Norbert Niederkofler, from the St. Hubertus restaurant in San Cassiano, Italy, has been awarded 3 stars by the Michelin Guide for his alpine-influenced cuisine in January. In the Austrian daily newspaper, KURIER, he talks about the essence of his alpine cuisine, the philosophy of left-overs and the respect he has for his producers.
KURIER: On your menu are creations such as suckling veal, root vegetables and birch fond – you cook with exclusively local ingredients.
Norbert Niederkofler: Today we cook as we used to. We appreciate nature and respect nature. Also, we live again in the rhythm of nature – nature gives what the body needs. In the summer we eat berries; and we eat mushrooms in the autumn, root vegetables in winter and delicate herbs in spring.
A classic from your childhood is Kaiserschmarren with cranberries. What else do you associate with the taste of your childhood?
Kasnocken – spätzle with gray cheese. The pan was always placed in the middle of the table, then everyone ate from it. This family style is missing today. It’s great fun when parents and children eat out of the same bowl. Also, potatoes with butter and milk were served once a week; if a bit of luxury was wanted, then there was cheese and a tin of tuna with it.
You were recently awarded the third star. How is this appreciation and recognition noticeable?
On the day of the announcement, 500 reservations came in from all over the world. Three stars are the goal of every chef – that’s just like the Olympic victory in the downhill. You train for years for the highest award. This achievement had always been my dream. According to Michelin, the restaurant was inspected ten times last year: this means that an incredibly good team is ready, so that with every visit by a restaurant critic, everything is just right. Ten percent is luck, and 90 percent is work.
What is your secret of success?
Respect for the producers. A good product is not enough; you have to understand the producers as well as their products.
The St. Hubertus is located up at about 1,700 meters: Does the hight result in problems?
Cooking at this altitude is not a problem. With us, buying is now completely different. We order food only once a year. Moreover, our farmers work without greenhouses; we work with what nature provides. It used to be the other way around – people picked up the phone and ordered the ingredients from around the world.
Do you feel restricted?
No, I’m from the mountains. I grew up here and I live here. Fermentation is currently a trend. But – why were our parents and grandparents already doing it ? Fermentation has been around for centuries, because preserving techniques were used in times when there were no refrigerators. We also were able to get vitamin C during the winter months. We use old potato varieties and process 100% of the whole animal – which also helps the farmers.
Many cooks complain that boys are no longer able to cut up whole animals.
That is a big problem. The schools are good and they learn it there – but then there are not enough farms that practice this on a daily basis. My cooks have to know where the front and back of the animal are. I need six to eight lambs per week. We have to preserve old traditions – that’s our culture. Old knowledge needs to be revived !
Since when have you been sustainable?
We rely on regionality, seasonality and waste prevention. Left-overs was an issue for us at the beginning, but three to four years ago, we redesigned our menu. The first course consists of the choicest parts; the second course could be, for example, oxtail or calf’s head. Guests love the parts that they are rarely able to get, and even will often say that they don‘t need the the choice parts at all.