The red carpets were out at Steirereck for the GELINAZ! welcome dinner on Wednesday 16th August. Chefs from all corners of the world and journalists had travelled here to take part in the GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA event that was taking place on 20th August at the Muhltahof in Neufelden.
But a visit as guests of Heinz Reitbauer was also on the cards because he is the most representative Austrian chef and the one who is leading a quiet revolution in Austria that could see the country ride the wave of culinary tourism that is rising in importance each year.
Think about Austria and you think about Vienna, mountains, idyllic lakes, Alpine skiing and the Sound of Music. You might know about the Wiener Schnitzel or the Sacher Torte but Austria’s food remains its best kept secret. But that could soon change.
Love lists or hate lists there is a reason why Heinz Reitbauer of Vienna restaurant Steirereck in Stadtpark has been quietly rising in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. His latest ranking is 10th.
On Wednesday 16th August, he hosted the GELINAZ! crowd at his restaurant in Vienna’s central park and what a party that turned out to be. It was the perfect way to immerse the guests into contemporary Austrian cuisine and in particular Austrian ingredients and traditions.
The Austrian chef managed to give an impressive glimpse of contemporary Austrian cuisine. Showcasing Austrian ingredients and perfect techniques, he playfully prepared some of his classic dishes including what could be considered his signature dish, the char with beeswax, yellow carrot, pollen and sour cream.
Reitbauer does not shy away from using humble ingredients in his fine dining restaurant such as the calf’s brain that was slow cooked to perfection. As the chef told us in an interview a day after, he loves to serve traditional Viennese dishes in the restaurant and although he knows that some guests might not want to eat offal, he still gives them the choice. This has become a statement in many of today’s top restaurants particularly as emphasis on waste and sustainability become more important.
Guests arrived in style in limousines and were welcomed by the Austrian chef and his team. Reitbauer has made a name for himself since he took over his parents restaurant in 2005. Since then, he has been going from strength to strength with the restaurant receiving two Michelin stars in the process.
Sitting at table with Konstanin Filippou of the Vienna restaurant by the same name, Manu Buffara of Brazil restaurant Manu and Andreja Lajh of Haut de Gamme, we could not help but comment about the service which was impeccable and not intrusive. The reason for this are cards which present the dishes one by one and which give you all the details you need to know.
Reitbauer came up with the idea nearly 10 years ago and with the benefit of hindsight it is pure genius in today’s social media context. But the decision was taken so that guests who did not want to be interrupted with too many details would still be able to get all the information if they wanted.
As we sit down at table, the char is presented in a box and hot beeswax is poured. We are told that this is the second course but are wondering where the first course is. That mystery is soon solved. The char is slowly cooked in the beeswax in front of us as the texture and colour of the fish and beeswax changes. It is then taken into the kitchen and returned back on a plate with yellow carrot, pollen and sour cream.
We learn about the beeswax from the card we are given.Gathered from the hives of honey bees where it is used to build the honeycomb in which the young are raised. For the bees to produce their wax, they must consume eight times the amount of honey by weight. It is estimated that one bee would have to fly 530,000 km to produce 1kg of wax. Reitbauer told Food and Wine Gazette that after a few uses, the beeswax is returned back to be put back into the system. Not 1 gram is lost.
For more photos from the Steirereck dinner follow us on our Instagram feed.