Martin Klein meets "Best of Vienna"

Viennese Wonder Boys in the Kitchen

Our menu for Eckart Witzigmann’s 75th birthday last year was a real highpoint and not just because it was major milestone: Chefs who are friends with one another cooked together, and each wanted to surpass his chums  and the result was a fabulous menu. This time around, four Viennese superstars have accepted our challenge, and they too have long known and appreciated each other. When I visit them in Vienna, they greet me like an old friend. Heinz Reitbauer leads me into the orangery of the Imperial Palace gardens, where a very unusual gardener harvests the finest citrus fruits for him. Paul Ivic even closes his restaurant so that we can spend the day concentrating on the joint preparations. We spend an entire week together, and every day I look forward to discovering revolutionary ideas and inspiration here in our nation’s capital – without having to travel all over the world to find them. Likewise, Nickol, Ivic, Mraz and Reitbauer spur each other on with their culinary compositions – the menu is fantastic.

Day One: Silvio Nickol, Palais Coburg

Silvio Nickol works in a dazzling white fairy-tale palace. After decades of decline, the entrepreneur Peter Pühringer purchased the Palais Coburg and restored it at great expense. Both Pühringer and Nickol grew up in East Germany, so perhaps their biographical commonality was a catalyst for the friendship between the chef and his patron. Nickol works under ideal conditions; his restaurant is small and is only open in the evening. Its wine cellar is one of the best in the world – as just one example, 100 different vintages of Chateau Yquem are stored here, dating from as far back as 1893. This expert chef is able to devote himself fully to refining his art. Gault Millau just presented him with his fourth tocque and named the Saxon the Austrian Chef of the Year.

We’ll be opening our menu with Nickol’s best-known dish; he calls it “Forest”. Silvio isn’t all that happy that his guests keep ordering this classic again and again, because, “Cooks actually would prefer to seek out something new and different,” he declares. But his Forest simply and totally suits Nickol’s clever style of cooking, so it would be a pity to do away with it. The thrust of a spade through the layers of a forest floor was the original inspiration for the dish. Silvio creates his Forest in a tall glass bowl, so that the layers are clearly visible . At the bottom lies a layer of duck liver, raw marinated and as a terrine. A dark, concentrated mushroom gelée is layered on top of it. At first, the mossy green soil seemed familiar to me, but Silvio doesn’t bake a crumble for it like they usually do in the Nordic cuisines. He simply roasts pure flour, very slowly and thoroughly. The flour is crumbled together with porcini mushroom oil and green food colouring. This forms the basis for the actual dish, plus a dab of porcini cream and fir tip jelly on top. Atop this edible forest floor in a glass, we place two small porcini mushrooms shaped from duck liver terrine. Sprinkled with powdered porcini, these look deceptively similar to the third, real mushroom we also add. Mushroom paper is then used to fashion little twigs, shaved chocolate forms the tree bark, and a couple of herbal blossoms grow in the moss. The "Forest" is a playful dish, in which all the ingredients complement each other in a magical way.

Day Two: Paul Ivic, Tian

The restaurants of Paul Ivic and Silvio Nickol are almost neighbours. The Tian is also housed in a stately manor from the imperial age and Ivic also has a wealthy patron in Christian Halper. And yet the situations of these two chefs are poles apart. Namely because Ivic makes his life as a kitchen chef even more difficult than it already is: Paul wants to make a name for himself with vegetarian cuisine! And that, even though the Tyrolean chef’s favourite dish is his mother’s Speckknödel (bacon dumplings). But vegetarian cuisine demands that he be creative, which Paul enjoys. Launching Tian was not easy; too many young women came and ordered only a salad. That is not enough to financially sustain a gourmet restaurant. But in the meantime, Paul has earned his first star, his customers have faith in his menus, there are two other Tian bistros in Vienna, and there’s a Tian restaurant in Munich too.

For his "Spring Awakening" dish, Paul visualizes spring in the Tyrolean mountains. Namely, at the precise moment when the soil is still frozen and yet the first green shoots are beginning to sprout. Paul’s "Spring Awakening" is in the form of a cake: the bottom layer is a wasabi sponge cake, spread with a wintry-white wasabi cream and crunchy raw red beets flavoured with black currant vinegar from Gegenbauer – the vinegar supplier for all four of our guest chefs. Another sponge layer is then covered with a salad of pickled yellow beets to form the next layer. Metaphorically speaking, the temperatures in this layer of Tyrolean mountain soil are already higher, so the beets are no longer raw, they have been cooked and marinated with a sweet & sour mixture of ginger, bay leaf and herbs. At the top, a forest of young shoots, ranging from amaranth to watercress, sprout from one final layer of sponge, which is dotted with many citrus gel droplets.

Day Three: Markus Mraz, Mraz & Sohn

On the former Danube floodplain lies the working class neighbourhood of Brigittenau, and from the outside, the restaurant Mraz & Sohn almost looks like a simple bistro. Its contrast with the magnificence of Tian’s edifice and the Palais Coburg could not be greater. Inside, however, this small family business has a very urban and elegant feel, featuring subtle grey tones. The minimalistic design gives Markus Mraz's cuisine plenty of space to unfold. His sons provide back-up: Manuel, the older of the two, runs the service side. Lukas actually works in Berlin, but he often brings back new products for his father’s kitchen from there, as well as from his wide-ranging travels. Markus welcomes the suggestions; for example, the fine miso from Berlin. He’s using it in very unusual new dishes, which have brought incredible success to the restaurant in recent years.

For his dessert on our guest chefs’ menu, Mraz combines Vietnamese water spinach with coconut – the dessert looks green, but a salad of finely minced water spinach mixed with hazelnut oil and citrus aromas conceals a cornucopia of coconut variations. Their basis is coconut ice cream and coconut espuma with a shot of yuzu (Japanese citrus) juice. Its tart freshness invigorates the creaminess of the coconut. In addition, tiny pieces of candied ginger act like the rock salt on a soft pretzel – they don’t season the entire dessert, but they drop onto the palate here and there, like amusing, slightly zesty dots of flavour. Coconut cream, delicate strips of young coconut pulp, coconut crumble and crispy dried coconut all combine under the green disguise to create a terrific and only slightly sweet dessert.

Day Four: Heinz Reitbauer, Restaurant Steirereck im Stadtpark

My last day in Vienna begins outdoors in the freezing cold gardens of Schönbrunn Palace. Heimo Karner is in the midst of harvesting intensely fragrant bitter oranges. This exceptionally gifted gardener takes care of the former imperial collection of rare citrus trees, some of which are up to 200 years old. I’m seeing many varieties here for the first time in my life. Heinz Reitbauer finds a use for every fruit that Karner brings to him. Some provide wonderful juices, others have incredibly aromatic peels or leaves that lend themselves very well to cooking. Reitbauer candies citron and he extracts lemon oil from the leaves of a Buddha’s hand tree. He uses this oil in a dish featuring crayfish, which he will also prepare for us in Salzburg. After we cook Reitbauer's guest chef recipes together, I feel a bit uneasy: In addition to his special lemon oil, we will also need a homemade medlar stone oil and, according to Reitbauer's recipe, candied lemons. Reitbauer pickled an unusual kind of peppers last year – we’re going to need those, too. And I thought my guests from around the world confronted me with major shopping challenges! But if need be, I can have even the rarest citrus fruits flown in. Many of the ingredients for Reitbauer's exclusive homemade Austrian inventory are not in season right now. They are simply unavailable. But Heinz reassures me – everything that must ripen for months or that is made only during certain seasons, he has already prepared for me. Six to eight employees preserve many important ingredients for Reitbauer's kitchen throughout the year, working in his own production kitchen beneath the newly renovated Restaurant Steirereck. Even when a farmer friend of his unexpectedly delivers 700 kilos of plums, the sudden bounty is cooked, marinated or fermented in a very short time – not only for the Restaurant Steiereck, but also for Reithofers Meierei in the same building and for his pub on the Pogusch in Styria.

Many of Reitbauer's creations are based on techniques that he himself has developed or on ingredients that he himself has refined. That serves as a sort of built-in copyright protection in a world in which culinary trends spread online like the wind. Anyone who is interested in good food immediately thinks of Heinz Reitbauer when they discover, for example, a dish somewhere in the world whose ingredients are cooked in beeswax. Like the char that Heinz will prepare for us in Salzburg. Heinz shows me his system: he heats natural beeswax to exactly 84°C, then pours it over a piece of fish fillet. The char cooks to perfection while the wax cools, taking on the beeswax’s aroma. Next to the char fillet, Heinz lays the core of a carrot, which has been cooked in the juice made from the carrot’s outer layers. The chef then takes the pomace (pulpy residue) left over from the juicing process and grinds it into a fine powder, so he can roll a little char caviar in it. This tastes absolutely astounding and looks like bee pollen.

Recorded by Hans Gerlach

Restaurant Ikarus

Wilhelm-Spazier-Str. 7A
5020 Salzburg, Austria

Tel.: +43-662-2197-0
Fax: +43-662-2197-3786

ikarus@hangar-7.com

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Osnabrück, Germany
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London, Great Britain
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Lisboa, Portugal
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"Best of Vienna"
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Guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus: February 2017


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Martin Klein meets

Manish Mehrotra
New-Delhi, India
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Guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus: January 2017


Christophe Muller
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Collonges au Mont d´Or
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Søren Selin
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Guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus: November 2016


Christian Bau
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Christian Bau
Perl-Nennig/Mosel, Germany
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Ikarus invites the world`s best chefs

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Vladimir Mukhin
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Moscow, Russia
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Syrco Bakker
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Chefs at Restaurant Ikarus: August 2016


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Martin Klein and the
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Alexandre Couillon
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