Glasses clink together. The room is filled with the sounds of cheerful voices and mellow music. Outside, night is falling over St. Pauli; inside, the kitchen crew’s juggling pots and pans, sending up clouds of mouthwatering scent. One by one, bowls and plates head out to the tables—served up Balagan style, so it’s all meant to be shared. “Eating together and trying a little of everything is the best,” says restaurateur Johannes Riffelmacher, who everyone calls “Jo”. He and “Cozy”, his long-time friend Thomas Kosikowski, run Salt & Silver together. The two of them share a passion for surfing, traveling, and cooking for friends; when their paths crossed again after they’d spent years apart, it didn’t take them long to realize they wanted to do all of those things together. Just like that, they left their old lives behind them and started a brand-new project. “Our mission,” Jo says, “is to bring the best food from all over the world to Hamburg.” And it’s working: Their customers are foraging enthusiastically through the large bowls arranged in the center of the table for everyone. There’s chicharron, pork belly with apple cream and fried corn pudding, and pulpo, octopus with salsa Veracruz. The tacos and ceviche are still the biggest sellers, though.
“Those are the first things people came to know us for,” Jo says. Fun fact: neither of them is a trained chef. Cozy was a photographer in his previous life, and Jo worked as an art director for a big advertising agency. “I never wanted to be a restaurateur,” Jo says. “Or write a cookbook. Or become a mezcal importer.” Now they both do all of those things. In fact, they’ve got two cookbooks to their names, and now two restaurants as well: this past summer, Salt & Silver opened its restaurant next to its street food bar, and its casual sharing-style food was an instant hit. “Even with guys in suits,” Jo grins. But really, who can resist great food and a fabulous view of the harbor? “Our guests are a really random mix of people,” Jo says. “People from all walks of life, including families and senior citizens.”
The one thing they all have in common is an appreciation for a good meal at a good price. A few of the main dishes do crack the €30 mark, but at Salt & Silver, that’ll get you Irish steak, Canadian lobster tail, or a freshly grilled whole fish with all the trimmings.
Johannes Riffelmacher praises his suppliers to the skies—including when he’s talking to customers. “For example, we tell them that our meat comes from a small farm in Ireland where they only butcher 20 cows a week, so we have to order in advance,” he explains. “We deal with them directly, not through a middleman, which helps keep the price down some.” Salt & Silver’s focus is on good, honest products, not frou-frou: “It’s important to us that the animals had a good life. You can taste the difference.”
Biokiste Hamburg, an organic food delivery service by Grünkorb Nursery, is another supplier. “We get seasonal vegetables, wild greens and herbs from them,” Jo says. “They even grow rare chili varieties for us, native to Mexico and Peru, as well as exotic herbs like epazote, hoja santa, and betel leaves.” Now Jo and Cozy are taking the relationship a step further— They’re working with the nursery to create a cultivation area of their own, where they’ll be growing herbs as well as around 70 regional varieties of corn from around South America.
In fact, the whole Salt & Silver project started in South and Central America back in 2014: Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile. That trip resulted in their first cookbook, and gave them a life motto:
“Travel – Surf – Cook”.
Travel, surf, cook. Sounds like a pretty great life, right? “It’s also hard work, of course, but nobody wants to hear about that,” Jo says. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the mellow surfer-dude image? Whatever. “We don’t want an image,” he says decisively. Okay, well, let’s put it differently: How do you guys manage to do all of this? What’s your secret recipe?
“Just do it, don’t waste time blah-blah-blah-ing about it,” Jo replies. “I mean, now that I’ve said that, it’s not a secret recipe anymore!” He laughs. And then goes back to work. Not long ago, they finished shooting a documentary in Morocco for German television. Most recently, they were in Beirut, and they brought a few exciting Levantine recipes home with them. “I’m sure we’ll go back there again someday. But we want to go further. Israel, Palestine, Iran. Sounds dangerous?” Jo waves the idea away. “We have friends all over the place. And it’s not like we’re going to Aleppo!”