Paznaun is a centre of good taste. This is partly due to the chefs who are based here, and who are responsible for the high-end gastronomy in the hotels and restaurants of Ischgl. But even more than that, there’s a very special event which ensures better quality food in the valley’s huts than elsewhere, too: the Culinary Way of St James.
The Way of St. James is, to put it flippantly, the importation of international expertise into Paznaun. Under the patronage of chef of the century Eckart Witzigmann, five top chefs from across Europe provide the ideas. They develop dishes which are complex and yet fitting for the places enjoyed by hikers and mountain visitors: the five huts above See, Kappl, Ischgl and Galtür. Eckart Witzigmann tells Trisanna: “If these Michelin-starred chefs served the dishes which are on the menus in their restaurants, it wouldn’t have any sustainable impact. But if they create special dishes for the mountain huts, it’s something completely different.”
He comes from a decidedly culinary family, but Jean-Georges Klein didn’t actually want to become a chef. He studied hotel management in Strasbourg, and then worked as head waiter in his mother’s restaurant, the “L’Arnsbourg” in Baerenthal in Alsace – where he himself was born and raised. It was only in 1987, after the death of his mother, that Klein moved into the kitchen – as a self-taught chef. He developed his skills further with Ferran Adrià and Pierre Gagnaire, and was responsible for the unprecedented rise of his parents’ restaurant. He gained his first star straightaway in his first year as a head chef, and his second in 1998. As of 2002 “L’Arnsbourg” was awarded a third star. In 2015 Klein left “L’Arnsbourg”, which was taken over by his sister. Just 20 km away, he opened the “Villa René Lalique” in the house where the Art Deco glass artist had lived until 1945. His work there was also recognized with two Michelin stars. Klein is a chef who loves the French classic style, putting it into practice with extreme precision. For the Culinary Way of St. James he has reflected the traditions o his home region and created a “Savoury Alsace tarte flambée” for the Jamtal Hut.
Paul Ivic is what you might call a Tyrolean local hero, even if he’s not from Paznaun exactly, but from Serfaus. His culinary career led him for a while to Ischgl, where he worked in the Trofana Royal. Then his journey brought him via Germany, Switzerland and Spain to Vienna, where he created the original and unique “Tian” concept, which has led to his restaurant receiving one Michelin star and three Gault Millau toques. Vegetables are at the heart of Paul Ivic’s cooking. “Tian” is a high-end restaurant which cooks strictly vegetarian and vegan food. Working together with excellent organic producers, old and unusual varieties of organic vegetables are cultivated for “Tian”, enabling Ivic to work regularly and consistently with the very best produce – and bring well thought out, complex dishes to the table. Incidentally, far from being reserved for vegetarians alone, the restaurant is also popular with foodies and wine lovers –Tian has specialized in interesting and unique natural wines. So it’s only logical that Ivic has also created a vegetarian dish for the Friedrichshafener Hut: “Kasmuas (cheese sauce) from Fisser barley with braised leeks and pear vinaigrette”.
“Opus V”, which Tristan Brandt has turned into a two-Michelin-starred establishment within just a few years, is not a normal restaurant. It is located on the sixth floor of the Engelhorn fashion house in Mannheim, a place designed not just for shopping but also for feeling good – which means eating. In addition, Tristan Brandt is only in his early thirties. His career path nevertheless includes stints working with some of the greats of his industry in Barcelona and in Saarland, in the Vosges and in Shanghai. He’s worked with Jordi Cruz, with Harald Wohlfahrt, and with Jean-Georges Klein (so it will be something of a family reunion!). Alongside “Opus V” Brandt also runs five other restaurants and three bars, and he’s famous for not needing much sleep. “Feinschmecker” magazine anointed him “the shooting star of the south-west”. Brandt favours a direct interaction with producers, farmers and dealers which enables him to cook seasonally and with a regional focus. He combines his dishes in unusual ways, often with Asian notes, just like his dish for the Heidelberger Hut, “Calves’ cheeks with sweet potatoes and ginger.”
The restaurant “Bubbledogs &” follows a concept which marketing experts call “sharp”. What James Knappett and Sandia Chang thought up in 2012 is anything other than a conventional Michelin-starred restaurant. It originally targeted guests who didn’t necessarily want to dig deep into their pockets – a snack bar. There are hotdogs, hamburgers and milkshakes, and as the “&” in the name suggests, something else: hidden behind a curtain, there is a kitchen table with seating for 18 grouped around an open stove. This is where Knappett and his team cook up a large menu every day, made up of predominantly British ingredients, which are transformed with great expertise into gourmet delicacies. This expertise comes from the international institutions where Knappett has worked and refined his craft: “Noma” in Copenhagen; “The Ledbury” in London; and finally, Thomas Keller’s “Per Se” in New York. It was in this legendary culinary temple that Knappett met his partner Sandia, with whom he went on to open “Bubbledogs &”. The Kitchentable received its first star in 2014, its second in 2018. Knappett has developed his “Venison with sauce, pureed celery, tea-soaked plums and 100% chocolate” for the Almstüberl in See.
Onno is the freshly-crowned Gault Millau Chef of the Year 2019 in the Netherlands (making him a colleague of Ischgl’s own Benjamin Parth, who holds the Austrian title this year). He’s worked in “Ciel bleu” since 2003, a restaurant whose name is based on its exposed position – it’s on the 23rd floor of the 5 star Hotel Okura in Amsterdam. Onno reportedly already knew at the tender age of ten that he wanted to be a chef. Good food was highly regarded in his family, and Onno completed his training as a chef, was inspired by Cas Spijkers, who brought French cuisine to the Netherlands, and gathered a handful of trusted friends around him to create a culinary institution in the Ciel bleu. First star in 2005, second in 2007. Chef of the year 2019. The dish he’s cooking for the Ascher Hut is “Wagyu short rib with shallots, salted lemons and trappeur sauce.”