The Gault Millau guide has selected Benjamin Parth as its Chef of the Year 2019, a huge honour for the young man from Ischgl, who has also cooked many different dishes for us (here, here and here) at Trisanna. The award was presented in a very lively ceremony at Idalp. Trisanna brings you our eulogy, written by author and columnist Christian Seiler.
by CHRISTIAN SEILER
When I was a guest of Benjamin Parth’s for the first time a couple of years ago, I found the food, let’s say, confusing. The menu was, without a shadow of a doubt, very good – the tastes were bold, the composition precise, the contrasts exceptionally stylish – but it did not fit at all into the fine dining model in vogue at the time.
In vogue was the Nordic-influenced neo-regionalism then making waves throughout the world. To summarize this culinary philosophy in a couple of sentences: a whole generation of young chefs suddenly focused on wresting delicacies, which were not always immediately recognisable as such, from their immediate surroundings, instead of using luxury products such as foie gras, caviar or lobster. As a result, spruce needles were suddenly converted into emulsions, mosses were deep-fried, the meat of older dairy cows was favoured over that of calves, rape seed oil and cellulose vinegar were used in place of olive oil and lemon juice.
The use of regional produce was elevated to dogma in many parts of high-end gastronomy. This meant voluntarily dispensing with everything that had been the norm in a good kitchen, and making do with what grew just outside the front door. “Noma” in Copenhagen was in the vanguard of this movement and was crowned the best restaurant in the world on several consecutive occasions at the time.
In Austria, too, the culinary heritage of the Alps was explored and a distinct, regionally-influenced Alpine cuisine developed, so that when I ate at “Stüva”, I was totally unprepared to come across a young man with very different ideas.
I remember very well the scallop tartare with caviar and a white truffle juice, and I still recall how aghast I was that there was a chef anywhere in the world who would throw white truffles into the juicer. I must also admit that this self-confident combination of luxury products tasted thoroughly delicious. What I didn’t know was how to bring it into line with the reigning dogma of gourmet cuisine.
Because I couldn’t get the issue out of my head, I wrote a column about it, in which, alongside all kinds of sophistries, I got carried away with a rather commonplace but nevertheless correct prophecy: “Benjamin Parth is a chef to whom the future belongs. He is clearly underrated with two Gault Millau toques, but will unquestionably receive due recognition.”
Which brings us to the theme of the evening. I warmly congratulate you, Benny, on your award. I happened to be there when the publishers of the Gault Millau guide brought you the good news, and I really don’t know what made me happier: the Hohenlohes’ courage in choosing you as Chef of the Year; or your unprecedented coolness in accepting the news. If I remember correctly, your first words as “Chef of the Year” were: “Aha.”
That this coolness has since changed into a party mood is clear to see from the size of the celebration today and the fact that such illustrious guests have found their way to Ischgl and up the mountain here. A very good idea.
I would now like to explain why I think the choice of Benjamin Parth is not only correct, but also brave.
Parth is a loner in culinary terms. Choosing him does not lead to the creation of a new trend, no form of new Alpine cuisine and certainly not a future of whatever kind for Austrian cooking. Benjamin Parth is a dyed-in-the-wool neo-classicist, “an old man inside a young man”, as the great Richard Thompson once put it.
If you talk with Benny Parth about food, you will sooner or later – and it’s usually sooner – be faced with the realisation that this young man has worked, when he was still a very, very young man, with the greatest chefs of our time: Marc Haeberlin, Heinz Winkler, Frédy Giradet, Eckart Witzingmann, Michelin three-star chefs and beacons for the French-oriented Grand Cuisine – and you should be aware at this point that Benny Parth’s enthusiasm for this fine and timeless culinary art was sparked by his father, who can eat more than you would think from looking at him, and who has mastered the art of talking about food whilst eating food better than any other man.
French Grande Cuisine is the foundation of the great culinary art which Benny Parth has adopted ever since he decided to step out from the shadow of his role models. He completed his culinary training with Heinz Winkler and polished his skills with Santi Santamaria, Marc Haeberlin and Sven Elverfeld.
Since then he has, however, consistently worked on cooking like Benjamin Parth. His mantra is: taste first, optics second. Although he has recently opened an Instagram account where you can look at many beautiful dishes, Benny Parth’s true skill only becomes apparent when you experience how memorable the taste of his food is, how masterfully composed his dishes are and how tightly constructed the dramaturgy of his menus, which he normally opens with the iodine notes of sea food in order to then use fruity sharpness, original acids and astonishing bitter aromas to create a big picture that does not deny French classicism but interprets in a relatively free and contemporary way.
So why is it a brave decision to make this man the Chef of the Year?
He does not belong to any of the usual old boys’ clubs. He is not on the well-beaten path for gourmet travellers, so he is not a star whose selection is well-secured and long overdue. He represents a new generation of chefs, but at the same time, he has an extremely individual way of thinking, with no regard for current fashions. His good judgement has been widely tested, and if he does not agree with one or other of Gault Millau’s assessments, he will clearly and loudly question it, too.
But more than anything, he offers the guests who want to eat at the new Chef of the Year’s restaurant a culinary experience of a quality and specific type to be found nowhere else in Austria (and only in a very few select places beyond).
Maybe there’s one more thing. The new Chef of the Year does not have an enormous staff under his command in his kitchen, but just a fairly small team. He cooks not only for the guests in the gourmet restaurant, but also, with the same degree of care, for the house guests who have booked half board.
Sometimes – such as when he has broken his shoulder snowboarding in the morning – he cooks in the evenings with only one hand. But he always has the support of his partner, Sarah Falch, who is herself training as a sommelier. In February, the couple will be getting more back up. Their first child is on its way – or should we say: the Chef of the Year Child.
Congratulations. The year 2019 has a lot in store for you!