Maximilian Rustler is a composer – a composer of flavors. The recipe author cooks in his sleep, so to speak. As a trained cook, he heads the recipe department at Image Professionals. Here he develops new, exciting recipes for our food photos every day, determines nutritional values and calorie information, and gives nutritional tips. Here, we introduce Max in an interview.
Max, when did you realize that you enjoy cooking?
Max: It started early at home in my mother’s kitchen. Whether it was baking cookies or cakes, I always wanted to be there. When I got older, I started to try things myself. Not always to the delight of my family, but I soon realized that cooking is more than just stupid food preparation. I soon discovered a talent for imagining complex combinations of aromas in my head and understanding what goes best with this or that, a type of meat, fish, and vegetables. So it was obvious, after graduating from high school, to take a cooking class.
What fascinates you so much about cooking?
Max: Everything about cooking fascinates me. Above all, it’s that you never stop learning… No matter whether you’ve been in the profession for five, ten, or thirty years. New trends and preparation methods are always coming into play. There are no limits to creativity, and honestly, everyone loves good food. This feeling of happiness in the eyes of my fellow men, when they have enjoyed one of my creations, is just great. I love to conjure an expression of “wow” through good food. And it is the best way for me to come down.
How do you compose a dish?
Max: First, there is the idea. For example, you want to make a casserole, cook Italian, or conjure up a three-course meal for the family. In the beginning, there is always the main actor like a piece of meat, fish, or even pasta. You compose the dish around this center point. Then side dishes, spices, herbs, etc. are selected. Everything should fit the center. That is the challenge. In the end, everything should form a unified taste on the palate without the main character or any other component being lost.
What exactly do you do at Image Professionals?
Max: My core task as an internal recipe author is to write the majority of the recipes ordered by customers. If desired, I also take care of calculating the nutritional values for the respective recipes. I am happy to answer any questions if the customer wants to know more about the recipes, ingredients, or method. I also develop new recipes for our in-house production service StockFood Studios, for which the pictures are produced afterward.
Where were you trained as a cook?
Max: My training began in one of the best hotels in the world, a five-star superior hotel in the south of Germany. One of the five restaurants of this luxury hotel was even a one-star restaurant. That was all very impressive, but for me personally, the individual support that a trainee needs was a little too little. So I decided to switch and then completed my apprenticeship in a four-star conference hotel with distinction from the Bavarian Ministry of State.
Wow, what were your experiences with star cuisine?
Max: In the luxury hotel, I just mentioned, my experience in this respect was only a short liaison. However, I got a further insight into the star gastronomy after my apprenticeship when I got the opportunity to get a taste of a two-star kitchen. That was very, very exciting. A kind of perfection that I had never seen before. In retrospect, it did change my way of cooking and the understanding of cooking itself. The hardest thing was to understand the philosophy of the cook first. You also had to adapt and try to keep up, which was a challenge. In kitchens like this, pace and tone are different from elsewhere. In retrospect, however, it made me feel better.
Which job in the gastronomy industry had a particularly lasting effect on you and why?
Max: I have worked in hotels and restaurants all over Germany, from excursion bars, to good middle-class restaurants, to upscale gastronomy. But my last job, before I started at Image Professionals, had the most impact on me. Back then, as an employed chef, I had opened a restaurant together with a young couple and was involved in the entire development. The core theme was steaks from the large charcoal grill, which was a central part of the restaurant and visible from the outside because the kitchen was open. This ensured full transparency. Species-appropriate breeding and regionalism were the top priority: from meat to organic eggs and farm ice cream. It was a very good experience for me. To take over the responsibility was great fun.
How did you leave the kitchen and go to a stock agency?
Max: Working in gastronomy was unfortunately very time-consuming, and as a family-oriented person, I missed this time with my family very much. But above all, it gave me problems with my intervertebral discs because of the physically exhausting work. So, it was clear that I had to change professionally. When Image Professionals was looking for a recipe author, both sides immediately clicked. I am very happy to work here and to be able to remain true to my love of cooking.
What is the exciting thing about your job at Image Professionals?
Max: The best thing for me was that from the beginning I could immediately identify with what I was doing. From the catering kitchen to the PC screen, that was a big step and a hard cut. But I can now apply all that I have learned over the years as a chef, as a recipe author, every day, recipe for recipe. I am also constantly learning new things. Basically, I have taken on a completely new area of responsibility, but I can put my accumulated knowledge to good use. Dealing with people, working closely in a team in a changing industry, where it is important not to stand still, to always develop further, and also to want to – this is what motivates me the most.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in your job?
Max: The biggest challenge is to stand out from the crowd. We work every day to fulfill all our customers’ wishes, to become better, and ultimately to deliver the perfect product. Therefore, it is even more important for us to work closely with our customers to find out what their wishes and suggestions are. Especially now in Corona times, it is especially important to be flexible.
What do the customers want from you?
Max: Mainly, customers turn to us when they need recipes for our pictures. We are available at any time to answer questions about recipes, special requests, and technical questions of all kinds. For example, it is especially exciting when dealing with health topics, diets, and forms of nutrition. This is where concentrated expertise is required. Sometimes we receive urgent large orders of about 50 recipes that should have been finished yesterday. We must organize ourselves in such a way that we can handle a higher workload. But we are happy to accept any challenge.
You also develop recipes for StockFood Studios. How is this different from normal recipe writing?
Max: For production for StockFood Studios, the recipes have to be even more precise, because the pictures are taken afterward. There have been some briefings where the recipes had to be changed several times after the implementation because the customer has additional wishes during the production. That’s why it’s even better to regularly receive positive feedback from StockFood Studios customers when our recipes are actually cooked and with our help, a wonderful picture is created. Of course, this makes us very happy.
How do you manage to create a complete recipe from just one photo?
Max: It is essential to look closely at what is shown in the picture to determine how many components are contained in the dish. Often keywords that are under the picture or information that the photographers sometimes provide help. This makes it easy to see in which thematic direction the dish is going. Be it Italian, oriental, good bourgeois, etc. Then I write the list of ingredients. Next, we use the available information, such as: what quantities are needed, what spices, what herbs, and above all, what are the necessary steps? Once all this is gathered, the actual recipe writing begins. The most important thing here is that everything is prepared in the right order and nothing is forgotten in the end.
How do you manage to determine the exact quantities and describe the correct way of preparation?
Max: As a trained chef who hasn’t done anything else for years and with the guidelines I have in my head regarding portion sizes, it is relatively easy for me to determine the correct quantities. Again. experience is the magic word. Therefore, I know how something must be prepared. I compose the recipe in my head. Most of the time you can also see on the photo whether something has been fried, grilled, or poached, and often the way of preparation is already mentioned in the description of the picture.
What makes a good recipe?
Max: A good recipe must be so comprehensible that everyone can cook it at home. I admit it was a bit difficult in the beginning to use technical terms that only a professional can understand. You always have to assume that cooking amateurs will try out the recipes. Then there is the combination of ingredients, preparation steps, spices, herbs, and cooking methods. The basic conditions are given by the pictures. Within these, you can be as creative as you like to achieve a harmonious overall composition in the end. The recipe should be able to do three things: It must be easy to copy, it must taste, and stand out from other recipes.
What is the difference between cooking and baking recipes?
Max: Baking is simply completely different from cooking. When baking, strict quantity specifications must be observed. Here, ten grams too much or too little can be fatal. Of course, you can be just as creative here as you are in cooking when it comes to taste and aromas, but you have to work much more precisely. Everything must always be adhered to. When cooking, you can quickly add a pinch here and there. But if the quantities are no longer right when baking, the end result is often quite different than planned. Baking is a completely different world and an extremely complex subject in its own right. It is not for nothing that there are special training classes for this. Another huge difference is that as soon as cakes, bread, pastries, etc. see the inside of the oven, nothing can be changed or added. Only at the end, you can see if it has become something or not. When cooking, you can influence how good the end product turns out up until the end.
For many recipe authors vegan baking is a big challenge. Why is that?
Max: Vegan baking has little to do with normal baking, more with molecular cuisine. The main point is that butter and eggs are missing, which are essential for a classic good cake. Instead, one uses vegetable alternatives such as binding and thickening agents. Here the correct composition of all ingredients is extremely important, otherwise it won’t work. Therefore, it is extremely helpful to have a continuous exchange with experienced professionals. Thorough research for this type of recipe is the be-all and end-all.
Why should potential customers order their recipes from your department of all places?
Max: At StockFood and StockFood Studios, the best people in the field of food photography have been working together for years. Not only do we have great images from more than 1,000 professional food photographers from all over the world. We also have videos, features, and recipes for the images. And each of our recipe authors is a professional in a specific field and has accumulated a wealth of experience over many years as a confectioner, cook, Ecotrophologists, etc. This enormous range of expertise is what makes us so special.
What projects is the recipe department currently working on?
Max: Recipes are an extremely popular feature with our customers. That’s why we always want to make our product even better. We are currently intensely working on a new recipe editor that will meet the latest technical standards. It will be based on the old one, but with many new features. One of them will be the live nutritional value calculation during recipe writing. This will enable us to enter even more different nutritional values faster in the future. The recipes will also be presented in a balanced, more consistent, professional style.
What do you do when you are not cooking or writing recipes?
Max: Besides cooking, I have gasoline in my blood. I’m interested in cars, whether new or old, take pictures, and like to spend a lot of time with my loved ones. I am not married yet but happily engaged. The wedding is scheduled for next year. Corona has unfortunately put a spoke in our wheel this year. We have two cats, and recently a little black female Labrador named Wilma moved in with us. She is an absolutely fantastic new member of the family. We all live together near my birthplace Weilheim in Upper Bavaria, in the middle of the countryside. I grew up in the beautiful Kochel am See.
Do you have a favorite dish?
Max: As simple as this question may sound, it is an incredibly difficult question for a cook who likes good food. I love everything as long as it tastes good. But of course, “soul food” from home from the old days will always be in my heart: roast pork with sauerkraut and potato dumplings definitely belong high up on the ranking list.
Are you also the one at home who is the most comfortable in the kitchen?
Max: My fiancée and I take turns there. I love her food. She can cook really well. It is relatively rare that I cook for my whole family. My family now lives in Austria, so it’s hard to see each other regularly. When that happens at festivals like Christmas, I always cook extremely elaborate three-course menus to spoil my loved ones. Usually, I’m in the kitchen three days before. For this purpose, I think up the right menu months in advance.
Are you a fan of a certain style of cooking?
Max: I think a cook should be true to his own style, but never standstill. I like to cook cross-over. But my absolute favorite is the Nordic style, like the famous Noma in Copenhagen, which has won several awards as the best restaurant in the world. I love to use regional things and limit myself to a few ingredients. My goal is to emphasize the individual taste of each product without too much fuss. I like to use local herbs. Herbs are also indispensable for me in desserts. Combinations such as thyme and apple or apricot and rosemary have long become classics. I always try to learn more and try out more, to stay creative. That makes me better.
Can you imagine working in a restaurant again?
Max: I can imagine it very easily. But then in my own restaurant with a maximum of 25 to 30 seats, rather upscale food, in a modern but stylish ambiance. Really only cooking what is on my mind. No restrictions from the outside, just my own thing. To have a restaurant myself, that is really my big dream…