German cuisine made in the USA | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 03.04.2013
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German cuisine made in the USA

Mimi Sheraton's "The German Cookbook" is America's classic guide to German cuisine. Veganism may be trendy right now, but that hasn't stopped young New Yorkers from falling in love with meat-heavy German dishes.

"There's no food quite like German cuisine." Karen Popp is hooked on Jägerschnitzel, steak tartare and currywurst.

And the young American is not the only one. The benches at the German restaurant Blaue Gans (German for "blue goose") in New York's Tribeca district are overflowing.

But that wasn't always the case. In the 1970s and 80s, many German restaurants disappeared from the map, but now they're experiencing a comeback.

A lot of German eateries have reopened in the past five years, says Daniel Möhler, the manager of the Blaue Gans. The restaurant is one of five that make up the Kurt Gutenbrunner chain.

It's second and third generation Americans with German heritage that are driving this particular culinary renaissance. "Young people want to know how their grandparents prepared their food," Brooklyn native Mimi Sheraton explains.

The author of the best-selling "German Cookbook" should know. Sheraton's book remains an American classic on German cuisine - even after 50 years.

Culinary comeback

Mimi Sheraton pictured in her New York kitchen in March 2013

Culinary classic: Mimi Sheraton in her New York kitchen

"I love Rhenish Sauerbraten," Sheraton says. The elegant 80-something author's love of German delicacies can be traced back to her childhood. Even today she speaks glowingly of her first visit to Manhattan at the end of the 1940s.

Back then an active German center still existed in New York's Yorkville, as well as a heap of German restaurants including Lüchlow's, Jägerhaus and Café Geiger, to name just a few.

"There were wonderful markets like the Bremenhaus," she says, "and Wurst makers. Only Schaller and Weber remain."

By the end of the 1960s, many Germans shipped out of Yorkville, a neighborhood in Manhattan, to the sprawling suburbs. And with them, the German eateries and stores disappeared too.

In the years that followed, German cuisine fell firmly out of favor with Americans. New Yorker's associated it with pork and dumplings - quite the opposite of the health food trends of the 1980s.

Today vegetarian and vegan cuisine is all the rage among young New Yorkers. Nevertheless, German cuisine is experiencing a comeback - much to the delight of Mimi Sheraton.

With the aid of her trusty cookbook, young people don't always have to head to a restaurant to enjoy tasty German fare. And that's just what they're doing: Around 3,000 copies of "The German Cookbook" are sold annually.

Creative not classic

Travel-hungry Sheraton went to Germany almost 20 times while researching her book and she didn't have any problems with the language. The author comes from an Ashkenazi-Jewish family that immigrated to the US from central and eastern Europe.

Mimi Sheraton was born in the US, but speaks Yiddish - a similar language to German. When she was a child, her family had a German housekeeper who often cooked for her. Aside from that, she explains, Ashkenazi-Jewish cuisine is a lot like German. The smells produced by her recipes take her right back to her childhood.

The cover of The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton

Sheraton's "The German Cookbook" (1965) is still an American classic

The cooking enthusiast never intended to turn her hobby into a profession. "I could never really cook in a restaurant or be a professional cook. Especially baking has been a challenge. That requires discipline and precision."

The creative cook prefers to throw all her ingredients in one pot according to her mood. Maybe that's why her cookbook, full of personal tips, is so popular.

Sheraton's favorite recipe is, of course, typically German: "Sauerbraten marinated in beer instead of wine."

Sheraton's got a successful career as a journalist, writer and restaurant critic behind her. For seven years, she visited up to four eateries a day for the New York Times. "I'm a born critic. I love to tell people what they're doing right and wrong," she grins.

When asked if the American trend for German cuisine is a fleeting one, the quick-witted writer pauses for thought and then leafs through her cookbook. Chicken, duck and goose fat are too greasy for many Americans.

While the young visitors to the Blaue Gans rave about the beer, roast pork and sauerkraut, many still connect German specialties with heavy and unhealthy food - an image that German cuisine has yet to overcome.

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