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Born in Austria, but with life-long ties to the Northern Italian region of Alto Adige, at the age of twenty, Norbert Niederkofler decided to travel the world: he returned having given himself an impressive culinary education. And his expertise has brought two Michelin stars to the St. Hubertus restaurant in San Cassiano’s Hotel Rosa Alpina. The restaurant’s philosophy of simplicity hasn’t been sacrificed, but under the guise of chef Niederkofler it has gained maturity.
The chef’s innovative dishes elaborate upon culinary traditions, while the restaurant’s legendary creations like beet risotto cooked over a wooden fire are still noteworthy.
FDL caught up with the Chef for an interview.
What are some of the most radical changes you’ve noticed?
There’s been no radical changes, just a long, organic evolution in the direction of locality and territory. As I traveled further and further away, tasting unfamiliar ingredients, I learned to appreciate the region of Alto Adige even more, and its treasure trove of tastes. My cuisine has undergone a process of purification, becoming even more anchored to the land. For example, I’m trying to eliminate salt-water fish from the menu and feature only fresh-water variants, those that come from the waters of our mountains. I’m also hoping to eventually eliminate fois gras: I think there are so many other noteworthy ingredients to emphasize, ones that are more respectful of nature. I’ve discovered ten different kinds of cardoons in this area, which is incredible. I’d love to find excellent local producers and source my ingredients solely from them eventually.
When it’s time to hire a chef, what skills do you take for granted?
I’ve learned to take nothing for granted. But if I have to decide who to bring onto my team, I think technical knowledge is key. You have to know how to cut, cook and conserve an ingredient. Those are the basics.
And what place does technology hold?
A chef should know how to use new technologies, but he shouldn’t depend on them. Technology can help to personalize a dish, but we shouldn’t become slaves of it. My goal, which science can help with, is to obtain very flavorful dishes while still keeping them light. And this can be miraculous.
How would you describe your cuisine?
Everything starts with the landscape of Alto Adige. There’s no other place in the world where the concept of a rigorous lifestyle melds with Mediterranean lightness. My cuisine is based on three adjectives: it has to be sustainable, clean and transparent. Sustainable means being connected with the territory and seasons and it has to respect the planet. By “clean” I mean that the flavors have to be recognizable: I try to never combine more than three flavors so as not to overload the palate, but to create dishes that soothe it and stimulate simplicity. And I consider “transparency” as I duty towards my clients – I never want to hide anything from them.