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In the municipality of Baiersbronn in Germany's Black Forest, the country's best chefs have quietly been creating a culinary wonderland that – while popular with Germans and Central European visitors – remains relatively unknown to everyone else. This small region of just 200sqkm, nine villages and 15,000 residents in the country’s southwest corner has the highest number of Michelin stars per capita in the world, and more three-star restaurants than anywhere else in Germany.

Located just 70km east of Strasbourg, France and 90km southwest of Stuttgart, Baiersbronn is home to two of Germany’s 10 three-star restaurants: Bareiss, a restaurant in the hotel of the same name, and Schwarzwaldstube, the flagship restaurant of the 200-year-old Traube Tonbach Hotel. To compare, London also has two three-star restaurants , while San Francisco has none.

One of these Michelin-starred restaurants is located at the 66-year old Hotel Bareiss, which started as a restaurant and 12-room hotel in 1947. Today, the restaurant is an intimate room with just eight tables and 32 seats. Here chef Peter-Claus Lumpp serves elegant Black Forest cuisine with an international twist – choose from such dishes such as braised saddle of deer (from the hotel’s own hunting grounds) with spiced red cabbage and sweet chestnuts, or foie gras with pears and Tasmanian pepper. In the hotel’s more casual Dorfstuben restaurant, simply prepared local ingredients take centre stage in dishes such as hand-made spaetzle, house-made pork sausages, or even just a plate of beautifully crisp radishes accompanied by quark, a creamy cheese.  

But the restaurant that started it all is the Schwarzwaldstube in the Traube Tonbach Hotel. Opened in 1789 as a bakery and restaurant, today the 170-room Traube Tonbach is a member of the Relais and Chateaux luxury hotel group, and has expanded to include a spa and fitness centre, a 25-person chapel, indoor and outdoor pools, a wine bar and four restaurants. While the hotel and the surrounding countryside have always been popular with spa visitors and hikers, the food of the region had less appeal. It is the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Schwarzwaldstube, which opened in 1977, that elevated the quality and reputation of Baiersbronn cuisine to that of its neighbours just across the border in Alsace, France.  

The 35-seat Schwarzwaldstube has repeatedly been rated as one of the top restaurants in the world (most recently in 2009 by the British magazine, Restaurant), and holds 19.5 stars (out of 20) from Gault Millau, a French restaurant guide similar to Michelin. Four three-star chefs have trained in the restaurant’s kitchen, along with chefs who together have earned more than 60 Michelin stars around the world. According to the marketing manager, Julia Deleye, if you look in the kitchen at any highly rated hotel restaurant in the world, you will likely find someone who trained at Traube Tonbauch.

Those chefs would have trained with chef Harald Wolfhart, who earned the restaurant its first Michelin star in 1992 and continues to oversee the kitchen today. Raised on a farm near the Black Forest in the spa town of Baden-Baden, about 50km north of Baiersbronn, he said he prefers products in their natural state, thanks to a childhood spent eating gathered food. While he has been known to play around with form (he serves individually sized versions of Black Forest gateau, drizzled with cherry liquor and topped with a light cream foam) he said his food is not about show – it is about the ingredients.

This philosophy is evident in Schwarzwaldstube’s refined, French-influenced cuisine, including dishes such as foie gras with artichokes, black truffle sauce and radishes and langoustine ravioli with onions and truffles. It is also easy to see at the hotel’s other restaurants, which Wolfhart oversees, like the German-focused Köhlerstube, or the seven-table Bauernstube, a cosy space decorated with hand-carved cuckoo clocks, a large stone hearth and ceramic tiles that depict traditional Black Forest scenes. Here the bounty of the region is served up in typical dishes such as spaetzle (hand-formed noodles) and maultaschen (a meat-stuffed pocket of dough similar to ravioli).

According to Wolfart, the idea is to “put the main product on throne. The product is king”. During cooking seminars hosted in the gleaming stainless steel kitchen at Traube Tonbach, he stresses the importance of getting the highest quality product at the best time, taking influence from nature and eating what is local and fresh. “The most important products are the ones you find when you walk out the door,” he said.

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