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  • Top chef: Cynthia Barcomi


Top chef: Cynthia Barcomi

Twice a month, we shine a spotlight on our favourite chefs in the city. This time round it's the pioneer of American deli food in Berlin, Cynthia Barcomi.

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Photo by Nicky Walsh

This month, Cynthia Barcomi celebrates 22 years of sharing classic American baked goods with Berlin at Barcomi’s Coffee Shop in Kreuzberg, the first and still the most iconic location in Berlin for genuine homemade bagels, cheesecake, carrot cake and more. When she first came to Berlin as a dancer, the Seattle-born New Yorker started baking as a way to deal with homesickness. Since then her hobby has turned into a thriving brand with two shops (the second, Barcomi’s Deli, opened in Mitte in 1997), three cookbooks and a line of baking pans to boot.Her decadent pastries, salads and filled bagels, made fresh daily, will make you feel like you’re at a baseball game on the fourth of July.

What kind of food do you cook?

At Barcomi’s we make a lot of light foods – a lot of salads. Our menu is somewhat international because it’s made up of things I like to eat personally, so we have Mediterranean and Italian dishes as well as American classics, like our tuna or chicken salads. We also do classic American baked goods – boiled bagels, pies, cookies, brownies, bread etc. American food culture is different from European food culture, from the way we use our ingredients to the manner in which we eat certain things. The baking tradition especially is very, very different, in the sense that Americans bake every day whereas Germans or Europeans tend to bake more for celebrations like Christmas or birthdays.

What’s your most popular item?

The New York cheesecake and the carrot cake are probably our best selling items. Everything is made by hand every day – the bagels, the rye bread, the potato bread, the cookies, the brownies, the muffins, the cupcakes and all of the cheesecakes!  We do so much with cream cheese that we use over a tonne in a month. It’s insane!

What food trend do you hate the most?

I don’t have a least favourite food trend. I sit back and take them in, but they don’t necessarily inspire me. I’m just more of a classic person and I don’t necessarily want to explore all of those trends in my own space.

A cooking tip?

Look, cooking and baking are very different beasts. Cooking is like painting with oil paints and baking is like watercolours – you can’t do many corrections when you bake. But whichever one you are doing, cooking or baking, try to revel in the process and enjoy the sensory experience, whether it’s the taste or the feel or the colour or how the different ingredients complement each other.

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

My husband and I will go out if we’re celebrating something, but I don’t have the time to chase down new restaurants. Pantry Berlin in Mitte is one of our family go-tos, so that’s one place I could recommend.

What’s the best thing about owning a restaurant in Berlin?

It’s my livelihood and my existence, so Berlin really inspires me on a creative level. Having a restaurant here has become an outlet for me to express my ideas. Owning a shop has been a process of developing myself. I started out roasting coffee beans and I thought “I’ll just cook a little bit to introduce Germans to American baked goods,” and it just kept on going and turned into me writing a book and creating the baking pans… It’s all been a process reaching a full circle.

…and the worst?

It’s very challenging, to be honest! We have over 50 employees and it’s hard on a daily basis just to make sure everyone is happy and working harmoniously together. Even though it’s a lot of work, I love my businesses. I’m really lucky to have been able to do what I want to do for so long!