The passions of ‘Mister Dining’ – a conversation with Thomas Kastl.

Interview with Thomas Kastl

For 22 years he has been Director of the Dining section at Ambiente in Frankfurt. We therefore expected that Thomas Kastl was likely to be a valuable source of information about the latest trends around the kitchen, table and catering. To our delight, we met a man who in fact lives and breathes this subject with every fibre of his being. During our encounter with ‘Mister Dining’ we discovered plenty of interesting facts about his work, as well as numerous insights into fine dining, love of detail and his own personal passions.

A meeting place for connoisseurs
Thomas Kastl praises the interior and the table decorations in the Restaurant Stanley Diamond in Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel district. “Straight lines, very well thought-out, very quality-conscious. But there are slightly rough edges that stop it giving the impression of being over-designed.” This assessment definitely pleases James Ardinast, one of the creators of the restaurant, who took time out to greet the dining expert in person. And Kastl in turn is pleased when the Frankfurt food connoisseur reveals that “we discovered our beautiful, heavy crystal water glasses at Ambiente.” He underlines his extreme attention to quality and detail as he adds: “We also personalised the bottoms of the glasses with our signature.”

tumbler glass wineglass design

Pleasing trends and developments
“Generally speaking, the market for products of a superior quality is growing.” According to Kastl, who has been responsible for the “Dining” section at Ambiente for 22 years, this can be seen not only in the private consumer market, but also in retail target groups and in the Horeca (hotel, restaurant and catering) sector. He compares the market trend to an egg timer: “We have of course the base, the lower segment so to speak, in which price and logistics play a decisive role and sales volumes are large. This is as ever the biggest segment and has an important function both for the trade and for private consumers as customers often first come into contact with design and trends perhaps as students equipping their first kitchen. Above this, in the area you could call the premium or luxury segment, we are seeing growing demand. The focus is increasingly on traditional manufacture, classic designs, high-quality materials and sustainability aspects of production.” This pleases connoisseur and gourmet Thomas Kastl as this trend goes hand in hand with a general return to – or ‘reawakening of’ as he terms it – values that go far beyond the kitchen, table and decorations …

Kastl area director dining Ambiente

Savoir vivre
Values. An important subject for Thomas Kastl. Both in his professional and private life. The 12 – yes 12! – dinner services that he owns include treasures that have been in the family’s possession since 1918. “I am fascinated by their timeless elegance,” he enthuses, and gives as an example a German porcelain classic that is still available today and whose classic design “has not gone out of fashion in a hundred years.” However, the portfolio for the perfectly laid table at the Kastl household also contains modern services with organic shapes and bold patterns, purist sushi equipment and rustic ceramic tableware for the barbecue – the right service for every meal and theme! The values that he feels are important to maintain are above all of a cultural nature. “These days, unfortunately, meals are often just a matter of taking food on board. Shared meals are celebrated only on holidays.” But that’s not the case with Thomas Kastl. He enjoys a three-course dinner every evening with his wife “with the right table settings, the right wine and, of course, the right music for the mood and theme.” He is a passionate champion of what is often forgotten in our fast-paced age – a sense of pleasure in dining. He is greatly saddened by a statistic he recently read that most delivery pizzas in Germany are eaten straight from the box. “A sorry state of affairs. Every meal, no matter how quickly or simply prepared, can be served and celebrated like a feast.” In this context Kastl can’t help but mention his ‘second home’ France. For over 26 years he has regularly visited the Côte d’Azur and loves how the French maintain and cherish their cultural and culinary heritage. “For 15 years my route to our French home took me past a kindergarten where I used to see a notice that I took to be the timetable. It was only when I stopped to take a closer look that I discovered that it was the menu for the children. And there were no ‘children’s meals’ such as spaghetti or schnitzel there, but a daily three-course meal together with a cheese course. One time there was even another note pinned up asking the parents to agree to the provision of cloth serviettes for a small additional charge. It gives you plenty to think about. Pleasure in food, the sense of pleasure is something you can learn from an early age.”

dishes culery decoration food arranging

From restaurant to home cooking
Thomas Kastl assesses the table settings with a connoisseur’s eye and lifts up plates and glasses. Laughing, he apologises for this ‘occupational disease’ and shows us how to perform this quality check a bit more discretely. He lifts the side plate up just a little and slides one of the highly polished knives underneath it in order to see the maker’s logo in the reflection. Satisfied with the outcome, he returns to the subject of the ‘reawakening’ of values and quality. “Kitchen and table trends normally have their start in the restaurant trade, for instance sous-vide cooking, which has been made popular recently by celebrity chefs. Today the industry supplies equipment for household use and the technique is now employed more in our own homes for cooking, grilling and mixing drinks than in professional kitchens.” According to the Ambiente expert, the same applies to table settings and serving food: “Manufacturers offer dishes and tableware that were previously only found in restaurants. For instance, wooden tablets on which seasonings or dips are presented, or large plates with room for little bowls for serving sauces and vegetables.” We’ve returned to the authentic, the attractive and the good. You can also see this in the retail sector, says Thomas Kastl: “For example, in the past pretty oil bottles or glass noodle jars were used as decorations in furnishing stores. Today, though, the market for high-quality and attractively presented foodstuffs is booming. I recognised this trend towards gourmet shops some years ago. In fact, from the creation and presentation of theme worlds around the enjoyment of food has emerged a business model with a future, which is even starting to be seen in modern supermarkets.”

Hunter, gatherer, chef
Teriyaki grills, steam cookers, automatic coffee machines, Japanese knives, barbecue smokers – private gourmets have an expensive hobby. “Men, in particular, have developed into the target group for manufacturers of high-quality cooking utensils and kitchen products as well as exquisite foodstuffs,” states Thomas Kastl, who is happy to see himself as part of a group of people who see shared cooking, table arranging and eating in a relaxed atmosphere with a good glass of wine as a complete concept for the enjoyment of food and for the enjoyment of life. “Many new developments have come about thanks to the cooking man. Our kitchens are becoming increasingly intelligent, the networking of kitchen and IT is becoming increasingly sophisticated, fridges sort out the shopping, devices can be controlled by apps. Men simply love technology.” So, we now come to the final question: How modern is our ‘Mister Dining’ in his own kitchen? Thomas Kastl smiles and pulls out his mobile phone, a dinosaur from before the smartphone era. “Personally, I’m still quite traditional. But there are new things that are really impressive in terms of innovative materials and sustainability that will certainly be everywhere in a few years’ time. That’s important because we want to enthuse the next generations about what is important: a passion for and pleasure in dining.”

premium kitchenware utensils dinner gourmet