Steirereck's Heinz Reitbauer: Inquiring mind with two stars
Two stars in the Stadtpark: Chef Heinz Reitbauer stands for many successful years as a star chef and tasteful plates - for the eye and for the palate. But also for many hours of meticulous mushroom picking in the Vienna Woods. Find out here what the exploratory spirit of the Viennese by choice is all about.
Cooking is a matter of heart
"When a farmer one told me that he would prefer not to sell me his products, I was speechless at first," says Heinz Reitbauer. His restaurant, which looks more like a mirrored pavilion than a top restaurant, is located in the middle of Vienna's Stadtpark.
His plates are filled with food from the family farm in Styria - more precisely from the Pogusch - and from the immediate vicinity of Vienna. His restaurant is not only highly decorated with two Michelin stars, but is also ranked 17th internationally on "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" list. Wouldn't it actually be an honour to work with him?
"No, the producer explained it this way: with the top chefs, you would no longer recognise the products after cooking. Food would be changed, deflagrated, decomposed, taken apart. He felt sorry that you can't even recognise his carrot or kohlrabi anymore. That got me thinking," Reitbauer reports.
Star cuisine without airs and graces
"Since then, it has been a guiding principle at Steirereck that producers can still recognize their products in the finished dish and thus also identify with us."
As a professional in the business, he knows that young chefs are always looking for something special, but overlook what that special something is: "Under the pressure or even compulsion always wanting to create something new, chefs sometimes forget that the center of the kitchen is the product.
In his youth, he learned food appreciation from top French chefs. With Alain Chapel - the originator of Nouvelle Cuisine - he went to the market at 4 o'clock in the morning, from Alain Ducasse he learned what respect for suppliers and products means. "The joy that my French role models felt is something very special," Heinz Reitbauer enthuses about his time in France.
But back to Vienna: Steirereck is not only an architectural hotspot for city travellers. Foodies, star restaurant collectors and product lovers meet here. Everyone wants to see a plate of the two-star chef, everyone wants to try one of his dishes. Everyone is welcome at Heinz Reitbauer's and his wife Birgit.
For him it is a joy to cook, he has felt that especially during 2020 the last year: "What luck we have. You only notice that when you are forced to close the restaurant." But the 51-year-old hasn't stopped working completely: together with his team, he cooked 1,000 meals a day for the emergency services in Vienna during the first lockdown.
The roots of taste
The variety in the bread trolley - with around 25 varieties - is the first indication of the two-star chef's intensive research work. Heinz Reitbauer is not satisfied with finding a good ingredient for a new dish; his goal is to "understand" an apple, a piece of meat, a mushroom with a meticulous spirit of research.
To do this, he takes a lot of time, during which he pays attention to the food - usually even up to two years. Until recently it was mushrooms, especially large mushrooms from the Vienna Woods. At that time he scrambled around from the Vienna Woods to the Pogusch to learn everything about the texture and taste of mushrooms.
Research in the kitchen
By the way, the branchy spiny beard is one of the gourmet porcini mushrooms, but it is protected by law. Heinz Reitbauer has therefore started to cultivate the mushroom again. Not only because of its excellent taste, but also to contribute to biodiversity and re-establishment. For Heinz Reitbauer healthy nature is the basis of his work. "I am very impressed by how strongly a healthy soil influences the taste of an apple or a mushroom."
Currently, he is focusing on scattered fruit. "This connects me with very exciting people from the region or from the trade who know a lot more about it, and I'm constantly learning something new about cultivation and ripening times," explains Heinz Reitbauer. Then he talks to a long-established farmer about protecting plants or to a nutritionist about the effectiveness of bacteria on the gut.
"My findings flow into our work in the restaurant just as much as into our own farming." That's because 80 old apple varieties now grow there - from the intensely fragrant Cox Orange to the juicy, tart Champagne Renette - and end up on guests' plates in the restaurant as puree, ice cream or crème, alongside other top products from the country.
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