makes perfect sense, and tastes superb at the same time. This will be one of the rare instances, when QLI will compliment someone for using sous-vide cooking for lean cuts of meat such as a loin of venison. The reason is simple: When cooking it sous-vide, the texture and flavour remain intact and hardly changed. This gives you the cleanest possible impression of the taste, in line with the concept of the sauce. The same goes for the celery puree. Cooked sous-vide, the celery is then simply blended with its cooking juices. This results in a beautifully pure flavour of rich earthy celery. Needless to say that it compliments the meat’s flavours beautifully.
A dish like this is a rare stroke of brilliance. In a world that seems to change dramatically in line with the newest trends, people like Thomas Buehner are those who really should make an long-term impact. Whilst such sauces might not be as easy to sell as fancily dressed stalks of spinach, the glutton probably will stop half-way on the trip to the Nordic pope in the little city of Osnabrueck.