Monika di Muro and Chris Bay are irritated by the Germans: When they grill, the meat ends up on the grill, but vegetables, salads and dips are made in the kitchen and then put on the table. Why actually? It's much nicer and more sociable if you cook everything in and on the fire. Di Muro and Bay are passionate fire chefs. In her cooking school "füüri" in the middle of Bern, roast-smoked, steamed, boiled and fried with fresh ingredients from the surrounding area and the Alps. It is by no means only meat that ends up on the fire, but quite often vegetables as well. It is fired with wood and coal from the Bernese forest. Most of the recipes in her cookbook "Feuerkochen" are even vegetarian or vegan. Yesterday, Wednesday, they were awarded first place in the "Grilling" category at the "German Cookbook Prize" for their cookbook "Fire Kitchen". The star spoke to the winning couple about their fascination with fire.
Ms. di Muro, Mr. Bay, you have visited over 90 markets and say that you are magically attracted by the columns of smoke. What's it all about?
Bay: We've been to 97 countries, from Japan to Estonia to Costa Rica, and we've got to get to the fire somehow. Our starting point is always the markets. We go there, talk to the people about their products. From there we always find our way to the fire kitchen. If we don't find anything in the market, we drive through the country and if we see a pillar of fire, it's either just burning grass there or we come across a fire kitchen. This is how we learned the fire kitchen.
What fascinates you so much about fire?
Bay: It's not the fire, it's the unusual place. We looked for places where people normally don't cook. On roundabouts, in bear pits, at mountain lakes. Because these places have a very special fascination for us, including the culinary art. You can't just cook on a mountain lake with electricity or gas, you need a fire for that. With this fire we got incredible freedom, geographically you can cook anywhere. That's why we became fire cooks.
When was this passion sparked?
Di Muro: We always cooked. So everyone for themselves. We met at a market in Solothurn, not far from Bern. I was selling olives at a market there and Chris was my best customer. He bought olives and bought olives and bought olives...
Bay: I had to empty the fridge before going back to the market.
Di Muro: Then we cooked together and at some point we wanted to change our lives. Went on trips and learned fire cooking.
Today you have a cooking school, the "füuri", what exactly do you do there?
Bay: For ten years we have been cooking with fire and above all with the guests. We call this "orchestral cooking", with small groups and also with large groups of up to 250 people. We use them to cook entire menus for six hours.
Everything in the fire. How do you come up with your recipes? Like simmering a lemon in the embers and serving it with brown sugar and gin for dessert?
Bay: Trial and error. First we cooked an orange in the embers, they are sweet and give off acid. Then we tried this recipe with all citrus fruits, also works with limes and kumquats. The lemons have become our hot sorbet. This is how our recipes are created.
Di Muro: Our recipes are not created with 14 ingredients, but by omitting ingredients. Our main task is to make something great with as little food as possible.
All dishes could of course also be prepared on a grill. But in your book you keep emphasizing why cracking wood and being together around an open fire is so important.
Di Muro: The most important thing for us is that you start the fire in the first place. Whether winter or summer.
How do you make the perfect fire?
Bay: It's not about the perfect fire, it's about trying. We strive for the experience, that's what's valuable.
You have seen so many fire kitchens in the world. Which one do you remember the most?
Bay: Not traveling at all, but in Bern. That was on a roundabout.
I beg your pardon? Tell us about it!
Bay: In Bern there is a roundabout where three families grew vegetables. We always drove past a pumpkin that kept getting bigger. So we put a note on the pumpkin saying we'd like to fire cook it.
And then lit an open fire on the roundabout?
Bay: Exactly. It was incredible and the drivers drove in circles several times to see what we were doing.
In your cookbook, a striking number of recipes are vegetarian, some even vegan. But fire and grilling are always associated with meat, right?
Di Muro: Half of our recipes are vegetarian or vegan. Fire cooking means not only grilling meat, but getting the best out of the ingredients.