Meet In Your Kitchen | Moritz, Switzerland & the Grill Royal Family

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“Food is probably the most important thing for me besides breathing. But I guess sex is also pretty important.” – Moritz Estermann

When you grow up in the Swiss Prealps and you find your peace with the fact that you live in a tiny village only surrounded by nature, then Switzerland is the best place to live in. However, if at one point you want to know what there is on the other side of the mountains, you have a problem. Then you have to leave.

Moritz Estermann liked his life, tightly woven into a safe net of family, friends, and Swiss food. During the week he would play in the neighbors’ fields and barns, the weekends would be all about walks in the mountains together with his parents and brother. And when he could tell his father the names of 20 flowers he would get French Fries in one of the mountain huts. Moritz doesn’t want to make it sound like Sound of Music – but it does.

But one day, the Swiss fairy tale ended and Moritz left the mountains behind to move to Berlin. And as he arrived, walking down Strasse der Pariser Kommune lined with its very vertical, very unadorned socialist buildings, he felt home and ready for a new chapter.

“We started at Pauly Bar, moved on to the Grill (Royal) then we went to King Size Bar at 1 at night and left at 6 in the morning, staggering. But I had to be back in the office at 9:30, often working on bookkeeping. It was an absolutely amazing time, I learnt everything this business is about, but you shouldn’t do this. You get bogged down. It’s too much. Your own life falls by the wayside. Completely.Moritz Estermann

Grill Royal, Kin Dee, Bar Freundschaft, Dottir – Moritz Estermann’s name appears behind many raisins in Berlin’s gastronomic cake but the man himself stayed a mystery for me for a long time. I had been wanting to meet him for years and it had to happen during a long and tipsy night out at Bar Freundschaft. Introduced by Susan Choi, and soon rebuked by Moritz as I told the sommelier “I’m sure you don’t have pastis,” the first sentence Moritz ever said to me was: “Don’t be so negative!.” I felt like a little girl, but he was right, and I got my drink in the end.

So how does a Swiss boy end up in the ‘Grill Royal family’ at quite a young age? He’s not only supervising some of the ‘family’s’ places, but he’s also Stephan Landwehr’s and Boris Radczun’s – the founding fathers – copartner in a few endeavors. How does he start new projects and each and every single one is a success? The answer is very Swiss: Moritz says he understands restaurants and he understands Berlin.

But there’s more behind this humble Swiss mind. Moritz has a great connection to his instinct and he completely trusts this instinct. I’ve seen this talent in the characters of all the people I’m talking to for the Meet in My Kitchen podcast. They can all hear their inner voice and learnt to always listen to it. Moritz instinctively goes to the right places, connects with the right people, feels the inspiration, and then picks up the right projects. It’s not luck, his success rate is too good for that. It’s a very clear focus on what makes sense and then hard work and discipline to get there.

What I love about people in the gastronomic world is that despite this discipline, they never miss the party. What I love about Moritz on top of this is that he wants to create places that make his customers happy but he also wants to create places where his employees are just as happy to work at. He is part of a new movement of restaurateurs who break with the old system. Yes, he wants to and he has to create profitable places, but that doesn’t mean you have to exploit the ones who work for you. It’s a new feeling of responsibility, and also awareness, that no matter what your job is, you can always make a difference within your everyday operating range.

“I’m not sure if I really trust the universe or if I am, and was, simply naive, but I was never scared of the world outside. I believe it’s a great privilege, growing up in an environment where fear doesn’t exist, simply not being forced to confront it and learning to live with it.”Moritz Estermann

Moritz pays a lot of attention to the people around him. And he pays the same attention when it comes to his food and cooking at home. He shared his current favorite recipe with me, Pappa al Pomodoro. This frugal Italian dish is made with just a few ingredients and that’s the reason why each of them should be of exceptional quality. It reminded me a lot of Panzanella – a Tuscan bread salad – yet the stale bread is soaked in tomato sauce and not in vinaigrette and water. Officially it’s a thick soup, eaten warm or cold. Roughly chopped sun-kissed heirloom tomatoes, fantastic sourdough bread with a dark crust, the finest olive oil, and a very simple yet very tasty tomato sauce make you forget about frugality and simply indulge in a very fruity, surprisingly light, summery lunch that takes you right to the soft hilltops of Tuscany.

The podcast episode with Moritz Estermann is in German. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Susan on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer / Google / Amazon / Podimo

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Pappa al Pomodoro

by Moritz Estermann

Serves 2

For the tomato sauce

  • 350ml / 1 1/2 cups tomato passata
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground 

For the Pappa al Pomodoro

  • Around 1/3 of a 750g / 1 2/3 pound loaf of stale white sourdough bread (with crust, the weight of the stale bread is roughly 225g / 1/2 pound)*
  • Olive oil (the best you can afford)
  • Around 450g / 1 pound ripe tomatoes (organic, heirloom, ideally various types)*
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (optionally)

* The ratio of fresh tomatoes to bread should be roughly 2:1

Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (preferably convection setting).

For the tomato sauce, add the passata, garlic, and a dash of olive oil to a medium saucepan, season to taste with salt and pepper then bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes. The sauce should be light red and runny, not thick, and taste fruity; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces, spread on a large baking sheet, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until crispy but not dark. Transfer the warm bread to a large bowl and add the tomato sauce. The bread should be well covered in sauce and soak it all up but it shouldn’t swim in the sauce; let it sit for at least 5 minutes, the bread should have soft parts and parts that are still a little firm.

Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Add the fresh tomatoes and basil to the bowl with the soaked bread, season to taste with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon then gently and briefly mix with your hands; it should be chunky, not mushy.

Enjoy immediately!