"The days of serving lobster are long gone".
They are the chefs of the most expensive and best ski hotel in the world: Christian Rescher and Markus Niederwanger. In the interview, the two talk about why the decadent decades are over, they talk guests out of a "loup de mer" and persuade them to have a mountain trout instead.
February 2, 2022
Christian Rescher and Markus Niederwanger have been fighting for alpine cuisine among the people for years. But sometimes they are powerless. Because the fun stops at mangos and avocados, after all, the guests can order whatever they want. They always get it! There is no "no" here at Aurelio...never!
Gentlemen, you two have been cooking for more than a decade at the "Aurelio" in Lech am Arlberg, the "World's Best Ski Boutique Hotel. How has the dining culture of the guests who come to you from all over the world changed during this time?
Christian: Nothing is really the way it used to be. And that's a good thing. Markus and I have made our contribution to this. We are proud of that here at 1500 meters.
What do you mean? What contribution have you made?
Christian: Look, the 90s and also the 00s were rather decadent decades socially. Many people afforded what society demanded of them. Now it was never a trend in Lech anyway to show what you have. There are other ski resorts in the Alps for that. Nevertheless, the times when we served lobster, langoustines and foie gras are long gone here, too. We have banished these.
Why is that?
Markus: From today's perspective, the products are relics from another time. I can't say exactly to the day, but I think I must have thrown the last lobster into the pot seven or eight years ago. This classic, exuberant "haute cuisine" is a thing of the past. The "upscale cuisine," as it is translated into German, was coined in the 19th century. As you can see, it's been around for a few years (grins).
The first appearance of "high cuisine" was in 1780 in the master work "L'Art du cuisinier" by Antoine Beauvilliers...
Christian: ...and many things still have their justification. If we are of the opinion that pigeons belong on our menu again, then we take them up again. However, the climatic and ecological difference to the past is that we do not import any animals from any countries here to the Arlberg, but that we get them from our regional partners.
Just like the national economy, Michelin cuisine is also subject to certain cycles. What is currently in vogue in the world's metropolises?
Christian: That's not meant to sound arrogant. But it is usually the case that here at the "Aurelio" we set the trends in alpine cuisine in the mountains. The task of Markus and me is to put our kitchen to the test every day. What can we improve? Where do we still have to improve? What synergy effects can we use in the process? To do this, we research on the net, talk to the most important restaurants and retailers, read gastronomy newspapers.
An Umberto Eco, Paulo Coelho or a John Grisham are not on the bedside table?
Markus: Is there a more beautiful place than Lech in this world than to practice his profession? No! We realize this again and again when we come back from a tour.
Where do you always go together?
Markus: We crisscross a continent. The last time through Europe. We visited the best restaurants in Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. This allows us to see what the chefs are capable of, but we also quickly realize that what we do all day isn't all that bad (grins).
With you, a guest - regardless of the day and time - can order what he wants. He gets everything...
Christian: ...what he wants. But sometimes it's also the case that I talk him out of it.
What are you talking him out of?
Christian: If he wants to order asparagus at the beginning of January, then of course he will get his asparagus. After all, there is no such thing as "no" with us. But if I explain to my guest that the Peruvian asparagus at this time of year will meet neither his nor my demands, then he thinks twice. In almost all cases, the guests understand our objection and listen to us. Also with the fish.
What do you mean?
Markus: For many of our guests, a "Loup de mer" is still the classic. "I have something much better," I always say.
What do you have?
Markus: For example, a salmon trout. While the sea bass, i.e. the "Loup de mer", first has to be transported here to the Arlberg from the British Isles, the North Sea or the Atlantic, the salmon trout does not have that far to travel. The fish farm of our supplier is two kilometers away from here. This means: before the other fish have to be transported thousands of kilometers here, I prefer to cycle over to Andreas Mittermayr and pick it up freshly caught. That's a win-win situation for everyone: for the guest, for us and for the environment. And I'll tell you: such a salmon trout with Jerusalem artichoke, Krossne - that's a root vegetable or also called tuberous civet - and pickled salt lemons is a poem.
What about meat?
Christian: Goats, rabbits, Duroc pigs - all this is supplied by Bernd Hörfarter, he is the farmer of the Vorarlberg "Flötzerhof". From him come the chickens, rabbits and ducks.
How often does Flötzerhof deliver to you?
Markus: At least once a week. This always ensures that we only offer fresh products up here. And absolutely high-quality. That's the top premise for us: it has to be premium! Even chops, bacon, lard, liver and black pudding, which you might get cheaper, also comes from the "Duroc" pig with us.
So everything brutally regional, brutally high-quality.
Christian: Aptly put (smiles). All the meat, dairy products, salad and vegetables almost all come from the Vorarlberg region. Even more: we are friends with almost all suppliers. Just take Andreas Mittermayr from the "Fischteich Lech". With him we go in the summer together with our wives during the day first hiking, in the evening we make a delicious freshwater sushi together.
What do you not obtain from here?
Christian: The Styrian pumpkin seed oil (laughs). Seriously. There are a few types of fish and mussels that come from Italy and France, fruits like avocado, grapes and berries from Italy or overseas,. Oh, and the mountain cheese cheese comes from the Großwalstertal, the fruits from the Lake Constance region, just a few kilometers away.
Today the menu said game. Does that also come from here?
Christian: This comes from Zug, which is a few hundred meters from here and a community of Lech. Herbert Walch is one of the hunters there. I have a very special relationship with him, Herbert is my father-in-law. He supplies us with deer, roe deer and chamois. The guests love our venison dishes such as venison stew, braised shoulder of chamois or venison back steak. And when they see how everything is done within the family at Aurelio, then they really like it. Why buy sinfully expensive things in the world when everything is available here?
What is here?
Markus: The best culinary treasures of the Alps. Or as an Austrian daily newspaper once wrote: "Kaspressknödel as cultural heritage".
Why is this so close to your heart?
Christian: If we don't commit ourselves to cultural heritage in all consistency, then these products will disappear. And we have to prevent that. Our task is to maintain the rituals that are centuries old and to preserve the alpine identity. However, we also make one or two exceptions. At breakfast, for example. We believe that you should only eat the things that are available to you in this or that season. That's why we once removed mango and berries from the buffet in winter. But our guests wanted these things so much that we put them back. Nevertheless, we stick to our mission to use only local products. Which is why in the summer we get fruits like cherries, berries and plums from "Pilz Lenz" on Lake Constance. From them we make so much jam, that is enough for the whole winter.
Do you have a lot to do in the summer?
Markus: And how! We ferment a wide variety of mushrooms such as chanterelles, hawk mushrooms and porcini - but also rowan berries, peaches or apricots. We eat if you will the bacon for the winter. That's a good feeling in the winter business, when things get hot in the kitchen. Why? Because we know that there are culinary treasures stored downstairs in the cold room. We use these every day in the winter business. Here is an aspic made from fermented chanterelles as an appetizer, here is Swiss stone pine jam for the main course with the game dish. So you see: we never run out of work. This is also the difference to many other houses like Courchevel or Cortina D' Ampezzo.
What kind of difference do you mean?
Christian: Chefs often only work in a house for one or two seasons. During that time, they have to deliver a lot in a short time - similar to the stock market. It's different with us: We think like a family business. In the long term, in generations.
The Copenhagen restaurant "Noma" has fermenting...
Markus: ...brought to life. That is correct. But fermenting is nothing else like "pickling". And that is old hat. I know the process from my grandmother Elisabeth and her hundreds of "Weck jars". She already pickled sauerkraut this way 60 years ago. With mashed potatoes and a Kasseler - a dream.
Do you two actually have different views on cooking?
Christian and Markus (simultaneously): Not at all!
Christian: Sometimes it feels like we're like an old married couple. We understand each other blindly. All I have to do is look at Markus and I know what's going on inside him. But it's not just the two of us in the kitchen. We have a total of 11 men and women working in the kitchen: Everyone is as important as in a soccer team with 11 men. If a defender is overrun by an opposing striker, a teammate helps him out. That's how it is with us, too. It goes on like that outside.
What do you mean by "outside"?
Christian: Our dishes have to be served perfectly in the restaurant. As we all know, the eye always eats with us. That's why I try to combine everything like a conductor. If I succeed, everyone is happy, just like in an orchestra: strings, winds, everyone. In our case, the drinks have to harmonize with the food. That's why we meet with Markus, our head sommelier. We try out, taste, until it fits 100 percent. And we have to: in no other ski resort in the world is the density of hoods and Michelin stars as high as here in Lech am Arlberg.
What essentially sets you apart from the other chefs?
Christian: We don't just cook here at the Aurelio, but also for other guests in other houses. I can still remember one day when I got a call at night: "Markus, the guests aren't coming tomorrow evening, they're already coming for lunch. Oh, I see, they would like a suckling pig. Thank you," said the colleague. So I left for Innsbruck in the middle of the night, got the suckling pig, and a few hours later we served it to more than two dozen guests in a hotel. After all, there's no such thing as "no" with us.
How do you grill a kid goat at 20 degrees below zero?
Markus: With our suckling pig grill. The suckling pig or kid goat is often shown to guests in the chalet whole. Then we carve it in front of them.
How much does a suckling pig weigh?
Markus: 10, 12 kilograms, a fawn between 8 and 16 kilos. The preparation is simple: garlic, oil and rosemary. That's all it takes. Our Russian guests are not big fans of spices.
What is the difference between the food at the Aurelio Hotel and the Chalet?
Christian: At the Chalet we usually set up a buffet for the group. For starters, our guests love the truffled beef tartare from Wagyu beef, the Bismarck roll of Lech trout, the Pongau doughnuts with sauerkraut, the oysters with pumpernickel and lime, and the burrata cheese with tomatoes, basil and Indian naan bread. The main course will be tomahawk steak, venison loin or rabbit. If the group wants fish, we serve a brook trout or a mountain trout with side dishes such as boiled potatoes, risotto, vegetables and salad.
And at the hotel?
Markus: To our hotel guests we offer our À-la-carte-eating on offer. This goes from classics such as beef goulash, schnitzel to Pulled Pork, Wagyu burger, the vegetarians we offer a vegetable lasagna or delicious hemp burger. This is available with avocado, mint yogurt and corn chips.
And who can not decide among the great dishes?
Christian: He takes the 10-course menu, there is something for everyone: Lecher mushrooms with Swiss stone pine vinegar, herbs and radishes, a "Flötzerhof" chicken that is embedded in apricot and hay, a smoked eel with white butter sauce and chives, then it continues with a cheese fondue with chokeberry berries and walnut apricot bread. Or the guest opts for a rustic "Ötztaler Bauernsalat".
I have never heard that before.
Christian: This is finely chopped iceberg lettuce marinated in vinegar and oil, served with a warm potato foam, a boiled quail egg, and fried bacon and flamed pearl onions. So pretty simple. For dessert we offer a "sweet ending", which is a Carinthian Kirchtagskrapfen with a stuffed dried pear and Swiss pine.Granitée. The guest can also order a curd cheese pancake, a chocolate mousse or a "Mon Chou" cake made of cream cheese, butter cookie and blueberries. Of course, what always goes after skiing is an apple or curd strudel. Let's put it this way: I have yet to experience a guest not finding what they were looking for. And should it be the case one day, then we simply conjure up for him what he likes. And that 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are there for him. No matter how unusual his wish may be, we will fulfill it.
But who orders a steak at three in the morning?
Markus: Not necessarily. I don't know about you, but once I've been out in the evening and had maybe two or three beers, I'm hungry again at eleven. That's how it is with our guests. Then they get a Brettl snack from us.
You call your way of cooking "Natural Art Cuisine". What does that mean?
Christian: It has to taste good, it has to be healthy, it has to be sustainable.
Markus: And regional! A good 90 percent of our products come from the surrounding area. This is why we have joined the "Kuratorium Kulinarisches Erbe" (Culinary Heritage Board), because we want to preserve the roots of Austrian food culture, centuries-old recipes and raw agricultural products.
Last question: what is your favorite food?
Markus: I love raclette. As side dishes jacket potatoes, fried bacon, baguette and a good glass of "Grüner Veltliner". Then it will be a perfect evening.
Christian: Zwiebelrostbraten with spaetzle and salad is much better (grins). That's what my mother Anneliese always cooks for me when I go to her in the Salzburger Land. That has two advantages: on the one hand, I can't make it as well as she can anyway. On the other hand, it's also nice to be cooked for once.