The Jack of All Trades
Dieter Meier is someone who, without exaggeration, can be described as a music legend. With the band Yello, the Swiss native became world famous in the 80s together with his colleague Boris Blank. Heard their hits like ‘Oh Yeah’ and ‘The Race’? Experimental and electronic, and a little gaga, the tunes get under your skin thanks to Dieter’s deep voice. Yello still perform today.
But music is by no means Dieter’s only mode of expression: Dieter, probably the best dressed rebel of Zurich, who even earned his living as a professional gambler for a while, started working as a performance and conceptual artist in the late 60s. In 1972, he took part in Documenta 5 in Kassel, for which he installed a metal plaque at the main station with the inscription, ‘Dieter Meier will stand on this plaque on 23 March 1994 from 3pm to 4pm’ — a promise he later kept.
As a creative entrepreneur and investor, Dieter has his fingers everywhere in the game. His greatest passions, however, are the worlds of culinary delights and nature, and, following from that, his farm in Argentina, where he cultivates wine, breeds cattle, and spends a lot of time. He serves up products from his second home in his restaurants — of course this jack-of-all-trades is also a restaurateur. And he has also just set up a chocolate factory. Somewhere between his many projects, Dieter took a moment to answer some questions for COMPANION.
Tasting Dieter Meier
Those who visit Zurich, Berlin, or Frankfurt should not miss one of Dieter’s Ojo de Agua restaurant branches, where he serves, among other delicacies, mouth-watering beef from his own farm in Argentina. In Berlin, he now also runs Torbar, where there is always a nice vibe.
Will you soon be in Argentina by any chance? Wonderful! Nowhere else can you experience Dieter’s culinary world so closely. Watch the grass-fed cows or visit the vineyards in Mendoza, where the organic winery is open to visitors all year round. Of course, there is also a restaurant overseeing the surrounding nature.
They are called Puro, Malo, and Ojo Negro, and they are real champions: these award-winning wines from Ojo de Agua are of course not only available in Argentina, but can also be conveniently ordered online.
With Oro de Cacao, Dieter has brought a chocolate onto the market that, thanks to modern techniques, takes up the traditional cold processing of unroasted cocoa beans, as was customary in Mayan culture. Zurich now has its own chocolate boutique.
Of course, Dieter’s family is very creative too! With enSoie, his wife and daughters run a sustainable fashion label with various branches in Zurich. From time to time, he designs prints for them. EnSoie even has a café.
COMPANION: Dieter Meier, why do people need music?
Dieter Meier: Music plays in our subconscious. A world without music is inconceivable.
You gained worldwide fame with the band Yello, but you’re actually a true jack-of-all-trades. Among other things, you rear cattle in Argentina and produce wine, and you operate your own restaurant chain, Ojo de Agua, in various cities. Do you find there are parallels between the restaurant business and the music business?
Everything has to be in harmony, and authentic.
What makes a good restaurateur? And what about a good artist?
A restaurateur has empathy and loves their guests. An artist is a lone wolf on the search for themselves. Success is a by-product.
What does a good meal actually sound like?
A good meal sounds like nature. I’m not a fan of excessive seasoning. A carrot or potato cooked al dente exudes the aromas that nature gave it.
Last year, you also opened Torbar in Berlin. What do you like about the German capital? And your hometown of Zurich?
Berlin is the most open city in Europe, and has an inspiring cosmopolitan flair. Snobbery is frowned upon. I love to visit Zurich ‘à la recherche du temps perdu’ [in search of lost time]. When I walk through the city, I am catapulted into memories of my childhood.
With Oro de Cacao, you make chocolate now too.
A professor of aroma research showed me his cold extraction methods and I was instantly captivated. The aromas aren’t given off into the oven, like with the usual heat torture that conventional methods involve, but instead go into the chocolate.
Can you explain the difference in taste?
Conventional chocolate is packed with sugar and additives, and dark chocolate is usually far too bitter. We produce a dark 85 percent cocoa chocolate without any bitterness, which means that you can fully experience all of the complexity of the cocoa bean aromas.
What is your favourite recipe with chocolate? And your favourite kind of chocolate out there?
Peruvian, Bolivian, Cuban, and Guatemalan are my favourites. A chocolate cake or mousse au chocolat will enchant your taste buds.
How has the chocolate been received so far?
Excellently. We won a gold medal for our milk chocolate at the leading chocolate summit in San Francisco.
So, you invested around 28 million Swiss francs in your new chocolate factory. Is success more easily calculable with this kind of entrepreneurial project than the art business?
Art means finding yourself; white chocolate has to delight consumers.
With all of your entrepreneurial projects, do you still need art?
Definitely. As soon as the factory is in operation, I will finally have the time to prepare a film.
Where does your passion for cattle farming, wine production, and chocolate come from?
I try to do right by what nature offers us.
Do you have to understand anything about these things to be successful? Does the same go for music?
For my industrial and agricultural projects, I rely on experts, who have all now become friends too. Like many things in my life, music came about by chance. With my so-called experimental films on the big screen at the cinema, I provided a live accompaniment myself using various tones and my own voice; it was very anarchistic and, to my surprise, led me to music.
It seems like everything you touch turns to gold. Does that drive you?
It goes without saying that many of the things I’ve done were total commercial flops. But nobody could take those experiences away from me, because they helped me to understand myself better. You learn more from a flop than you do from a hit.
Dieter Meier — you are also a brand. How would you describe your USP?
As a ‘non-practising atheist’, I try to follow the guidance of the wandering preacher from Nazareth, who says, ‘Be like children.’
What is still missing from the Dieter Meier cosmos?
Things simply come to me somehow; it feels like I am watching a movie play out.
Your family is also creative. Your wife runs the sustainable label enSoie with the help of your daughters. Do you ever work together?
I will actually sometimes design a silk scarf completely irresponsibly, anarchically, and driven by sheer insignificance.
You described the German press as ‘post-modern aristocrats’. How do you see yourself?
As a child full of wonder, on a lifelong search for myself.