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Chef of the Year 2021
From redundancy to "Chef of the Year": in 2020, Stefan Heilemann experienced a whole gamut of different emotions. The talented chef is now back in the kitchen, serving up haute cuisine at the "Widder".
Stefan Heilemann placed his own career ladder at quite a steep angle, then spent the last few years almost effortlessly climbing it. Born in Germany, he came to Zurich in 2016 and earned himself point after point in the kitchen of "Ecco" at Atlantis by Giardino. GaultMillau awarded him 18 points, while the Michelin Guide gave the talented chef two stars from the off. Then, in spring 2020, came the shock: the luxury hotel at the foot of the Üetliberg closed its doors. Stefan Heilemann and his entire team were suddenly unemployed – in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
A chef of Heilemann's calibre doesn't stay out of work for long, though, and the Widder Hotel in Zurich quickly snapped up the hotshot and his entire crew. This means that since June, Stefan Heilemann has been part of the team on Bahnhofstrasse. "I feel like we've been here forever, I've already forgotten what our old kitchen looked like." A good sign. Heilemann has settled into his new home, and says, "Things are the best they've ever been!" Ultimately he didn't need to make that many changes: he's got the same team, and the style of cooking is the same, too. Even in terms of the career ladder, the Atlantis closure can be seen as a tiny wobble at worst. After his brilliant new start at the "Widder", GaultMillau awarded Stefan Heilemann the title "2021 Chef of the Year".
Stefan Heilemann loves traditional cuisine, but using modern techniques and preparation methods. He likes to take diners on a culinary world tour, and Asia is his spiritual home. "It's important to me that a Thai dish is also authentic." There is a curry dish on the menu at the moment, too: with langoustine, butternut squash and kaffir lime. Heilemann's dishes have a distinctly tangy edge to them, for example his salmon trout is served with pomelo and mint. Heilemann also definitely has a penchant for fowl and is a regular customer of poultry guru Alfred Escher. Every now and then, the 18-point chef likes to present his diners with an unfamiliar ingredient, saying, "I like to provoke a reaction with my dishes."
I wanted to do something creative.
Heilemann took a little detour en route to the "Widder" kitchen: after finishing high school in Germany, he initially embarked upon a business studies degree. "It didn't really interest me, but I just thought I had to study something!" He soon realized, though, that the sedentary lifestyle is not for him. "I wanted to do something creative." Not being one to do things by halves, he got himself hired by Harald Wohlfahrt at the "Traube Tonbach".
From a humble apprentice, he worked his way up and spent almost ten years at the restaurant, before joining Rolf Fliegauf at "Ecco" in Ascona. The tough environment in Harald Wohlfahrt’s kitchen shaped him. Heilemann's approach to leadership is thus: "I have a very small team and everyone responds differently in a particular situation. So I try to solve problems individually, rather than lording it over the kitchen. There's a fine balance between relaxed leadership and tightening the reins at key moments."
Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Fotos: Olivia Pulver
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