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Star Austrian chef uses ‘nose to tail’ in specialties

Max Stiegl

Max Stiegl

MAX Stiegl, chef de cuisine of Gut Purbach, the wonderful modern restaurant in Purbach, Austria, took his cuisine and ideas to Shanghai when he visited the kitchens of VUE Restaurant at the Hyatt on the Bund as guest chef from April 7 to 15.

Stiegl is the youngest chef ever awarded a Michelin star, when he was 20 and working at Inamera in Rust, Austria. The star came just 5 years after he started.

Now 37, Stiegl has won more than 130 awards. He has created cuisine for celebrities and leaders, including former US President Bill Clinton, former Austrian President Heinz Fischer and UK singer Adele.

“I think cooking is a religion, you cannot learn to cook,” Stiegl told Shanghai Daily last week. “In Europe, we say you must have it in your blood. Some things, you must feel it.”

Stiegl was born in Koper, Slovenia, and moved to Austria when he was little.

He started at Gut Purbach in 2007. His cuisine focuses on Pannonian regional traditions, which use a variety of birds and freshwater fish.

“A long time ago, they cooked a lot of horse (meat),” he said.

Cuisine from Pannonia — the vast region in Central Europe where Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe meet — uses spices and herbs such as paprika and marjoram.

One of the dishes he brought to VUE was Halászlé Pannonische Fischsuppe, or fisherman’s soup — classic Pannonian and featuring catfish, lentils, ginger, saffron, paprika and Pernod.

Traditional Pannonian cuisine is quite heavy, but it has been modified to cater to people’s lighter taste.

“It was always a sturdy food for people who work a lot,” said Stiegl. “The new generation don’t work so hard and they work in cities and in offices.”

The star chef has also authored a cookbook, “Mein Pannonien” (My Pannonia), highlighting traditional Pannonian cuisine.

Under Stiegl’s management, Gut Purbach is one of Burgenland’s best gastronomic establishments, serving the flavors of region with local ingredients.

The goat meat he uses come from his own farm on the slopes of the Leitha Mountains and the fish are freshly caught in nearby Lake Neusiedl.

Every morning, Stiegl goes into the woods to collect fresh herbs, wild garlic, mushrooms and berries.

The restaurant also featured in an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”

Stiegl is famous for cooking offal and variety meats, the parts including tongue, kidney and tripe.

For Stiegl, they are some of the main ingredients in his kitchen.

“I think it’s one animal and you can eat all of it; it’s respect of the animal,” he said, “it’s one animal and it’s all the same, you can cook it all very good or not so good.”

His motto is: “Nose to Tail.”

Q: What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?

A: Crepes.

Q: Does that Michelin star bring extra pressure?

A: Yes — and motivation.

Q: What’s the best dining experience you’ve had?

A: Everywhere is nice. For staying 10 days here I eat 20 times, lunch and dinner. And in Shanghai I want to eat Chinese food, I cannot understand European people who fly to Shanghai and then go to Robuchon or other restaurants or here for a schnitzel. In Austria it’s the same, a lot of Chinese restaurants cook only for Chinese people. Chinese people want to eat Chinese food in Austria and they cannot understand it. When I’m in Austria I eat Austrian food, in Italy I eat Italian food and in China I eat Chinese food.

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