» Close contact with our producers is an integral part of our work in Steirereck « says Heinz Reitbauer jr.
"Every two to three months our kitchen team visits a few of our important suppliers. This enables us to get to know our ingredients and the people behind them better, and our suppliers can discover how their products are used in the kitchen: An exchange that is inspiring and exciting for both sides. Many of the ideas in Steirereck are the direct result of the close connection with our suppliers."
A Visit to Friends and Partners from Steirereck
It is early morning, 6.30 a.m. in Stadtpark, a group of employees meets for breakfast in the 'Meierei' Café downstairs from Steirereck. In spite of the early hour there is a sense of excitement and camaraderie in the air. Today I have the honour of accompanying Mr. Reitbauer and the Steirereck team as they visit a few of their suppliers. It is now 7.30 a.m. and time to leave and head to our first stop: The 'Gut Dornau' Fishery south of Vienna.
Mr. Trautmannsdorf, the second generation owner of 'Gut Dornau', meets us upon our arrival and proceeds to show us the workings of his operation. "The fish are reared in a number of different ponds depending on variety and age," he explains. "When they are ready they swim through a sluice to the next pond. In this way the vegetation and food can be adjusted for every age of fish and they can swim and grow, in spite of their captivity, in a completely natural environment with the best water quality." After a visit to the ponds a 'Gut Dornau' employee demonstrates for us how the fish are gutted and filleted. The unbelievable speed and precision especially impresses the Steirereck chefs from the fish section: In less than three minutes the fish goes from being alive to lying cleanly filleted before us. "The fish suffer as little stress as possible," explains Mr. Trautsmannsdorf, 'and hopefully one can taste that." Subsequently the fillets find their way to a grill and there ensues a convivial and delicious lunch, followed by our next stop: A visit to a vegetable farmer in Lower Austria.
Michael Bauer ('Bauer' conveniently meaning 'farmer' in German) has specialized for over twenty years in growing vegetables. On the, relatively small, farm that he runs with his wife one can see the passion and love with which forgotten and rare varieties are rediscovered and cultivated. During a round over the fields and through the glasshouses Michael Bauer shows us many interesting herbs and plants and answers questions on planting, harvesting and storage. "Twenty-five years ago, when I was still a student searching for restaurants to buy my courgette flowers, Steirereck was one of my very first customers," he explains. "From then on a deep friendship has developed between the Bauers and the Reitbauers and Steirereck remains, then as now, an important source of inspiration for the discovery of new and old varieties.
The third stop brings us to the Theuringer family: Artichoke farmers. Artichokes in Austria?! –a first for us all, having never before seen an artichoke field. With it being Autumn the majority of the artichokes have already been harvested. "Artichokes are an annual plant", explains Stephanie Theuringer. "We required many attempts to perfect our cultivation as they normally thrive only in Southern climates, but now we know what the plants need and how best to handle them to ensure the highest quality." We take a look at some artichokes that are due to be harvested the following day but, in the meantime, one of the chefs is taken by the leftover stalk from one of the already harvested artichokes. He breaks the thick stalk apart and tastes the white, fleshy pith. It has a pleasant, mild artichoke flavour and the next day a van with chefs is sent from Steirereck to collect the stalks that would otherwise have been discarded. The chefs are excited to have a new product to experiment with and maybe to create a new dish.
A picture perfect sunset over the fields leads us to our final destination: 'Edlinger's Mushrooms'. Mr. Freyberg leads us through light, spotlessly clean halls and shows us the different stages of the mushrooms' development. "The mushrooms progress through several phases before they are harvested, each occurring in a different hall where the temperature and humidity are closely controlled. Just a few degrees difference can be decisive in the quality of the final product", explains Mr. Freyberg. "We are 100% organic from the planting to the packaging. And, although new and larger markets have opened up for us in the meantime, Steirereck remains one of our most important customers. Steirereck shows us the possibilities of what can be done with our mushrooms, which continues to be relevant for our production."
By the time we return to Steirereck it is already late in the evening and a long yet exciting day draws to an end. In parting Mr. Reitbauer presses two small jars of apricot jam into my hand, "For your breakfast tomorrow" he explains, smiling. As I share the jam and my experiences with my family the following morning over breakfast we are unanimous that it is some of the best we have ever tasted (and we love apricot jam and eat a lot of it). When I ask Mr. Reitbauer about the jam the next time we meet, he tells me that the fruit is marinated for twelve hours with sugar before being once, briefly brought to the boil – thus preserving the flavour. Which just goes to show that the best things are often so simple… if only one knows how.
Text: Mag. Markus Gasser
(Note from Heinz Reitbauer jr.: The apricots come from the very best – The Wetter family in Missingsdorf)
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