"No one needs to tell me anything about fish and seafood"
Peter Sikorra has been the executive chef at the Grand Elysée hotel in Hamburg for three years. The Grand Elysée is a five-star hotel with 511 rooms. It has an Italian and a French restaurant, a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant, an oyster bar, two bars, and a boulevard café, plus an extensive and ambitious buffet and banqueting section.
About 800 à la carte meals and on average 2,500 banquet meals are served daily, at peak times up to 3,500. Peter Sikorra will be one of the experts on the panel at the Frozen Fish Forum at fish international in February 2008.
How would you describe yourself and your work?
Peter Sikorra: I see myself as a mixture between executive chef and gastronomy manager in a modern, open, gastronomy-oriented five-star hotel with a discerning international clientele and a large share of regular guests. The gastronomy section - which has 50 cooks in seven departments - is a significant economic factor and accounts for about 50 per cent of the hotel's total turnover of 30 million euros. At peak times the kitchen handles five tonnes of food per day. About 800 à la carte meals are prepared daily, plus breakfasts for up to 900 guests, and we also have a café area, room service, banqueting service for five to 3,500 people, and an average of 2,500 meals.
What is your relationship to fish and seafood? What is the significance of this section
Sikorra: Fish and seafood are marvellous foods. Before I started at the Grand Elysée I was for a long time the head-chef at a well-known fish restaurant in Hamburg and worked intensively with fish on a daily basis. Let me put it this way: No one needs to tell me anything about fish and seafood.
As far as the significance of fish in gastronomy is concerned the answer is clear: It willcontinue to rise. When I took over the management of the kitchen here the share of fish used in food preparation was about 30 per cent. Today it's over 50 per cent - and it's still rising.
What needs do modern caterers have to fulfil today? What is the most important
Sikorra: Catering is a service. And services have to aim at perfection. That means we have to serve our guests food of a consistently high quality and offer top performance for a reasonable price. Exceeding the guests' expectations is the most important challenge to catering today - while at the same time ensuring profitability.
How do you define quality? And how do you put quality onto people's plates?
Sikorra: Quality is freshness. Our guests want to enjoy fresh fish. But the question is: how can we offer and convey this freshness. You see, for the guest it is the result of our work that counts, his ultimate enjoyment. Chefs and caterers have to be able to identify with the quality and freshness of the products they work with. That means they have to be very knowledgeable about them, too - and shouldn't buy anything but quality. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about fresh, frozen or highly processed products: the essential thing is that they have to be top quality.
Does that mean that you make no difference between fresh and frozen products? Are there no differences?
Sikorra: Of course there are differences between fresh and frozen products because frozen is usually fresher than the so-called fresh products. You see, it's hardly possible to get fresher fish than sea-frozen fish. As long as the industry is not in a position to supply fresh products really fresh and in sufficient quantities we have to thank God for frozen fish.
I can imagine the horrified reactions of my fish supplier if I asked for fast delivery of 1,000 fillets of pike-perch for a banquet each weighing 90 grams, all of a similar appearance, and all of them fresh. Thanks to good pre-processing and exact portioning of quality frozen fish that isn't a problem. And because preliminary tasks are outsourced my cooks have more time to be creative during food preparation - and that's how they can demonstrate their brilliance.
Are there any particular areas in which you specifically use fresh or frozen fish products? What mistakes can occur during the handling of products from different temperature ranges?
Sikorra: I always choose the product that best meets our requirements and our quality demands. Of course, chilled and frozen products behave differently during preparation. But a good cook should know how to handle each of them correctly. If the fish has been handled correctly the guest cannot tell whether it was previously chilled or frozen. Most mistakes occur during thawing.
What are your guests' favourite fish and seafood dishes? Do they sooner choose classic or unusual creations?
Sikorra: Our guests are on the one hand very international but on the other hand we also have a lot of regular customers from Hamburg. That means that international, trendy or exotic recipes are just as much in demand as classic, traditional Hamburg dishes. Our repertoire ranges from live cooking to classic. The most popular fishes among our guests are turbot and anglerfish, as whole fish dorade and seabass, but a well prepared redfish can also be a top seller.
At fish international 2008 in Bremen you will be on the panel of experts at the Frozen Fish Forum. What will you want to put over to your colleagues there?
Sikorra: I have three central messages: Buy only top quality - irrespective of the section. And don't be afraid of frozen fish. Because frozen fish is not only a guarantee of quality and freshness but at the same time also a safety factor. Particularly people who handle large volumes have to be able to guarantee quality and food safety. Apart from that, I am convinced that the discussion on "freshness", i.e. on chilled or frozen products, will not continue for much longer. It will be replaced by terms such as quality and exactly defined quality parameters. The discussion about the sense or nonsense of convenience will soon be over, too. We'll start talking about quality, profitability and the avoidance of sources of error.
Just as one should make use of the opportunities that the food industry has to offer one should also make use of modern kitchen technology. Anyone who doesn't recognise this fact fails to see the possibilities it offers and will not be able to achieve optimal profitability.
Visitors to fish international 2008 can experience executive chef and gastronomy manager Peter Sikorra live at the Bremen Exhibition Centre on Monday 11 February as from 11:30. He will be one of the experts on the panel at the Frozen Fish Forum.