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International Herald Tribune- The return of Otto Koch

04.02.2005 International Harald Tribune - "The return of Otto Koch" PDF  | Drucken |

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The return of Otto Koch / By Patricia Wells

 

ZUERS, Austria. I last encountered the dedicated, enthusiastic chef Otto Koch in 1994, when his cooking at the Michelin-starred Munich restaurant Le Gourmet convinced me that modern German chefs have much to offer the world of gastronomy. His food was distinctly contemporary, it was appealing and surprising, all the while grounded in strong classical French roots. Unfortunately, shortly after our first encounters, he closed Le Gourmet and the 80-year-old Bavarian institution - Restaurant Schwarzwälder - that he oversaw.

 But Otto Koch is back and we are the richer for it. For two years he has been cooking at the ski resort of Lech am Arlberg, and it was no surprise to see his restaurant KochArt awarded a Michelin star in the 2005 guide.

 As a young man, the 56-year-old Bavarian-born Koch trained at some of France´s top institutions, including Taillevent in Paris. Today his food is mature and modern, and bears with trademarks of simplicity, honesty and a touch of surprise.

 In Munich, his two most famous dishes included a perfect mushroom cake - layer after layer of the thinnest of crepes alternating with an earthy filling. It was a Koch classic and it is back on the tables of thes Austrian outpost, a dish that knows no season.

 But perhaps his most famous creation was a bone marrow extravaganza: He scooped out the marrow, sliced the bones horizontally, then filled the "boats" with a nutmeg-infused potato purée topped with crispy rounds of marrow seasoned with chives and freshly ground black pepper.

 The winter dish was warming, surprising, full of fine textures and aromas. How times have changed! Mad cow fears have taken such dishes off our diets for the moment. So the creative Koch re-tooled the dish, transforming it into a lusty Jerusalem artichoke purée topped with slices of seared goose liver. Two sauces - on of chocolate, one of balsamic vinegar - play a sweet and sour dance on the palate.

 Koch an the Robinson resort group say they have done considerable market research into how their customers want to eat today, with most people suggesting that people go to restaurants for entertainment first, food second. So at KochArt the chef and staff do their best to keep you alert al well as amused.

 Attractive young women appear out of nowhere, in kitschy costumes that flatter their lean figures and make you laugh aloud. Food is always the subject, whether it´s a series of whisks hanging from a skin-tight robe, or a bright red strapless gown with a wine glass fashioned at the cleavage. You may be handed "a present" in a little box to find it contains a tiny miniature "Big Mac", only here a bite-sized sausage on a bun. Laughter breaks the ice and sets the stage for a very good time.

 The dining room at KochArt, located in a resort hotel in the small village of Zuers, is cozy and comforting. While guests gather in front of a roaring fire, Koch describes what diners can expect that evening, as well as his concept of making food fun.

 The dining room is warming, with pine-paneled walls, crisp white linens, white china and oversized, comfortable arm chairs upholstered in a cherry red fabric.

 Koch´s food is just what we want to eat today. A perfect filet of the freshest of turbot arrives accompanied by wild cèpe mushrooms, ideal for pairing with an outstanding Austrian white wine. We had the 2001 Gelber Muskateller from Tement.

 Next, perfect rounds of scallops showered with black truffles were paired with a 2001 chardonnay white from Winkler-Hermaden. It was ideal - the wine had a Burgundy-like seriousness, was soft in texture and elegant enough to stand up to the truffle/scallop combination.

 Koch´s finest moment came in the name of juicy, rare Bresse pigeon set on ab bed of rare black rice. The rice is being grown in Italy and is certain to become one of the trendier ingredients of the decade.

 It is known a venere black rice and is being cultivated in the Piedmont region; it is difficult and costly to grow and so is offered by only a few producers. When it is cooked, it retains its black color and has the yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread, retaining a crunch and texture unlike other risotto rices.

 With the rich squab we savored sips of a beautifully blended Austria red - a 2001 Cuvée Excelsior Weingut Ing from Stefan Lang.

 KochArt, Robinson Club Alpenrose, Lech am Arlberg, Zuers, Austria; tel: (0043) 5583-2271-0; fax: (0043) 5583-2271-79. Open December through April; closed Sunday and Monday. Dinner costs about € 48,- a person, including service but not wine.