From Sylt to Venice: Michelin-star chef Johannes King is cycling for a good cause.
03.08.2023 | People & Society
By E-Bike from north to south through Germany, over the Brenner Pass to South Tyrol, and on to Venice: we spoke to Johannes King and wanted to know what lay behind this mammoth ride – and what the 2 Michelin-star chef ate en route.
Hello Johannes. You have just cycled from Sylt to Venice – a distance of over 1600 km with 8200 metres of climbing. How does a 2 Michelin-star chef prepare to feed himself on such a trip?
(Laughs) Not at all! I hardly had any food with me and then I often really struggled to find a proper bakery, butcher’s or a really good restaurant. Unfortunately, over quite long distances I couldn’t find anything decent, as there are fewer and fewer traditional businesses. I mainly found food that was mass-produced on an industrial scale. On these “barren stretches” I simply ate apples or bananas. It was then all the sweeter when I accidentally discovered good restaurants or bakeries, which sold fantastic home-made products and dishes.
What was the bike ride all about?
After 23 years, I had relinquished the management of the Söl’ring Hof restaurant on the island of Sylt and so found myself with some free time. It was during this phase that I hit on the idea of doing something for a good cause for ten days during each of the next ten years. In 2022, for the first time I was part of a charity bike ride and cycled from Sylt to Paris, pedalling my way to over €50,000 for various charitable organisations. If you like, that was my personal ‘Camino’ on a bike. This year, I started again in Sylt and rode via Hamburg, Göttingen, Munich, Innsbruck, over the Brenner Pass to Venice.
Who are you collecting for this time?
I am collecting donations for two charities: Save the Children e. V., which is committed to helping children in need worldwide. And ACKER e. V., which is working towards increasing respect for food in society and counteracting the loss of knowledge and expertise in the food production sector.
What do they do precisely?
Education programmes are the main focus of their work. Children and young people learn how to grow, look after, harvest and cook vegetables on their own plot of land. They get involved and acquire key knowledge communicated in a fun way. I am very fond of the very youngest “Acker Rackers”, as we call them. My fund-raising campaign will run until the end of August 2023. I am thrilled about every single euro donated.
Do you use your bike a lot in your everyday life?
Yes, I do. But I’m not a racing cyclist! (laughs) I have a daily commute of around 12 km and I like to use my E-Bike for it. Often, I found myself working until after 11 in the evening and it’s then that electric pedal assistance and good lighting even make the trip home in the dark fun. I ride this route all year round, covering around 200 km each week.
» As the father of four children and two granddaughters, children are a real driving force in my life. They represent the future, are full of curiosity and their imaginations are limitless. And yet at the same time, I see every day that children receive little or no protection and often do not receive the support that every child deserves. «
Did you prepare specifically for this ride?
I am lucky enough to be an early-riser. It gets light early up here in the north. I used the early morning hours to head out on my bike three or four times a week. I rode around 80 km each day – with a breakfast break in between. I did this for six weeks. But I say time and time again: you can train your legs, wrists or neck – but you can’t train your rear! (laughs) Having said that, I have to admit that I have been extremely lucky with the saddle that I have been riding for two years. I have also been doing yoga for some time. I always had my yoga mat with me on the carrier during the ride, and so often did different stretching and relaxation exercises in the afternoon in the shade.
How long was the ride?
12 days. I planned the daily stages in advance using Komoot. The first day was a real killer (laughs). I rode the first 215 km from Rantum to Hamburg. I wanted to get there in time to celebrate my daughter’s thirtieth birthday with her. I really stepped things up over the next few days, riding 160 to 180 km each day, but then slightly less from then on. I crossed the Brenner Pass on day eight, a gradient of up to 23%. It was pretty challenging, but the cycle paths were fantastic.
You opted for a Riese & Müller Supercharger for your trip.
Yes, I have been riding that bike for about two years. It’s just amazing! It fits me perfectly ergonomically and is stable and safe to ride. And virtually nothing needed to be done on the bike even after this long ride. My dealer Nordsee Bike on Sylt provides just the best support. They are just great.
What is your recommendation for what to eat the evening before a long bike ride?
I’ve got a great pasta machine at home. I would probably make myself some fresh pasta. Have it with fresh chanterelle mushrooms, young spring onions and lots of fresh herbs. And a large slice of chocolate cake for dessert!
Does the issue of sustainability play a role in your cooking?
Absolutely. I am a supporter of a good, sensible and simple diet. First and foremost, this involves respect for our food, healthy soil and clean water. We have to understand the products within the cycle of nature. For instance, take asparagus: you get asparagus for around six weeks a year. We look forward to this time for the rest of the year – doing without something can actually heighten our desire for it. Asparagus also has the highest nutritional value during its peak harvesting season– that’s also when you have the best choice. Unlike asparagus that is grown in a greenhouse and is ready to harvest long before or even after the real asparagus season. The same applies to all seasonal products, whether chard, cauliflower, strawberries or cucumbers. Everything has its time. Sustainability then becomes a matter of course.
Do you already have plans for your next project?
I think I might stick with cycling. I could imagine a stage ride, with ten cyclists on each stage. At the end of each day’s stage, I could then cook something for them all. Or a ride along the Douro Valley as a I am big fan of port wine. I’ve got several ideas up my sleeve. (laughs)
Thank you for speaking to us Johannes!
Find out more about the charity bike ride: Johannes King Stiftung
Johannes King grew up with nine siblings in the Black Forest, worked in Cologne, Vienna and Berlin, and trained with top French chefs. He received his first Michelin star in 1993. Between 2000 and 2021, Johannes King was the host at the Dorint Söl’ring Hof in Rantum on the island of Sylt, where he received his second Michelin star in 2004. In 2022, he relinquished the management of the restaurant and, in addition to the “Gourmet Shop” which he has been running since 2013, he also opened a pop-up store in the Alte Keitum railway station where he sells products from different partners.
Johannes King is also known to the general public from his regular television appearances, including “Kitchen Impossible”, where he entered into a cooking duel with Tim Mälzer in 2018.