German astronaut bringing local food

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When we imagine space food we think of unappetizing, vacuum-sealed bags of dry morsels that are far from gourmet. The reality is a bit more tantalizing. In addition to the standard food provided by NASA, astronauts are able to bring a personal favorite “crew choice meal” into space. German astronaut Matthias Maurer, who is set to depart for the International Space Station in fall 2001, turned his “crew choice meal” into a local food competition that has Saarland chefs vying for the honor.

Maurer’s space mission is tentatively scheduled for September 2021 aboard the SpaceX Crew-3. While in space, Maurer will be expected to consume 3,000 calories per day, two-thirds of which will come from the basic food supply preselected by NASA, and the remaining third coming from his “crew choice meal.” Although typically selected from a range of European, Russian, American, or Japanese options, Maurer was eager to represent his home region of Saarland.

Saarland is the smallest German state by both area and population, and it abuts both France and Luxembourg. Until recently Saarland was not known for its culinary culture, but now it’s one of Germany’s fastest up-and-coming food regions.

“We have, per capita, the highest number of Michelin-starred cooks [in Germany],” Maurer told Matador Network proudly. “We have really good restaurants, and people don’t know it on the outside … so I thought why not start the competition to shine some light on my home region and also get superb food to fly into space?”

The Maurer Menu competition is a contest designed to determine which local two-course meal Maurer will bring into space as his “crew choice meal.” Ten restaurateurs from Saarland submitted their menus online, and on November 7 people voted to decide which three menus reached the finals. On November 21, a jury of experts will choose the winner, to be announced online and on Saarländischer Rundfunk (SR) television.

The three finalists are Seezeitlodge, Borg Tavern, and Wern’s Mill. Seezitlodge’s meal is a game ragout with quince and organic vegetables on a bread terrine with organic mushrooms, and a chocolate brownie with plums and a chocolate cream for dessert. The Borg Tavern’s dish is venison ragout served with a cabbage salad with creamy, bacon dressing and potato dumplings, and cream of potato and Riesling soup for a starter. Wern’s Mill is serving up boudin with a carrot and potato purée, and a salted caramel eclair with plums for dessert.

Having other people select a third of his food for six months in space might sound nerve-wracking, but Maurer is confident that Saarland will come through for him.

“Being in space,” he said, “so remote and away from everything, my family, my friends, I think food is an important factor to keep the morale of the astronauts high.”

Beyond highlighting the region’s food, going to space is also a way for Maurer to set a positive example for those back home. Traditionally a mining region with a heavy steel industry, many Saarlanders work locally and don’t stray too far from home, making Maurer even more of an outlier. An avid traveler, Maurer hopes his space adventure will inspire others to venture beyond their comfort zones.

“I hope it will be a motivation for people in the area,” he said, “to see how someone who comes from a blue-collar origin can make it out of this world and into space.”