With more three-star restaurants than most major cities, the village of Baiersbronn is a culinary haven known to few outside Germany. But a new park threatens that legacy.

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.

The hotel currently offers up to 52 seminars a year in topics like Asian food or truffles and fish, pairing international ingredients with local ones. Outside the classroom, guests can learn more about the foods found in the Black Forest on a Schlemmerwanderung, or Feast Hiking Tour, led by chef Friedrich Klumpp, from the Höferköpflestube restaurant at the Hotel Rosengarten, located 5km from the Traube Tonbach. Along the four-hour, 7km hikes that run from April to August, chef Klumpp points out some of the ingredients that can be found in the Black Forest, such as mushrooms, herbs, honey and berries. Guests then get to sample many of them in snacks like sparkling wine or mineral water with elder blossom syrup; a baguette topped with watercress curd; herb dumplings with creamed chanterelles; wild herb salad with wild berry dressing; walnut bread with cranberry butter, venison ham, fresh-picked olives and walnuts; and for dessert, foraged ground ivy with chocolate, parfait from spruce tips and fresh blueberry cake. 

About 80% of the land around Baiersbronn is forest, which provides fresh berries and herbs, mushrooms and wild game to both professional chefs and home cooks. But the government wants to turn some of that forestland into a national park, and many citizens are firmly against the idea. As it is, there is not much land for growing food outside of the forest. The land that is not covered in a canopy of tree so thick it blocks out the sun (and confirms why the Black Forest was so named), is dotted with tiny farmhouses belching woodsmoke from their chimneys, and small plots of land where a few lone goats, pigs or cows graze.

Government control of the land would mean locals will no longer have access to it as a source of food, a shift that could significantly change the way people think about food in Baiersbronn. The matter of the national park will be decided in October 2013, so it is not known yet if, or how, the chefs and the people of the region will have to adapt in the future. For now, the world-class cuisine of Baiersbronn remains inextricably linked to the land and the particular ingredients available here, a bounty used to create some of the best food in Germany, and even some of the best food in the world.