The third toque from Gault Millau as well as a fourth star in A la Carte for Vitus Winkler and his restaurant “Vitus Cooking” at Hotel Sonnhof in St. Veit im Pongau were a logical consequence.
The ongoing development of Vitus, age 34, into one of the most exciting chefs of avantgarde Alpine cuisine is quite remarkable. Barely another chef manages to tell stories from his region through his creations as successfully as he.
Each dish bears a name which gets to the heart of what it is all about. Precisely the case, for example, with his brilliant “Winter Stream” (Link) and “Phoenix from the Ashes”, which is dedicated to the onion. The onion, that criminally underestimated product, is bestowed here a befittingly smoky-crunchy-creamy monument: A braised spring onion, filled with an onion cream, rises from the onion ashes. A full-flavored stock from the thin skin of the onion, a cream of Jerusalem artichoke, fried onion and marjoram oil give it an amuse soul and complexity.
“I hugely enjoy deriving dishes from my personal experiences or impressions of nature, and in finding a name for them”, says the chef who clearly draws such immense power and spirit from Mother Nature. “And thanks to the stories that go with them, the dishes are far easier for guests to remember.” In his eight-course “Winter Menu” (130 euro) with three amuses and one petit four, the flow of superb, utterly harmonious dishes simply never lets up. Vitus is cogent and convincing.
Whilst the “Beet Field” is perhaps in need of a little finetuning with regards to texture, the following course, “Winter Garden”, exceeds expectations. He slaughters a trout “Ikejime” (as does Heinz Reitbauer, with carp from Gut Dornau) and marinates it. With the help of radishes, pickled onions, Romanesco on a dashi broth and grated-horseradish espuma, the picture on the plate coalesces into a lightly snow-dusted garden.
In winter, he has numerous preserves from autumn on hand. In springtime and summer, Vitus scours his mountains and forests almost daily for edibles he can bring to the plate. He is more than happy to share his favorite mushroom- and herb-hunting grounds with guests at the hotel: “For them, it is exciting and inspiring when I take them with me. Come evening, they are then twice as curious to see what I have been up to in the kitchen with everything I’d collected.”
He bakes his own breads, constantly tinkering with new recipes. For his carrot focaccia, he also works freshly pressed carrot juice into the dough. He is particularly proud of his sourdough – “it’ll soon celebrate its first birthday” – which provides the foundation for many of his breads. With the Lerchenmühle in Golling and the Hohe Tauern National Park Market Gardens in Stuhlfelden, he has two important sparring partners for his tinkerings.
“The team from the National Park is getting better and better every year. They are fanatics about quality, and have become an inspiration for many chefs in the Pinzgau as well as for young farmers. This year, they have already produced physalis, marvelous”, raves Vitis, looking forward to receiving fresh supplies to feed his creative grey cells.
Ultimately, of course, he himself ought to serve as inspiration to many a young chef. For example, of how down-to-earth ingredients can be united with complexity to tell an exciting story. Or, of how you can modernize a small family business and bring added quality “to the table” year after year. Seen from that perspective, we realize that the 17 points from Gault Millau are merely a momentary snapshot in time. Let us see to what heights Vitus’ journey through the world of Alpine cuisine takes him!
Hotel Sonnhof / Restaurant Vitus Cooking
Kirchweg 2, 5621 St. Veit im Pongau