Earlier this week, more than 50 Austrian gastronomers, leading food journalists and artists gathered to taste award-winning Austrian food and to discuss the identity of Austrian cuisine.
Almost two years ago, the Koch.Campus started its search for Austria’s culinary identity, and an answer is still not in sight. Food was served throughout the day at the Ölmühle Fandler in Styria and thesix dishes – consisting of such unusual elements as white poppy, eel-pout, cockerel cooked in pig’s bladder andash from roast limetree twigs – shone a bright light onthe diversity of ingredients and the imagination of the chefs. The food was followed by a discussion in the warm spring sunshine about diversity and regional differences being the basic principles that divide and unite Austrian cuisine in equal measure. While of restaurant Steiereck in Vienna practices an urban form of Austrian cuisine, Andreas Döllerer in Salzburg approaches his cuisine in what might be called his very Alpine Cuisine. For Josef Floh in Lower Austria, cooking is more than just putting ingredients together – he wants to activate all senses for a unique experience. Gault & Millau Chef of the Year 2015, Richard Rauch of restaurant Steirawirt, draws his inspiration from the high-end producers he works with, without whom he “wouldn’t be able to cook at all”, he says. Max Stiegl and Gerhard Fuchs are what might be described as cross-border chefs as their influences go beyond the geographic area of Austria, taking stock from the natural areas of their homeland in Burgenland and Styria, respectively.
It was finally agreed that the country’s cuisine starts at the front door, where each chef’s talent meets nature’s finest to create emotions, positioning Austrian cuisine among the top cuisines of this world. Looking firmly into the future, Austrian cuisine will continue to draw from its diversity.
This week the small country in the middle of Europe took another step in its search for some unifying qualities in its cuisine. Quite a few steps in a lively discussion, in fact, that invariably formed another circle.
The camp that says: “Why do we need to categorise ourselves?” and “Can it not be enough to just be who we are?” firmly believe that Austria cannot follow Scandinavia in creating a manifesto of national cuisine – Austria is too diverse, shaped over hundreds of years by its traditions and a history where, famously, the sun in the expansive Austrian empire never set. Austrian cuisine has been likened to a piece in a puzzle that will never be finished or the “Austrian film”, beyond nationality or country borders.
The opposite camp pursues a definition both for internal and external use: “We want to make a statement”, they are saying. A strong statement with values such as “tradition, passion, diversity, community, sustainability, innovation, knowledge, individuality, authenticity and responsibility”.
What makes Austria such an interesting – and rather astonishing – case, is that about 90% of Austrian fine dining establishments are family enterprises. Looking towards its immediate neighbour, Germany, where a great number of big houses are in the hands of hoteliers, this is quite an extraordinary percentage. It is furthertestimony of the country’sstrong tradition, passion and hospitality. And this sense of unity then led to another form of united strength:
Two years ago, Austria presented the strongest voice in the fight against the EU’s planned “Seed Law”. The plan was, essentially, to regulate rare and local varieties and forbid their circulation. Signatures were collected to prevent this law being introduced, and, true to its fight for diversity, 500.000 out of 800.000 total signatures came from Austria. And the country’s top chefs also stood up and united underthe slogan “Unity for Diversity”.
But despite their strong unioneach chef’s individual style is still as expressively unique as ever and certainly very recognisable. So maybe the best answer to the question whatnew Austrian cuisine is likecan be found by just trying it out yourself.You’ve tried it already? Let us know what you think! Get in touch on Facebook orTwitter.