Impressions from the culinary Alpine Summit at Schloss Schauenstein in Switzerland, in search of a common approach to a modern regional cuisine in the Alpine region.
Late afternoon and Schloss Schauenstein exudes the air of a well-situated gentleman in the prime of life, having retreated for a short nap after a sumptuous lunch. Andreas Caminada finds a few minutes pause for reflection. “I was recently with Joan Roca. I asked him what will be next in line after Nordic Cuisine and South America. The truth is: No one knows.” That said, Caminada might already be right in the middle of the next major trend, a trend that might well become known as: Alpine Cuisine!
Alpine summit – Austria, South Tyrol, Switzerland join forces
It is the first Alpine summit involving Austria, South Tyrol and Switzerland. The stage: the smallest town in the world, Fürstenau in Graubünden, where Caminada’s Schloss Schauenstein stands, booked up on weekends for a year or more in advance. On this particular day, working in the Schauenstein kitchen alongside Sven Wassmer and Rebecca Clopath, Hansjörg Ladurner and Fabian Fuchs, are some of the best chefs in Switzerland, who are garnering a lot of attention right now because of their occasionally radical interpretation of Alpine Cuisine.
Host Andreas Caminada, who is well acquainted with gridlock, has his own definition of what he is cooking: “Alpine Cuisine, but with very high aesthetic standards.” Later, he will serve ingenious small morsels created from Arctic char and sea buckthorn, red cabbage and mustard, along with ham and dried pear, highly entertaining and subtle variations on the theme of acidity and fermentation. Growing in the microclimate zone of Graubünden are not only outstanding white- & red wines, but also artichokes and other vegetables. As an Alpine chef, then, you have it easy when you have a supplier of organic vegetables such as Marcel Foffa, who doesn’t only provide Caminada with artichokes. Those who are not fortunate to have a treasure trove of gardeners available to them like Heinz Reitbauer (Steirereck) in Vienna, or those who, like Richard Rauch from “Steirawirt” in Austrian province of Styria, are their own gardener, generally find it really tough-going in the Alpine region, especially when it comes to vegetables.
Collaboration of the Best – Koch.Campus Austria
In Austria, it is fair to say that the Koch.Campus Austria is really exceling, a collaboration of top figures from the culinary world including Thomas Dorfer (Landhaus Bacher, Mautern), Andreas Döllerer (Restaurant Döllerer, Golling near Salzburg), Heinz Reitbauer, Thorsten Probost (Griggeler Stuba, Lech am Arlberg), Josef Floh (Gastwirtschaft Floh, Langenlebarn) and Richard Rauch (Steirawirt, Trautmannsdorf). Bonded by friendships, these chefs can frequently be found bound for such destinations as London or Portugal, in order to present their take on Alpine Cuisine.
Right now, the name of the game is: bundling resources, making joint appearances. Dominik Flammer, journalist, author and scavenger often found in and around the most remote valleys, lakes and mountaintops of the Swiss Alps, had the powerful idea. The Alps don’t know any borders, they extend from France all the way to Austria. Why, then, should there not be a cross-border collaboration of the best-of-the-best in the kitchen, nurturing the inspiration and promoting the quality of the Alpine culinary heritage?
For Flammer, Alpine Cuisine has long had a great inherent potential. And those who dare to doubt its international significance can stir up quite a – albeit amicable – rage in him. Stories are important to spurring the growth of a culinary culture that transcends borders in its significance,
It’s the agriculture, stupid
Chef Rebecca Clopath serves cream with meadow herbs, fermented spring onions, egg yolk or an einkorn sourdough bread. The cream, which has no resemblance to the product of the same name you find in the supermarket, is marvelously fatty, occasionally almost semolina-like in consistency, a lush light-yellow in color. And the taste is doubly good when you know that the milk that produced the cream came from ladies by the name of Stella, Fantosa, Enza and Noella: that is to say, the cows who live on the tiny farm run by her father, where Rebecca Clopath sources the majority of the ingredients that go into her dishes. Salt mixed with wild caraway takes the cream up a notch, also available, incidentally, for purchase at the farm store. Rebecca Clopath’s appetizer is a clear statement that good cooking doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if the quality of ingredients is outstanding.
The ever-closer ties between farmers, producers and chefs is becoming steadily more important in Alpine Cuisine (thought not only there, since the French are definitely demonstrating to everyone precisely how it should be done). So, is a specific ingredient, produced in small quantities and only available to specific restaurants or chefs, the only way to guarantee renown and exclusivity? Heinz Reitbauer, of Wiener Steirereck at the Naschmarkt in Vienna, sees things differently.
High esteem has to be earned
“I’m not a fan of egotism”, says Reitbauer. “There are such collaborations, naturally. That’s just fine, and I’m happy for my colleagues to have access to an extraordinary product.” On the following day, Heinz Reitbauer will serve up a traditional Sterz made out of buckwheat, made with fat from carefully selected veal kidneys, which were marinated for several days prior to being fried. Reitbauer, too, has access to an exclusive product: his own calves from Pogusch.
Reitbauer is the proponent of a new self-identity in agriculture, which he would like to see coupled with an appreciation for products, be they fish, meat or vegetables, if those products are indeed worthy of such recognition. “We have something unique in the form of the small-scale nature of our farming community. Something barely another country can draw on. Nonetheless, agriculture needs to break from the past. Make a new beginning.” Reitbauer understands how important it is to nurture cultural landscapes. Since they not only affect what people eat, but also their entire lifestyle. Heinz Reitbauer loves to draw attention to things that are rarely appreciated. “Let’s take fish, for example. In the past, trout was regarded as an inferior product. Nowadays, everyone is proud if they are fortunate to obtain it in high quality and able to work with it. This will be even more of an issue for the next generation of chefs. As saltwater fish gets harder to find, people will travel in search of it to coastal regions. And upon their return home, they will appreciate the flavor of outstanding freshwater fish more than ever.”
He who dares, cooks
Sven Wassmer, who cooks in Vals, is regarded as a new shooting star amongst Swiss chefs. He serves a bread porridge, accompanied by Swiss barley and dried meat from a ten-year-old cow. Was the dish composed especially for this particular evening? Wassmer says: “This dish is actually on our menu. I think it is really important to introduce regular people to these things. Otherwise, there’s simply no sense in considering it.” Later, Wassmer will serve a dessert of mountain potatoes, Vals yogurt, Vals cream and dried pear, a fresh interpretation of the Cucina Povera of the Alps, as it once was for broad segments of the population. Wassmer’s radicalism is somewhat reminiscent of the cuisine of Andreas Döllerer in Golling, who actually trademarked “Cuisine Alpine” several years ago and works true to its principles.
What does that mean for us?
In conclusion, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. Was that it, or is there more to come? Thomas Dorfer of Landhaus Bacher, a charter member of Koch.Campus: “We understand that it is easier to achieve something on behalf of Alpine Cuisine if we work collectively. This isn’t about individual personalities basking in the spotlight. It is about an idea. If the Swiss or the French are part of it, I couldn’t be happier.”
Heinz Reitbauer: “The idea of a collaboration was born here with us. Now, we have to be careful that we continue to maintain a degree of control.” The question as to whether Austria, a country that doesn’t only consist of mountains, can and should market itself in terms of the Alps, is one which hasn’t been asked often enough. “For restaurants such as the Steirereck or Taubenkobel”, says Reitbauer, “the term ‘Alpine Cuisine’ is less appropriate than it is for the restaurants of Andreas Döllerer or Thorsten Probost. Though we do indeed share a cultural region, we in the east actually have much more in common with our eastern neighbors than we do with other places.” Likewise, Richard Rauch of the Steirawirt doesn’t particularly see himself in the center of Alpine Cuisine. He has long since defined his own distinctive character on the plate. And Reitbauer, who, as an accompaniment to the aperitif, serves a Russian shchi: “For me, it’s not about jumping on a bandwagon, be that Alpine, Nordic, or under some other name. For me, it is about focusing on the food per se, and ensuring that it benefits as many people as possible, not merely 25 good restaurants.” That, however, is another story that we will return to again at some other time.
Participants in the Alpine Summit and their exemplary dishes.
Andreas Caminada, Schloss Schauenstein, Fürstenau (Sui)
red cabbage – mustard, ham – dried pear – pumpkin – Cicorino Rosso, Arctic char – sea buckthorn, Pizzocherie (Graubünden dialect for a type of barley stew), lamb belly – sea buckthorn – spinach root
Fabian Fuchs, Restaurant Equi Table, Zurich (Sui)
Pikeperch – onion – oca – radishes, beef rib – mountain potatoes – spinach – wild garlic -shitake (in powder form)
Rebecca Clopath, organic farmer & nature-cook, Lohn (Sui)
Einkorn sourdough bread – sour cream – wild herbs – spring onion, goat meat-parsnip- juniper-lingonberries
Hansjörg Ladurner, Schalottas terroir, Lenzerheide (Sui)
Cured Bündnerfleisch – brioche of mountain potatoes, pine foam – apple
Sven Wassmer, 7132 Silver. Vals (Sui)
Sven’s bread porridge – Bündner barley – Silver’s dried meat, mountain potatoes – Vals yogurt – Vals cream– dried pear
Norbert Niederkofler, Rosa Alpina, St. Kassian (I)
Tartare of whitefish
Heinz Reitbauer, Steirereck am Stadtpark, Vienna (A)
Buckwheat Sterz – kidney fat – sweet clover
Thomas Dorfer, Landhaus Bacher, Mautern (A)
Liver of Wels catfish – polenta – blackcurrants – chickweedwhey – beef marrow
Richard Rauch, Steirawirt, Trautmannsdorf (A)
Amur carp – runner beans – wasabino – beechnut
Chris Oberhammer, Tilia, Toblach / Dobbiaco (I)
Pustertal spelt with sucking pig, liver pâté and black elderberry