A delicious dish is like a good book: It combines a chef ‘s experiences, feelings and world views into one unique experience. Matthew Lightner is a master of this art: After touring the world and falling in love with a variety of philosophies in many different kitchens, he is now reaping the rewards of his appetite for travel. The result: Two Michelin stars and countless satisfied guests.
When Matthew Lightner opened his Atera restaurant in the lively Tribeca district in the heart of New York City in March 2012, he already had more than ten years of culinary globetrotting behind him. After graduating from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland in 2001, he was drawn to America’s west coast, where he gained experience in a wide variety of restaurants, eventually putting it to use under James Beard and the multi-award winning Paul McCabe at L’Auberge, situated to the north of San Diego.
He made the leap across the pond in 2007: As one of just 15 people each year, Matthew Lightner was selected for a scholarship for young chefs in Spain, where he met his future mentor Andoni Aduriz, a former disciple of Ferran Adrià. Aduriz sent Lightner on a mission throughout Spain to familiarise himself with the national cuisine and learn the language, before taking him on as a chef at his Mugaritz restaurant. After a subsequent stint at Noma in Copenhagen, Lightner returned to the USA armed with a wealth of experience and flavours, with which he was to create his own modern cuisine.
It was almost by coincidence that his cooking skills found a home at Atera: but Lightner was motivated by the very same things that would have discouraged most other restaurateurs: “I had previously worked at a very conventional restaurant in Portland and now wanted to do something new and build something up from scratch,” says Lightner. “Trying to impose one’s dishes somewhere can often go wrong. But Atera gave me the chance to create a new design and develop a new concept that would fit in seamlessly with my cuisine.” His plan took off: In July 2012, Pete Wells, the renowned restaurant critic for the New York Times, awarded him three out of a possible four stars. Shortly after, Atera was included in the Michelin Guide with a two-star rating. One of Antera’s secrets is European dining culture: In a normal restaurant, guests are given the bill straight after dessert, so that the table can be cleared for the next paying guests – but Lightner gives his guests as much time as they like. He was really taken with the European way of doing things.
And the European’s love for vegetables is also omnipresent in Matthew Lightner’s cuisine: He combines scallops with savoy cabbage or grilled octopus with Italian red onions. And he combines glazed beetroot with grapefruit sorbet or Boskop pears with fresh hazelnut butter to create unforgettable desserts that bring together the best from nature and culture. Lightner unites his liking for seasonal and regional produce with his passion for individual preparation. And each new vegetable or spice that he finds makes him even more passionate about cooking.
Watching his eyes light up as soon as he starts speaking about different cooking and preparation methods gives you an idea of just how enthusiastically he has explored the world. For his guests, serving Chef Lightner’s dishes this month at the Restaurant Ikarus will be nothing short of a unique, transnational taste experience – but for Matthew Lightner, it will be a whole new episode in his culinary world tour.
A different top chef each month. It doesn‘t matter which continent or country they come from or whether they serve traditional, fusion or molecular cuisine. What matters most is the variety. And, of course, the high quality of the dishes.
Eckart Witzigmann, Chef of the Century and patron of Restaurant Ikarus, implemented the concept successfully from 2003 to 2013, together with Executive Chef Roland Trettl. Since January 2014, the Ikarus Concept has been continued under the patronage of Eckart Witzigmann and guidance of Martin Klein, who for many years was the partner and Chef de Cuisine of former Executive Chef Roland Trettl. Unique instead of mainstream, multi-faceted instead of simplistic, bold instead of boring, and cosmopolitan instead of narrow-minded will continue to be the motto under Martin. The result? Satisfied bons vivants who relish fine cuisine.
For the chefs of Restaurant Ikarus, the guest chef concept means adapting to a new menu, a new top chef and a new philosophy each and every month. This demands a high degree of talent, versatility and team spirit.
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Images© Helge Kirchberger / Red Bull Hangar-7