Many thanks to Martina Hohenlohe, Editor-in-chief of Gault Millau Austria, for taking the time to explain the ins and outs of Austrian fine dining, just prior to the publication of this year’s Gault Millau guide on 23 October 2014.
And congratulations to all the hard-working kitchen teams whose hard work has paid off!
What’s new in Austrian fine dining?
On the one hand, vegetarian cuisine has established itself pretty well in Vienna. In the rest of Austria that needs a little more time. Although, you can already see a lot of vegetarian dishes in some innovative restaurants, especially in the appetiser sector. This is definitely a trend. On the other hand, we have noticed that there are some young chefs who are really very brave, even in times like these, where the economic situation in Europe is indeed relatively difficult. And where you could actually play it safe with pub food that appeals to the masses. But there are some exceptional chefs whose creativity stands out and who are all under 30 years old.
That’s very exciting!
It is, but the risk of giving young chefs high points is whether they can deal with the pressure. If a guest reads the guide and two months later wants to be wowed in the young chef’s restaurant, will he get the shock of his life because the chef wasn’t able to rise to expectations? It happens, but I think it’s worth the risk.
Why are young chefs on the rise?
There are many young chefs that are a bit more daring. They travel abroad and learn from international chefs. That wasn’t prevalent in the past. Also, many restaurants are connected to a hotel that backs them up, where you can be a bit more innovative. It’s more difficult for a solitary. That’s also a major trend. I think in future more and more restaurants will offer an overall concept. We’ve seen it in France for years where they have a bistro and a small fine dining area or a small fine dining restaurant alongside. We can already see that happening in Austria. Former Chef of the Year, Gerhard Fuchs, for example, has a classic Styrian tavern with 60 seats and then four fine dining tables plus an exceptional Vinotheque with rare wines. It’s called Weinbank, a very interesting concept. And I think you need to be much more innovative and think beyond the usual concepts.
Who is the Chef of the Year 2015?
Richard Rauch is one of the young generation. He is from a tiny village in Southeastern Styria, quite off the beaten track, called Trautmannsdorf. He comes from an establishment that originally started out as a butchers with an added tavern. Young Richard Rauch has taken over at the age of 19 and started cooking like mad. Now he is 29 and Chef of the Year, our youngest so far. He has an incredibly self-confident way of cooking and while his creations are still very down to earth he interprets them with new techniques, often with a bit of an Asian twist and different ingredients and a novel manner. It’s very impressive.
What else is new?
TIAN is the first vegetarian restaurant that offers an extremely high standard and is the first vegetarian restaurant with three toques in the history of Gault Millau. The plates look like a painting but without any exaggerated artificiality. The combinations work so brilliantly that you leave the restaurant and don’t ever give a second thought about the fact that you had no meat or fish. skilfully works with essences of beetroot and berries and plays around with flavours and textures. It’s really interesting.
How quickly will Austria accept new concepts?
My husband and I often go to London, Paris and other international cities and what we are seeing there we are seeing in Austria with a delay of about 4-5 years. It takes a long time to get a solid foothold in Austria. But I understand that it also poses a certain risk. In Austria, chefs have no political lobby. There is no one who says “this is a great idea” or “I’d like to support this despite the economic risk”. It’s not like in Scandinavia, for example, where they have worked together on a Nordic line which was part of a government programme. We don’t have that. Developments just take their time in Austria, but I think it’s getting better and I’m quite optimistic.
Is there much interest in fine dining in Austria?
I think that most people are interested in good, solid, down-to-earth Austrian food like Schnitzel and Kaiserschmarrn. But the generation 35+ is a foodie generation that have made food their hobby and who are ready to spend money. And that generation is growing and growing. We have a very unique cuisine which is increasingly appreciated by guests from abroad who come here toeat.