Food writer and GELINAZ! co-curator Andrea Petrini calls Austria the new Slovenia and he is definitely on to something. To date, Austria has been shy to present itself on the podium of world cuisine and present its chefs. But that is set to change after GELINAZ! does upper Austria
Leading the revival in Austria is Heinz Reitbauer, chef of the amazing Steirereck in Vienna. But behind him is a growing number of young talented chefs who are pushing the boundaries, using local produce to create magic. One such talent is 28-year-old Lukas Nagl, a young Austrian chef who you are likely to hear much more about in future. He is the executive chef of the restaurant Bootshaus at the Das Traunsee in the idyllic Lake Traunsee. After working in the kitchens of Steirereck and Per Se among others, he decided to go back to his roots in Traunseehis first son was born in 2012. “This is the region I belong to. So when the opportunity arose to work there an to be able to work in the restaurant whose owner is a friend of mine and who allows me to work as if it is my restaurant. The decision was easy,” he said.
The father of 3 says that his children have had an impact on him, on his cooking philosophy and how he approaches life in general. “This is the most important experience that a man or a woman can have. The value of everything changed when my children were born. My cooking has also changed. Today, it is much more simple than it used to be before. I need to be home earlier than before,” he says half-jokingly. “It is also more focused on local ingredients. I do not need to decorate the dishes but rather prefer to focus on one ingredient and vegetables and take it from there.”
His cuisine is respectful of the place, it is beautiful in its simplicity and also inventive. He loves to work with the ingredients and makes his own soy sauce from mushrooms and his own fish sauce from sweet water fish. “With the mushrooms, I created a soy sauce. I love the taste of umami, I love the cuisine of Japan. I saw the colours of mushrooms, I decided to salt them, put them in a box in a room at 40C and let it ferment for two weeks. The end result was incredible that we now have our own soy sauce.”
He has does the same thing with fish. In this case, he always buys the whole catch from the fishermen. “We only use wild caught fish in the restaurant. When we have a lot of fish and not enough guests we do not want to waste the fish. So we have to do something. We pickle the fish but we have also created our own fish sauce with fish from sweet water fish. It is really delicious and I use in my cooking to enhance the flavour of green vegetables for example.” he said.
Lukas tells me that to find inspiration and to be creative you first need to love what you do. “But you also have to enjoy other things apart from cooking and eating. Arts is a good place to look for inspiration but also spending time with the family and playing with the children. Ideas can come from being in the garden or going to an art gallery. But children is where you get most of your ideas from because they think in a different way and it is important for adults to also retain that way of thinking,” he said.
Like children, Lukas is always questioning things. “I am very curious. With René Redzepi at GELINAZ! I could ask him about ants we found yesterday. We tried them and they were amazing so we may eventually use them in our menu.”
He says the GELINAZ! experience has really been inspirational. “It is a great honour to be among so many famous chefs. it is also an honour for our region to welcome such an event. To do it here is incredible,” he said. “Our gastronomy and our cuisine are not really international. Nobody knows about the young Austrian cuisine. Everybody knows schnitzel but nobody knows about Philip Rachinger’s restaurant (the Muhlatalhof) or our restaurant. course we have Steirereck which is very important and leads the way but there are a lot of other chefs. Heinz, the chef of Steirereck is of course really important for us. He is the most important chef to have emerged in Austria in the past years and has inspired everybody” he said.
His dream for the next years is to be where he is today with his wife and children having fun in the way he cooks. “We need Michelin back in Austria and a star would be great,” he said. “I want to continue working with fresh water fish and with the vegetables which grow around the restaurant. The focus is to use them because these open the doors for many possibilities not just in terms of the produce but also in terms of the relationships and dialogues we have with our farmers. We inspire each other to try different things,” he said.