Ralf Wollmann knows a thing or two about dining standards. By age 11 he was already critiquing his mother’s cooking, and he began working in her restaurant in his hometown of Wurzburg, Germany soon after. Even as a teenager he understood the importance of hospitality when it comes to preparing a meal. This passion for satisfying his guests’ every need has remained paramount, leading to his restaurant, Eden (situated in the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff), being awarded with the AAA/CAA’s Five Diamond rating, its highest honour, for the ninth year in a row.
Tell me about your first memory cooking.
Actually it’s kind of a funny story. I was around 11 years old and my mother served us pork chops that were medium rare. And I looked at her and said, ‘Mom, there’s something wrong here. The food doesn’t look cooked.’ And she said, ‘You must just eat it. It’s going to be okay.’ I did eat some of it, but then I took a cookbook and checked it. And then after that, I actually went and corrected it. I took it back to the frying pan and cooked it a little bit further and I ate it.
My two brothers actually ate the pork chop raw. But I knew something was not right from their meal and my meal. [Laughs.]Oh, I took a beating from my older brother after that.
Now that you work in a top-rated restaurant, do you find that there are any extra expectations from diners?
You want to be a trendsetter to the whole hospitality industry. Every plate needs to be a piece of art. There is just so much work that goes into every dish. You want people to eat and say, ‘Wow, that was outstanding.’ If someone walks out of the dining room and says, ‘Yeah, that was okay,’ then we didn’t do well.
Is there a food or spice that you make sure is stocked at your kitchen at home?
I have to be honest:. when you look at my kitchen at home, I would say there are at least 30 spices that I have all the time. I always have cumin, chili peppers, cayenne, sea salt, nutmeg. I have all of that in stock because I like to have a good assortment of spices at home.
Is there a food you don’t like?
I really dislike hot dogs. I love European wieners, if they are done right. But hot dogs – there’s too much fat and they’re just awful. I don’t know why you want to do that to your body.
Do you have a favourite late-night meal?
I have two. There’s a time when I don’t workout much because of the job and I’m too tired. Then I eat yogurt and fruit.
Then when I’m really good in shape, it’s thin-crust pizza. I love a good thin-crust pizza. I’ll add another slice of prosciutto – I am certainly guilty of that. I mean, you know what it’s like for a chef: You look at food and gain weight.
Is there an ingredient that you feel represents Banff?
Because of the Bow Valley, it’s game meat. I’m a big fan of caribou but you can’t get enough caribou because there is not enough produced. Another great meat is elk.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, what are the ingredients for a great romantic meal?
Oysters, especially baked oysters. For me, that would be a must. In fact, I have it on the menu this year. And then I’d like a combination plate, like a surf ‘n’ turf. Maybe with caribou and a nice sauce. Dessert is automatically chocolate. It’s got to be velvety and it’s got to stick in your memory.
On to the rapid fire round: Spicy or sweet foods?
When you’re drinking wine without a meal, do you prefer red or white?
Greasy spoon or Zagat-rated restaurant?
Let’s put it this way: I cannot say yes or no on this one because if the restaurant is good, I go there and eat away.
This interview has been condensed and edited.