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Chef’s table: Thorsten Probost in Vorarlberg

One of Austria’s top chefs, Thorsten Probost reveals the food and drink he loves most in the mountainous western state of Vorarlberg

Chef’s table: Thorsten Probost in Vorarlberg
Thorsten Probost. Image: Udo Bernhart Vorarlberg Tourismus

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Fish
In Vorarlberg, we’re lucky to have a huge range of fish in our waters, and crabs are also slowly starting to reappear. Rudd, burbot and grayling are now also joining the likes of kitchen favourites zander, pike, char, perch and whitefish. Every season brings extraordinary produce to the clear mountain streams and waters of Lake Constance, and voilà — my menus are born! 

Game
Deer and hare roam the forests, while partridge, capercaillie, grouse, ibex, chamois and marmot can also be glimpsed. Whether smoked, braised or fried, this natural bounty plays a big part in the cuisine of Vorarlberg. Don’t miss braised ibex shoulder with creamy riebel (buckwheat fritter) and mushrooms or chamois with wild carrot and cranberries. 

Berries
Many berries feature in compotes, desserts and home remedies. Red elderberries and rowan berries are exciting me more and more in the kitchen, and the local cuisine wouldn’t be complete without wild strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and blackberries. Schmarrn (shredded spelt pancake) with blackberries and cold milk is a real treat, while yogurt with fruits of the forest and mint is a must.

Fungi
Porcini and chanterelles are the best-known, although the forests are full of other varieties, including shingled hedgehogs, parasols, milkcaps, russulas and honey fungus. One of my favourite dishes contains the shaggy ink cap, spritzed with pine vinegar and served with grilled perch and chives.

Cheese
Milk plays a very important role in the mountain cuisine — from cheese and curds to cream. Bergkäse (Alpine cheese), is occasionally made by storing milk in gebsen, the region’s traditional wooden barrels, which produce a complex cheese with aromatic, spiced notes. Sig is a chocolate-like by-product of slowly cooking whey and makes an interesting addition to pastries and ice cream when combined with meadowsweet, berries or refreshing horsemint. 

Herbs
Over 20 different herbs are used in Vorarlberg’s cuisine, with around 14 alone in the most popular herbal tea in Oberlech. Characterised by a mild bitterness, and highly nutritious, they grow slowly, high up in the Alpine meadows. Wild caraway is particularly pleasant when served with crab, as is a soup of Alpine lovage and a herb called Good-King-Henry when dished up with smoked cheese and cream. Whether a drink, hot soup or remedy, if it contains herbs, I’m interested. 

Semmelknödel. Image: Alamy

Semmelknödel. Image: Alamy

Make it at home: Semmelknödel (bread dumplings) in a creamy sauce with fungi and mountain herbs
(Serves four)

INGREDIENTS

· 3 eggs
· Butter
· 100ml milk
· 2tbsp sunflower oil
· 100g chanterelle mushrooms
· 10 porcini mushrooms
· 1 onion
· Flour and breadcrumbs, for coating 
· 50g knödelbrot (cubed breadcrumbs)
· Lemon juice
· Salt and white pepper
· 200ml softly whipped double cream
· Picked motherwort, yarrow, chives, Good-King-Henry, chickweed, wild carrot, watercress and pimpinella (save a handful for garnishing)

METHOD

1 Cut four of the best-looking porcini mushrooms in half. Finely chop all the remaining mushrooms.
2 For the semmelknödel, sweat the finely chopped onion in butter until translucent and pour in milk. Mix the knödelbrot and one egg, season, and mix into the simmering milk. Form small dumplings and cook in lightly salted water until firm (approx 15mins).
3 Marinate the halved porcinis with salt, pepper, lemon juice and the melted butter, coat in two eggs, flour and breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown.
4 Brown the chopped porcini and chanterelle mushrooms in oil, and season. Stir in whipped cream.
5 Sauté semmelknödel with butter and chopped herbs. Serve with the mushrooms and creamy sauce.

The chef: Thorsten Probost

Probost took over the kitchen at Burg Vital Resort in Oberlech in 2002. Since 2006, Griggeler Stuba restaurant has won three Gault Millau points. In 2008, Gault Millau named him Chef of the Year.

Published in the Austria 2017 guide, distributed with the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)