By this point Raue is leaning back in a chair in the dining room and starting to loosen up. His laughs are genuine and he cracks off-color jokes about stereotypical Germans. He refers to a stint in the solitary confinement of a youth jail as a "single-room apartment with a view" compared to what it could've been. Tim Raue is a funny dude.
It's as if the authoritarian leader from Chef’s Table has been tucked inside his uniform pocket. He talks about meditation, yoga, and the serenity of a holiday home in Sicily, and it becomes clear that Tim Raue has a bounty of layers. A 50-minute episode isn't enough to peel back the complexity that he plunges with force into his food.
So it's easy to understand why Raue wants less limelight now, and has closed another chapter with Chef’s Table. He's a tough nut to crack and his past always follows. There will always be a criminal record. Before Raue cooked dinner for former first family Barack and Michelle Obama on an official Berlin visit, the federal police had to come and ask, "Chef Tim, we don't have anything to worry about with you, do we?" They were serious, says Raue. German law states criminal records must be expunged after a certain number of years for most crimes, so it was surprising.
"It's been 26 years now since I really became a nice part of society," says Raue, now 42 years old. "But 300 days a year I wake up and I still don't know what happened. I'm still thinking about being hungry and cold."
As fate would have it, a few of the star chef's former ex-gang members have also been focal points of the public eye. One was world-champion kickboxer Muzaffer Tosun. Another, filmmaker Neco Celik, is known as the German Spike Lee.
The 36 Boys even made international headlines with German rapper Deso Dogg, who became a recruiter for the Islamic State. The Pentagon first reported him dead in an airstrike in 2015, but just a few months ago it was revealed he likely survived. So while many of the gang's survivors are making good, scrutiny and notoriety seems destined to follow.
Raue says he hasn't really kept in touch with anyone from back then. He's too busy for socializing, and instead has sights trained on opening more restaurants. A third Michelin star isn't on the radar. "Michelin is looking for harmony in food," he states. "Not me."
At the series' premiere at this year's Berlinale Film Festival, he prepared a meal in honor of fellow Chef's Table subject Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk whose episode focuses on her Zen approach to cooking -- a style that completely contrasts with Raue's portrayal. Critics praised his ability to mute his penchant for provocation. They were surprised by his beauteous interpretation of her modest temple food.
"I'm not such a bad guy," he told the audience. "I'm really nice."
One of history's most famous dictators, Joseph Stalin, once said of his wife: "This creature softened my heart of stone." Tim Raue may run his kitchen with an iron fist, but there's no denying what softens his heart is everything he puts on a plate. He's no Stalin to be sure, and if anyone is capable of meaningful self-improvement, it's this guy. Who knows? Maybe in a few years he'll introspect and act a little closer to the nun Kwan after all.
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