Bad BelzigAt just before 11am, rush hour begins for Peter Frühsammer, 61. In the next few minutes, the star chef and his team will be preparing up to 250 meals for the patients and nursing staff at the Ernst von Bergmann clinic in Bad Belzig, Brandenburg.

Frühsammer cuts fresh pasta dough into ribbon noodles, drains some butter from a huge tilting frying pan and adds in a little water at the same time. Every step of the preparation process inside the clinic's canteen kitchen seems routine, as if he had always cooked in a hospital. The truth is that it was only when "lockdown light" began in November that the well-known chef, whose restaurants across Germany have won multiple Michelin stars, switched up his stove for the hospital kitchen, where he's been cooking ever since .

Yet Frühsammer, who runs his self-titled restaurant in Wilmersdorf together with his wife Sonja, was initially only supposed to provide some preliminary training for the kitchen staff at the hospital. "The numbers of our staff who were eating our on-site food were too low for us," says Katrin Eberhardt, managing director of the clinic. "Especially during the corona crisis, the doctors and nurses should be able to sit in the canteen and enjoy their food. Our goal is to reduce the proportion of meat dishes somewhat and offer fresher and more regional cuisine." 

Photo:  Volkmar Otto
Frühsammer thinks hospital food doesn't need to spare on quality - especially during a pandemic.

The manager called Frühsammer, who immediately agreed to her proposal, since his restaurant currently has to remain closed anyway. "I wanted to do something meaningful and not just sit at home and wait for my furlough payments," he says. He isn't worried about catching Covid-19 during his daily visits to the clinic. "We have a painstaking hygiene management system here, and we get tested weekly."

Frühsammer also brought a portion of ambition with him. He wants his food to taste good in the hospital too - as long as he can cook it his way, which he describes as a combination of simple cuisine that everyone understands and proper craftsmanship. "No matter what you do and where you do it, you have to do it well. You have a responsibility to the patients, the nursing staff - and the kitchen staff. After all, they should enjoy cooking too," says the 61-year-old. 

Of course, not every dish or ingredient is compatible with a canteen kitchen. However, the star chef has made some changes in recent weeks. For example, he peels the potatoes himself. The kitchen staff now usually work with fresh vegetables, and rice is no longer prepared in a large steam cooker.

"But the timing is crucial," Frühsammer says. "We cook à la minute here." Everything has to be ready to be served in large quantities at the same time. On the day of our visit, the menu includes saltimbocca with ham, homemade pasta and fresh spinach, and spinach ravioli with ricotta and sage butter as a vegetarian alternative.

Photo:  Volkmar Otto
Dish of the day at Ernst von Bergmann clinic: saltimbocca with homemade pasta and fresh spinach.

Since Frühsammer started cooking at the clinic, occupational therapist Kathleen Gensicke has been among those regularly stopping by for lunch in the canteen. "I rarely ate here before because you could taste how many preservatives were in the dishes. Now the food is tastier, more digestible and more varied," she says. In general, employees have shown huge enthusiasm for the new lunchtime offerings, clinic director Eberhardt says. She doesn't want to let Frühsammer go, even once his restaurant is allowed to reopen.

But what does the head chef say? "I would like to continue in this position at the hospital," Frühsammer says of his future plans, although he simultaneously emphasies: "I would like to continue in my role as host at the restaurant. My wife cooks there and I will focus on customer contact and events." And those who know Frühsammer know that he is capable of delivering in both roles - à la minute.