Tucked away in the northernmost part of Italy in the Valle Aurina (Ahrntal in German), the Alpenpalace Deluxe Hotel and Spa Resort is a dreamy, elegant locale that manages an at-once über-luxurious and family-like ambiance. Here in this paradise for lovers of all things Alpine—outdoor activities galore, fascinating architecture, customs, and history, and pristine everything—I had an opportunity to chat with Andreas Schwienbacher, the talented head chef of the resort’s restaurant.
Originally from Lana near Bolzano, 24-four-year-old Schwienbacher is the youngest head chef in a 5-star hotel in the Alto-Adige region—no small accomplishment and one he is justifiably proud of. Having dreamed of becoming a chef since age 14, Andreas worked in various restaurants and hotels around the world, including nearby Austria and far-flung Australia, before taking on his role at the resort. Like many chefs, Andreas gives much credit to his experience working in the kitchens of a Michelin-starred restaurant, perhaps even more so than his training.
Talking with a professional chef is always enlightening, and tends to challenge if not upset altogether many of one’s homespun cooking preconceptions. A few minutes chatting with this focused, attentive, serious-minded young man was no exception. Some topics covered included molecular gastronomy spheres; the use of kaolin to create, among other things, edible ‘stones’ (small boiled potatoes coated in the clay-like, neutral-tasting substance); plates adorned with non-comestible items like pebbles and pine cones, to evoke the forest and natural splendor of the area; and beef (the very best must be imported from outside Italy, an inconvenient truth to we of the buy local mindset, but one I’ve heard attested to more than once by pro chefs).
The young chef’s dreams and future plans? To create an intimate, 5-table gourmet dining experience (a restaurant within a restaurant, if you will, opening soon). And to earn 15 Gault & Millau points one day. Ambitious? Have a look at a sampling of creations by this extraordinary culinary talent, and then decide.
A prosciutto ‘rose’ wrapped around a black-olive sphere, with summer herbs and flowers, a crunchy prosciutto crumble, and decorative touches from the forest:
Beef tenderloin with baby carrots, a crumble of hazelnuts, butter and flour, a kaolin-coated new potato ‘stone’, and exquisite jus:
Detail showing the (sometimes forest-themed) creativity and whimsy the chef puts into his dishes:
Close-up of the truffle butter. Because truffle butter deserves a close-up!:
Head Chef Andreas Schwienbacher (right) with Chef Garde Manger Michael Sartor
Another look at that stunning prosciutto ‘rose’:
And I’ll leave you with a pretty view, in case you still need convincing: