Since joining the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl in 2005, head chef Alfred Renn has set about creating unique dishes using produce sourced from the local region.
Here he talks about what being included in the Gault Millau restaurant guide means to him, his team and the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl, and why he likes to keep it regional when cooking in his spare time.
Name: Alfred Renn
Born: Rauris, Salzburg
Experience: Various hotels in Tyrol and Salzburg in well-known resorts such as Ischgl and Zell am See
At the Edelweiss since: 2005
Likes cooking: Regional, seasonal dishes
Likes eating: Simple, down-to-earth food like mama used to make! Wouldn't say no to a good steak, either!
Ambitions for the kitchen at the Edelweis & Gurgl: To maintain and improve the high standard we have already achieved at the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl, which was recently awarded one toque by the Gault Millau restaurant guide. One thing that is particularly important to me is to make sure that we always have a good working climate in the kitchen.
What brought you to the Edelweiss & Gurgl?
I used to go mountain-biking a lot in the mountains with a guy I worked with in Ischgl. He told me that I should apply here. He knew how much I love spending my free time outside and was convinced that I would like it here.
You know what? He was right! I am still here and feel very much at home. I love my job and spending time in the mountains when I am not working.
The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl is well-known for using produce from the local region. Does that sometimes limit what you are able to create in the kitchen?
Not, not at all. On the contrary, many top restaurants use ingredients that have to be flown in from around the world. Often the kitchens there don't pay any attention to where the produce they use originally comes from. Personally, I find it much more sensible and inspiring to cook dishes using ingredients from the local region.
That is something I am 100% in favour of. Even if I myself don't go out and buy the produce we use in the kitchen, I make sure that as many ingredients as possible are from local suppliers. That doesn't mean that we don't cook Asian recipes, for example. But in that case I would maybe try and use local meat in the dish.
What do you look for in the produce you use in the kitchen and how do you check the quality of the ingredients?
First and foremost it is important to me that I can rely on my suppliers. We have known many of the suppliers in the local region for years and years, so we know that the quality of the goods they deliver to us is always well above average. I know the production processes they use and where they get their ingredients from.
Naturally we buy things like fruit and vegetables from wholesalers, but here again we do everything we can to make sure that they are as local as possible.
Is "regional" always the same as "organic"?
"Organic" is a difficult term – often it is more a buzzword than a serious philosophy. In my experience it is hard to know if something really is organic or not. That is why, when it comes to sourcing ingredients from the local region, it is particularly important to me that I know the people behind the business. That way I can be sure that we are getting only the very best produce.
Apart from Tyrol and the Ötztal Valley, which regions and trends influence your cooking?
I draw inspiration from many different sources. It is less a question of regions and trends and more a case of taking the time to do some research and look into cook books and the like. Particularly in the low season, when things quieten down a bit, I like to go to restaurants and see what other chefs are doing. And, of course, I always have an open ear for the wishes and preferences expressed by diners at the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl. I find their feedback interesting and inspiring.
Many of the local specialties you cook contain mountain herbs. Do you grow these herbs yourselves?
Of course we work with fresh mountain herbs. However, at 1930 metres above sea level it is difficult to grow herbs to meet our needs. We grow lettuces, potatoes, chives and parsley in our garden. Apart from that there aren't many vegetables or herbs that are able to flourish at such a high altitude.
Having said that, many of the herbs we use are sourced from the local region. The mountain pastures in the valley have much to offer. We use freshly picked herbs from these pastures and know which plants are at their best in which season.
The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl also runs its own farm. Tell us a little more about this side of the business.
The Edelweiss & Gurgl farm is run by the head of the family, Erich Scheiber. He has a farmyard in Obergurgl with pigs, calves, cattle and other animals. Every now and then one of the animals is delivered to our kitchen. Of course, it is not up to me to decide when we receive an animal. But I am always happy when the door opens and a delivery from the farmyard arrives (laughs). I then do my best to include the meat we have received in the dishes on the menu. At the start I found that a little tricky, but now I know exactly how to go about it.
Another thing we receive from the farmyard is milk to make butter. We make around 800 kilos of butter every year in our kitchen – that means that we do not need to buy any from external suppliers. All of the butter that we serve our guests at the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl is home-made using milk from our own farm.
Let's talk about the à la carte restaurant. What would you recommend? Is there anything on the menu that fans of fine dining should definitely try?
I think that guests should definitely try the "Tafelspitz" (boiled beef served with horseradish). That is one of our signature dishes and has been on the menu since the restaurant opened. The beef comes from the farmyard run by the head of the family – and I think it is his favourite dish too!
What does it mean to you to see the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl included in the Gault Millau restaurant guide?
For me it is proof that we are on the right track. I want to underline that I am by no means the only one who has earned the toque awarded to us by Gault Millau – it is a recognition of the work of the whole kitchen team at the Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl. The tester comes to the restaurant at some point during the year, so in order to convince him or her you have to maintain a high standard of food the whole time. That is only possible if you have a dedicated team of staff who know and trust each other.
A personal question to round things off. How many cook books do you have at home and can you recommend one?
I love flicking through cook books. One of my favourite things is to look through old ones to find traditional recipes for well-known dishes from the local region. Many of these recipes are slowly being forgotten, but with a bit of creativity they can often be the basis for a very special dish. I guess I have well over one hundred cook books – I couldn't even tell you exactly how many I have (laughs)!
If I had to recommend one book then it would be "Food". It isn't a cook book in the traditional sense of the word, but that is one of the reasons why I find it so inspiring. It contains a lot of information about the most common staple foods and, in particular, how many different varieties there were or still are of these staples. For example, it talks about the fact that there are over one hundred different types of tomato that we could grow in our climate. Each tomato has its own taste and, as such, opens up new possibilities in the kitchen. That shows just why regional produce can never become boring. From that point of view this book reflects my own personal priorities – drawing inspiration from the diversity of produce growing in our local region.
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