Mrs. Kohl's book a real potboiler Cook and tell: Hannelore Kohl, wife of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, has put together a book that gives 300 reasons for her husband's hefty presence in European politics.

January 26, 1996|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BERLIN -- Culinary quiz time: The prime minister of Great Britain is dropping by the German chancellor's house for dinner and you're in charge of the menu. What do you serve for the entree?

If you answered, "Pig's stomach stuffed with pork and potatoes, boiled for three hours and pan-fried in larded butter," then advance directly to the power kitchens of Bonn. And if there are leftovers, remember that the chancellor likes them re-fried the next day.

Yes, this was indeed the dish served last summer to Prime Minister John Major at the table of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It's called "Pfaelzer Saumagen," (Palatine Sow Stomach), and you'll find the recipe on page 127 of the new cookbook written by Mr. Kohl's wife, Hannelore.

Titled "Culinary Travels Through the Regions of Germany," its 300 recipes help explain how Mr. Kohl has literally become the biggest man of European politics.

Mr. Kohl's girth has long been a topic of jokes and lighthearted debate among Germans. Some call him "Buddha." Others simply say "Der Dicke" ("Fatso"), sometimes shouting it derisively at public appearances. Even President Clinton, no poster boy for Lean Cuisine himself, once likened Mr. Kohl to a sumo wrestler.

The populist tabloid newspaper Bild once declared Mr. Kohl's weight to be in excess of 380 pounds, and since then he seems to have expanded. So, naturally, someone asked for a weight update at the news conference when he unveiled his wife's cookbook.

"That's a state secret," Mr. Kohl replied.

Name means food

Even his name means food ("Kohl" is German for cabbage), and his wife's cookbook wastes no time capitalizing on the possibility for a pun. The first recipe is stuffed cabbage head, or "Gefuellter Kohlkopf," a joke even a Dummkopf could understand.

She finishes in a similar vein, with a headline atop the final page proclaiming that there are 10 kinds of cabbage, or Kohl, followed by a list of them all. Staring up at all these kohls from chairs at the bottom of the page, as if seated in a movie theater, are Helmut and Hannelore.

Mr. Kohl said he hopes the book will establish that Germans are serious about their eating -- no surprise to anyone who's ever watched a Berliner dig into a currywurst -- and that Germans should be as well known for their cooking as for their punctuality and seriousness.

He'll get no argument there from the country's top chefs.

"German cooking can compete with French or Italian cooking," maintains Thea Nothnagel, chef at the Berlin Hilton, and the top-rated chef in the former East Germany. "Like any other cuisine, it stands on three pillars: It has to look good, has to taste good, and has to be healthy."

Healthy? Are we still talking about the land of schnitzel and wurst?

"The German doesn't eat that fatty anymore," says Siegfried Stier, chef of Trio, one of Berlin's top-rated restaurants. "The cuisine has become lighter, less greasy. People cook with butter olive oil instead of lard."

'Comfort food'

In that case, Mrs. Kohl seems to have fallen a bit behind the culinary curve. Her cookbook is a compilation of solid, classic, Germanic "comfort food," loaded with sausages, dumplings, potatoes, eggs, cream, butter, lard and every cut of pork imaginable.

To get an idea of how the book might rate on an American Heart Association score card, consider that 90 recipes call for either pork, bacon or sausage. A mere nine include fish (two of which also come with meat, and three of which feature -- ugh -- carp).

Want to eat hearty like a Berliner? Turn to page 42, where you'll learn how to boil a pig's knuckle to make Eisbein, the high-cal treat with a soft, thick layer of fat. Or if you're feeling Bavarian, turn to page 183 to learn how to bake the pig's knuckle instead, giving you a crunchy though equally fatty Schweinehaxe. Then there's pork stewed in beer, carp cooked in dark beer and Bitburger Beer Soup.

It is something of a season for celebrity cookbooks in Germany. One by former East German spymaster Markus Wolf offers secrets of Russian cooking along with his musings on the nature of espionage. Another, by a popular TV personality, has moved to the top rungs of best-seller lists.

Mrs. Kohl's book hasn't made the list so far, although at $27 (with $4 from each book going to charity) it's relatively inexpensive. Berlin's largest bookstore seems singularly unimpressed, passing up the Kohl book in a recent culinary window display in favor of such titles as "The New Catalonian Cuisine" and "Mussel Recipes from Around the World."

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