Five top chefs from all over Europe have each created a dish for mountain hut menus in the Tyrol. Rupert Parker gets a taste
Ischgl, at an altitude of 1377m, sits in the Paznaun Valley in the Tyrol and its ski area is the largest in the Alps. As a result, it’s renowned for its winter sports and après ski scene but it’s also a summer resort. Mountain biking and hiking are on the menu, but it has the added attraction of gourmet food in its mountain huts.
Now normally typical mountain fare is plain simple stodge, but in 2008 the Culinary Way of St. James was set up in cooperation with Gault & Millau “chef of the century”, Eckart Witzigmann. The idea was to invite five top chefs to each create a dish which would then be served in the huts for the rest of the summer season.
It was a roaring success and I’m here to get a taste of this year’s event. Along with chefs from France, Germany, Netherlands and Austria, Britain is represented by London’s James Knappett, known for his innovative Bubbledogs restaurant. There he serves gourmet hotdogs and champagne but also has a small fine dining area, the Kitchen Table, with two Michelin stars.
I have to work up an appetite if I’m going to sample all the dishes, so I trek up to the 2264m Heidelberger hut. Outside, accompanied by Tyrolean folk music, the chefs are hard at work on their creations. Most feature some kind of meat, including a savoury Alsatian tarte flambée from Frenchman Jean-Georges Klein, but there’s also a vegetarian dish by Austrian Paul Ivić. He’s actually a local, being born in the valley, and has a slow-cooked egg on a base of Fisser barley with braised leek and cheese.
Onno Kokmeijer, from Amsterdam, is preparing Wagyu short rib with shallots, salted lemon and Trappeur spice on a bed of green lentils while Tristan Bradt from Mannheim is serving slow-cooked veal cheeks with ginger oil and pickled lemons on sweet potato mash. Our very own James Knappet has a delicious venison loin on celeriac mash with plums soaked in tea and a shaving of chocolate on top.
Of course all are delicious but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is how they will work in the mountains. Next day I take the cable car up to the Almstüberl where James’s dish will be served and watch as he delivers his masterclass to the resident chef. The mountain portion costs a very reasonable 15 Euros and is very good indeed. He leaves confident that his own high standard will be maintained.
Now the real test. I decide to tackle part of the Paznaun High Route, a nine-day Tyrolean hike, and visit the Friedrichshafener hut where Paul Ivić’s vegetarian dish is on the menu. I start with day 4, the “dream stage” which involves 7 hours of walking climbing up 1800m, then descending 1600m to Galtür. There are glorious views of the valley but it’s fairly tough.
Next day is easier and is known as the “relaxation stage” as it only takes just under four hours. I climb up the other side of the valley, fairly steeply up 850m, to reach the Friedrichshafener hut where I’ll be spending the night. Now vegetarian food in Austria is fairly rare, and in mountain huts almost non-existent. The scaled-up version of Paul Ivić’s Egg on Fisser barley, with braised leek and cheese, is certainly ample fare for a hungry hiker and I settle into my dormitory bed feeling quietly satisfied.
Time doesn’t allow me to visit the other huts and sample the dishes there but the chefs are keen to protect their reputations and have done their own inspections. If you’re reading this too late in the season, don’t worry. This is an annual event and next year another group of Michelin stars will be devising their own version of mountain fare.
Paznaun-Ischgl has information about the valley.
Tyrol – Heart of the Alps has information about the region.
You can taste the chefs’ dishes in the five selected huts along the Culinary Way of St James until the end of summer, usually late September.
The 4* superior Hotel Fliana offers 2 nights for 390 Euros pp including breakfast, snacks and five-course evening meal.
The Paznaunerstube in the 5* Trofana Royal Hotel has gourmet cooking by one of Austria’s top chefs, Martin Sieberer.
Austria’s Gault & Millau Chef of the Year 2019, Benjamin Parth, cooks in the Restaurant Stüva in the Hotel YSCLA.
Holidaymakers in the Paznaun villages of Ischgl, Galtür, Kappl and See receive the Silvretta Card which allows free use of cable cars, chairlifts and buses, swimming pools and water parks, museums and exhibitions during the summer.
EasyJet has direct flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and it’s then a 75 minute road transfer to Ischgl.
The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to the airport from central London