Raised by an abusive father, and schooled in a life of gang crime, the teenaged Tim Raue would never have been pegged as a future celebrity chef. Today the German is one of Europe's hottest culinary names – rocking two Michelin stars, and a prized spot on Restaurant magazine's World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
And late last year, his debut international venture, Dragonfly by Tim Raue, opened in Dubai’s City Walk.
However, born into one of West Berlin’s “poorest and toughest” immigrant communities, the 42-year-old’s story could have taken a very different turn.
“It was a ghetto,” says Raue, sitting on the terrace of his new restaurant. “The first language I learnt was Turkish – the second was fighting with my fists. Only the strongest survived.”
To survive – and escape his father – Raue joined a street gang.
“The life I had on the street was great – I was fist-fighting,” he says. “It didn’t come because I loved it, it came because my father really abused me when I was young. And if you put it in a young child at the age of 8 or 9 – keep hitting them until they’re on the ground, bleeding from the eyes, the ears, the nose, three or four times a week – it’s like a black sea, it grows inside you, a lot of aggression.”
At a critical moment, Raue found a new outlet for his violent impulses.
“I wanted to transform [my aggression] into a power and energy I could use,” he says.
His salvation was a restaurant apprenticeship.
“When you first start cooking, the first two or three years are really hard – you’re on the bottom of the whole team, they’re bullying you – but I was so tough,” he says. “By my second year I was doing sous chef jobs.
“At the time I didn’t have the knowledge or talent – I just had the power. I was working 16, 17 hours, leading the pack, shouting – I found something where I was as successful as I was in the street.”
The knowledge and talent followed quickly. Raue took a head chef role in 1997, the first of three in as many years. In 2007, he earned his first Michelin star and was chosen as Chef of the Year by Gault Millau for his work at Restaurant 44 in Berlin.
But the mix of “traditional French and Spanish avant-garde” cuisine with which Raue made his name was not what he really wanted to be cooking.
“After the award I said, OK, I need to change something, because I am not proud – I cannot understand why you award me that high,” he says. “I looked in the mirror, and asked, ‘What do I really love?’”
The answer, it turns out, was Asian food, specifically “Japanese precision, Thai flavouring and Chinese yumminess” – strong, distinctive flavours discovered during Raue’s five-year spell as global culinary adviser for the Swissôtel brand.
“What I learnt from Asia was socialising food,” he says. “In French cuisine, everything is about harmony. I don’t [care] about harmony, I want dishes spiced, fun, acidic – much more focused and simple.”
Despite opposition from baffled friends and investors, this vision was realised in 2010 with the opening of his first self-titled enterprise. Within two years, Berlin’s Restaurant Tim Raue had earned a pair of Michelin stars, and it is still fully booked three months in advance – and “four to five at weekends”, he adds.
It is this same award-winning menu that Raue has brought to Dubai, with one important exception – “jines”.
Based in unlicensed City Walk, Raue’s team has concocted a special set of paired mixed juices – served in familiar, arched glass bottles – that have proved so successful they have since been introduced at his German enterprise.
From the taster menu of crowd-pleasers, the wasabi langoustine and Raue’s signature three-way spin on Peking duck burst with flavour.
How this Beijing-via-Berlin concept will go down in Dubai remains to be seen, but the restless chef lets slip that talks are already under way to introduce the UAE to another of his brands, which include the Japanese/Thai-inspired Sra Bua by Tim Raue and German/Prussian-focused La Soupe Populaire.
Meanwhile, he says he doubts he will be adding a third star to his collection anytime soon – “because Michelin require more harmony in the flavours of my food” – and his World’s 50 Best Restaurants award (he was ranked number 34) hangs in his toilet. But not for the reason you might think.
“When I open the door, it’s the first thing I see every day,” says Raue. “I see it, and I recognise, ‘Man, you’re not on the street anymore. Behave – be strong, motivate the people around you, give a smile – and you can be happy’.”
• Dragonfly is open from Sunday to Thursday, noon to midnight, and Friday to Saturday, noon to 1am. Visit www.dragonfly.ae