Once a cook, always a cook!
If you stand in front of the five-floor, elaborate Art Nouveau facade of the “Goldene Kreuz“ (built in 1892/93) in Lichtentaler Straße 13, you couldn’t imagine that in the inner courtyard there is one of the best gourmet restaurants in Baden-Baden. You go through a small passage and exchange the bustle of the city for a hushed atmosphere under high, red brick walls where you can hear the rippling of water. Le Jardin de France is a true architectural feat. Under an imposing glass roof construction, you are seated – très chic – as though you were in a light and exclusive conservatory. Since August 2002, the Goldene´ Kreuz has been the home, and the culinary hideaway, of Sophie and Stéphan Bernhard. Here you can find excellent food. The native Alsatians (38) obtained their first star in the Michelin Guide in December 1999. A true emblem of a chef. At the time, he was, at 28 years old, the youngest manager to be awarded a star in Germany, with, to boot, his own restaurant. Bernhard’s career reflects as much determination as the points on a checklist.
“I’m very ambitious”, he says and it shows !
Actually, the master chef has always cooked at star level, from 1987 to 1989 he completed his studies in Alsatian Mittelbergheim in the “am Lindenplatzel“ restaurant and until the master test in 1991 he cooked in the “La Couronne“ restaurant in Baldenheim (*Michelin). Other star-studded names plaster the left-Rhine gourmet temple illustrating the career path of this determined French man (Restaurant “Au Valet de Coeur“ in Val de Ville, “Château d‘Adoménil“ in Luneville, Restaurant “La Chenaudière“ in Colroy La Roche and in 1995, he returned to “Au Valet de Coeur“ as head chef. He never stayed more than two years in any place until he finally opened Le Jardin de France in Baden-Baden with his wife Sophie in May 1998. Both feel that the spa town “wants” them. The signs are good; the location and the demand for excellent French cuisine at its best. Perhaps, or even for this reason, the blessing from professional circles was soon coming.
Just six months after opening, Bernhard’s culinary skills obtained 15 points from the Gault Millau and barely a year later, the first Michelin star fell from the culinary skies. “Confirmation of all the hard work of the entire team”, he says.
The Bernhards are here to stay, thanks to daughter Lara and Leonie. Bernhard is a family man. When he’s not cooking, he takes a walk through the narrow streets with his children, dries tears and is a father. “That’s relaxation for me!” and we immediately believe him!
Otherwise, the Master’s place is at the stove. His inspirations come to him “shortly before trying” - like flashes of genius, which he can “taste” in his head before in his mouth – easy for him but sometimes torture for the crew! Bernhard’s cuisine is young and fresh and French. It’s not half-hearted. He doesn’t let on what leads him and his guest to the most extraordinary creations. Mesclun salad with orange-liquorice vinaigrette, king crab sautéed - with candied ginger, a vinaigrette with “Madras Curry” and wild herbs or foie gras with apple and rhubarb compote and spicy juice with water nut. Generous culinary skills that are based on simple rules: the product remains the product and cannot be manipulated.
“First comes the quality of the goods”, says the boss.
This is the domain of the breeder, farmer, fisherman or supplier. Trust is a point of honour and strengthened by a handshake. The best wild catch arrives from Briton fishermen within 36 hours. Victuals are supplied by the small farm of his parents in law, pigeons come from Theo Kieffer in Alsace, would-be weeds become the finest herbs when they grow in the Black Forest and the Rheinaue wetlands. Why then make his creations a secret ?
“The secret is that there is no secret!”, modestly states Bernhard.
The quality is there, the rest is skill and intuition and pure culinary knowledge. To give the culinary art the right setting in fitting with the times, the kindness of Sophie Bernhard is needed. In the brutal business of highclass gastronomy she manages to remain authentic. Her distinctive French charm “wafts” through the restaurant. As a go-between of the guest and the kitchen, she indulges the gourmet with the right recommendations at the right time and some “petites attentions”. Her mission: “Everyone should feel at home in our “French Garden” and get out of it what’s pertinent for him or her”. Sophie Bernhard is responsible for the wine list. There are major wines from all kinds of areas (in total about 300 listings). The first pages are noble tipples from small wineries dedicated to the region, which Sophie Bernhard heartily recommends – a homage to Baden, her German home.