Text by Florentina Welley
Norbert Niederkofler, South Tyrol’s most famous top chef, founder of the «Cook the Mountain» research lab and chef of the St. Hubertus restaurant in San Cassiano, returns the cycle of nature into the kitchen and, with his concept of well living, plants healthy nourishment for the next generation.
What does sustainable pleasure mean?
Norbert Niederkofler: We have to return to the culture and bring it into the kitchen. The hotel guests perspectives have changed. It no longer makes sense to offer products from all over the world – the guests themselves are international and would rather eat something regional. We have to take exactly that into consideration. Cultural substance has to come into the kitchen. Today, that means sustainability and the respectful handling of products.
We have to return to the culture and bring it into the kitchen.
What is the most important thing in mountain cooking?
Norbert Niederkofler: That’s the quality and the implementation – like my project «Cook the Mountain.» If I were by the sea, I would do «Cook the Sea.» I need holistic products. That means that the farmers can live from their work here and it has to be guaranteed that they’re doing well, so that they can continue to work the fields. That’s because we all live off of it – also from the beauty of the landscape.
What differentiates the Michelin-starred mountain cuisine in the hotel from that in the hut?
Norbert Niederkofler: Time. The only difference is that on the mountain, you really only have the kitchen for about three hours. Then everything’s over. The dishes have got to be good, quick to prepare. Otherwise, it gets to be too complicated, because there isn’t time. On the mountain, guests only eat from 12 to 2:30 pm. The quality must be the same, of course. Huts had the best, but always the same things – therefore, we brought our project «Sciare con Gusto» to the huts. The variety is wonderful. For each hut, a different top chef cooks a dish. After all, this year, Alta Badia was selected as the best gourmet ski destination in Europe.
How far can you go to get ingredients or wine and still produce sustainably?
Norbert Niederkofler: Our mountain kitchen gets ingredients from up to a 100-kilometre radius, because we get saffron from the Vintschgau area. A new mountain culture is being created from our sustainable production. Up to 60 percent of the wine menu is made up of wines that are from South Tyrol and Italy. The rest is from France, Austria, Germany. Gastronomy in South Tyrol came into being with the wine producers in order to open international markets. Now gastronomy is growing, but in connection with wines from South Tyrol.
What is new this year with your CARE project’s The ethical Chef Days?
Norbert Niederkofler: A lot, because in addition to skiing classes, cooking master classes, breakfast at the peak of the mountain at sunrise, etc., a talk about the nutrition of the future is planned. In addition, there will also be lectures about architecture and concepts of living well with sustainability. Experts from the fields of architecture, environment and gastronomy report on a university building with zero missions, etc. Living well in the area of gastronomy is our future.
You already have beech tree stock and mountain sunchokes. What’s next?
Norbert Niederkofler: You can make everything out of the products that you find here and think about. Today, you turn around the entire philosophy from earlier. From 1996 until 2016, a menu existed of a signature dish, something like, what will I cook that has to do with wasabi? With products that came from far away, in order to impress the guests. We have switched it around: I take a regional product and cook around it. Old cultures were sensible: Every local product was made due to necessity, like grey cheese, flatbread … preservability, working in the summer and eating in the winter, were the skills. It is also interesting in terms of nutritional technology: In every season, nature gives you what you need, also in terms of colour. If everyone were to eat that way, you wouldn’t need diets and hospitals. There’s nothing new in cuisine today, because there has already been everything. Recently, in Peru, I found freeze-dried potatoes. This technique makes sense and it is nice to be able to rediscover something and apply it.
Is cooking art?
Norbert Niederkofler: In cooking, the art is in the omission – the more I leave out, the more difficult it is. I have to have the right technique, like in painting, like in design. Three ingredients are good. That’s what makes up a work of art, too. The adding is easy.