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20 years of St Hubertus: we meet Norbert Niederkofler
20 years of St Hubertus: we meet Norbert Niederkofler

The St. Hubertus, the restaurant of the Rosa Alpina hotel in San Cassiano in Alta Badia, has just turned twenty.

From twenty years there is in the kitchen Norbert Niederkofler, who in this period of time transformed a hotel restaurant whose target audience were après-ski convicts with their boots still on ("at a certain point we had to make two separate entrances, they left puddles of water and snow everywhere ") in one of the best tables in Italy.

To celebrate, the restaurant has created a special menu: twenty dishes, one per year, available only for 20 days: a sort of coring that allows you to reconstruct two decades of history of Italian haute cuisine, in the vision of a chef with a sensitivity very personal.

Like any birthday celebration, this anniversary is also an opportunity for the birthday boy to be congratulated on his successes, and also to share some considerations on the time that passes and what remains.

Using this menu as a starting point, I asked Niederkofler how he built this path, how (his) cuisine has changed in the last twenty years, and what he still has to do.

st Hubertus
st Hubertus

This year you have transformed a successful event like the Chefs' Cup into Care's, dedicated to sustainable cuisine

The 20-year menu features a Variation of foie gras that dates back to 2000, the year the restaurant got its first Michelin star: I think, of all the dishes on the menu, the one that most clearly shows its age

Could you tell me about this dish, and explain why you chose it?

I chose it because foie gras is a main product in gastronomy: it is very good and also interesting. The classic French version is the foie gras terrine with brioche, which I find tiring.

So fifteen years ago I created a sort of small tasting consisting of three dishes: a crème brulée with white balsamic vinegar, whose acidity cleans the mouth; a bowl where instead of removing I added the eel - fat on fat; finally I paired foie gras and prawn tartare.

The principle is that of the balance between yin and yang: soft / crunchy, salty / sweet, fatty / clean.

Variation of fatty liver
Variation of fatty liver

Today, with fatty liver we have two kinds of problems: the first is that for six years we have embraced the concept of “Cook the mountain” (in short, “Cook the mountain”) and therefore we only use local ingredients.

The second is ethical: I am uncomfortable with the mistreatment of geese, so we are looking for a fatty liver without gavage, force-feedings, but the taste is not the same, so for the moment we have decided to let it go.

What is instead a dish that symbolizes the evolution of your path?

I would say the “Red turnip gnocchi, a dish from 2013”.

Turnip dumplings, norbert niederkofer
Turnip dumplings, norbert niederkofer

It is a dish created by recreating nature, imagining a turnip in a vegetable garden: there is the sensation of wet earth, given by charcoal bread crumbs and cold beer; then there is the contrast between the sweetness of the turnip and the horseradish. The daikon comes at the end, to clean up.

Is this how all your dishes are born, imitating nature?

This is one of the techniques. Another thing that guides me is avoiding food waste: today 30% to 50% of food is thrown away. By eliminating waste, and increasing the cost of what you buy by 20% by buying higher quality raw materials, you eat better and save money.

It happens that a dish is born with this goal in mind: we take a raw material and use all parts of it using different techniques, as we do in "Once upon a time there was a trout", where we serve the meat in an unsalted tartare, the skin of the fish separately, dried and fried, while with the bones and the toasted head we prepare a beurre blanc sauce.

St. Hubertus
St. Hubertus

Sometimes the inspiration comes from old conservation methods, such as hay, or ash, or chestnut leaves. Or even from an image: one of our desserts, all in shades of red, is inspired by a sunset over the Dolomites; in winter we have another one based on white, in homage to our pale mountains.

Taking these two dishes as points of principle and destination, how would you describe the evolution of your cuisine?

In building a menu that covers 20 years of work, the difficulty is to be recognizable: a chef must have a style like a writer or a photographer, a common thread that unites all creations.

In each of my dishes by now there are only two or three things and they must always be perfect: I realized that if you put 10 in them you are only complicating your life.

Turnip dumplings, Norbert Niederkofer
Turnip dumplings, Norbert Niederkofer

There are two important things: simplify and work on quality. The vegetable garden makes the difference: it is only if the strawberries are not good that you are forced to jump through hoops in the kitchen. The environment in which I am immersed influences me: nature is a teacher of perfection every day.

It is a trajectory that seems to me to be common to many haute cuisine around the world, is that correct?

Yes, but there is also an Italian peculiarity: Italian cuisine is produced. A few years ago, in the golden days of Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia [famous Spanish congress of haute cuisine, Editor's note] in San Sebastian there was no talk of product: they were talking about technique.

The same goes for Nordic cuisine which is not culture, but a brilliant business idea.

In Italy, the interest in cooks is recent, first there was the kitchen of grandmother and mother: a culture in which the motto was to make a virtue of necessity, not to make a scene.

Let's take fermentation, for example, which is now all the rage: it has always been a ploy to set aside food to eat in winter, such as tomato preserves, in summer.

Norbert Niederkofer and brigade
Norbert Niederkofer and brigade

Let's take a step back: how do you manage to have a restaurant that not only remains successful for twenty years, but also remains relevant, interesting?

I've always taken risks. Many classic restaurants always do the same things, and that means little risk. I, on the other hand, do not feel good in the routine, it makes me dissatisfied: I am always on the lookout, I like to see new things.

Dal Pescatore, for example, may well be the best restaurant in Italy but for fifty years they have had the same dishes. I have the utmost respect for the work they do but I simply couldn't. When things get bored I don't do them anymore.

But is this willingness to change more of a business principle - it serves to keep the restaurant on the brink - or is it a matter of principle?

When you are no longer satisfied, it is time to make changes, even when they require courage. Let's take for example an appointment renowned as the Chef's Cup: I was no longer happy, I no longer recognized myself. Too many people, too much mess, just lifestyle.

But it continued to be a huge success: I decided to cancel an event that brought in 4 million euros of printing in a week. How many others would have done it?

Alpine Rose
Alpine Rose

The same happened when I decided to adopt the philosophy of "Cook the Mountain": the Pizzinini (owners of Rosa Alpina, Ed.) Were a bit perplexed, and I was well aware that if it went badly I would be the one to pay for it. the consequences.

My reasoning was this: the more you travel the world, the more you realize that everyone cooks the same things. So, if I want to bring customers from London or Asia or New York, it is useless for me to do international cuisine.

Many hotel guests are international. What does it mean to have a restaurant inside a hotel?

On the one hand it has an advantage, on the other it is a bit complicated. Let's see the positives: some of the customers transfer directly from the hotel, but also for the structure it is an added value: there is always something new in the kitchen, and this keeps the hotel interesting, even for the press.

Then there are the headaches: at Christmas we have long waiting lists for customers who would like to book at the restaurant, but we must necessarily reserve some tables for hotel guests in case they decide to dine with us at the last moment: or you think that can you tell a customer who spends 2 or 3 thousand euros for a suite that there is no room in the restaurant?

Norbert Niederkofler
Norbert Niederkofler

In 2000, when we removed half board, we were the luck of the nearby hotels: our clientele changed completely in a short time, and we obviously lost some of it. With the current economic situation, I don't know if we would have the courage to do something equally radical: then it was easier, it took us a couple of years to get back to normal.

Today we have a different clientele, much more demanding. On a personal level, this is beautiful to me: if there are interesting people among your guests, you too will learn a lot. And you are in the best position to do it, because I don't want anything from these guests, they are the ones who are intrigued by me.

What will be on the menu for thirty years?

I am aware that my years of future work are not very many, and now I want to work with - and for - young people. I want to enjoy this period with young people who have learned something from me [Norbert's sous-chef, Michele Lazzarini is 24 years old Ed.], And also for this reason one of Care's projects are scholarships.

Alpine Rose
Alpine Rose

I'm not jealous of anything. What is important for me at this point in my journey is to leave a legacy. None of my recipes are secret: I give it to those who ask for it, with only one recommendation: do it well. If you do it better than me, I'm the first to congratulate you.

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