All the energy of St.Hubertus in a big dinner. Here’s why Cook the Mountain is a fertile model, for everyone

Cooking and concepts, together: Norbert Niederkofler has found the perfect balance, looking at food and at the future. The chef also tells us about the next Care's

18-09-2020
Norbert Niedekofler as he signs a copy of his Co

Norbert Niedekofler as he signs a copy of his Cook the Mountain - The nature around you, the book summarising the ideas of the chef from South Tyrol which permeate the fantastic food at his St.Hubertus, three stars in San Cassiano

Despite its success, Cook the Mountain is in fact an almost deceptive slogan; or, rather, it hides a wider reality, a much more fertile and widee concept than what one would initially expect. It can basically also be applied to sea, valleys, hills, lakes, rivers... «For us Cook the Mountain is important, but only because we happen to be here», Norbert Niederkofler explains at the end of recent dinner at St.Hubertus, which was also the best meal we ever enjoyed at the restaurant in San Cassiano. The deep essence of this concept can be applied everywhere, from Valle d'Aosta to Sardinia or Sicily. Because it represents a pure exhortation to safeguarding an area and its traditions, of course with a contemporary take. The success of the three-starred restaurant in South Tyrol is a role model for everyone across Italy.

Cook the Mountain - The nature around you is indeed the title of Niederkofler’s new book, a summary of his culinary philosophy and more. The part before the dash is a statement of identity; the part after it, is instead the essence of the issue: working with one’s region, without the dogma of proximity, «zero km or real km, this is rubbish. We deal with the – culinary – mountain culture», a koine that easily embraces the entire alpine arch, not just South Tyrol. So these geographical-cultural areas are much larger than some sterile administrative borders.

Norbert Niederkofler

Norbert Niederkofler

Norbert says: «I had had enough of travelling around the world and always eating the same things. I believe there are 130 restaurants with three stars on the planet; 80% of these offer a cuisine based on just six or seven ingredients, always the same. We wanted to take a different road», a choice that didn’t escape some risks, «few people thought our project was good. In fact some warned us, "are you sure of what you’re doing?". We were, we didn’t stop. The first important thing I hear people say is that we’ve become an applied example».

The ascent to the heavens of macarons has shed away any perplexity. More than that: «Our success has proven that you can get to the top with a cuisine essentially based on your region». It becomes a perfect model for Italy, which its varied traditions: «Cook your identity, no matter what it is. This is the right road to take». Perhaps the best too. Norbert sums up: «Between St.Hubertus and AlpiNN [the second restaurant, opened at the end of December in 2018 in Plan de Corones] we buy local products for some 500’000 euros each year. With only two restaurants. Just imagine if the other 98 local restaurants would do the same. The turnover would be 100 times larger». Because there are two main goals: «We offer original worth to clients who come from other regions, and can enjoy something they would have not been able to taste elsewhere. At the same time, we defend the local economy, we give work and create profit for our small farmers, we thus create an economy that is based on our cuisine». The fertility of the model, The nature around you becomes a turning point, «everyone should give worth to their identity, their traditions. Or else we’ll lose». The benefits are for everyone.

Then there’s a third wider observation to be made: «My generation made a big mistake. Not only are we giving to young people a world in which, for the first time, they will be financially poorer than their parents; but this world is also full of bugs that need urgent solving». Niederkofler makes a list: «Twenty-three billion chickens are raised on this planet, in the way we know. Then 8 billion pigs, 1.2 cows and so on. It’s completely unsustainable». The answer can indeed be Cook the Mountain - The nature around you: «Avoid land to be abandoned in favour of cities. Make sure that small farmers can stay locally, that they can keep working and living in the mountains, so as to offer us their products. And, for instance, so that those in the Venetian lagoon can still grow their castraure». Give a meaning to an inevitable alternative, and one which can work, as we’ve seen: once again St.Hubertus is a role model.

The nemesis is the industrial production system, monoculture, «here in Alto Adige we’re all in all a happy island, thanks to ancient laws, too, like the one on masi. Then you have large consortiums, which however have their shadows as they standardise everything. As in the case of apples: they induce you to uproot old cultivations to plant the more commercial varieties. Hence in the world there are some 2,200 types of apple but only 24 have a commercial appeal and of these only 7 make 60-70% of the market. We risk losing, or perhaps have already lost the rest». Hence The nature around you: «We basically haven’t invented anything new. We just urge people to get hold of what we already had, but we had forgot about».

Save the date for Care's

Save the date for Care's

Norbert has been spreading these ideas for years, and they are an important part of Care's, the event he created in 2016 and which will return soon, over two weekends, on the 18th-19th and 25th-26th of September, with a reduced format because of Covid-19: «It was a great pity that we couldn’t do it in March, as initially planned. We had planned to have great speakers, like Aaron Meyer, professor at UCLA in Los Angeles who studies the connection between brain and intestine through food, an important field of research for the future. Too bad». Hence Niederkofler and his old business partner Paolo Ferretti have designed «a smaller Care's, because we couldn’t do otherwise», with various events like Discover the territory and then four dinner events that will feature, each night, two Italian guest chefs, an international chef via Zoom and a fourth, young chef who will prepare, giving his interpretation,  the dish of a big who will participate only online. So on top of many Italian masters (Crippa, Gorini, Cracco, Morelli, Cuttaia, Klugmann, Griffa, Crosara, plus Ana Roš for Slovenia) there will be four new "virtual" pairs: Jorge Vallejo and Dario OssolaVirgilio Martinez and Michele LazzariniManu Buffara and Martina CarusoLuca Fantin and Leonardo Fonseca (see the programme).

One of the dinners at Care's

One of the dinners at Care's

Paying attention to young people is the last point Niederkofler wants to underline: «As I said before, we’re doing all this to try to make do for the damages we’ve caused the world we are giving them», and he looks at his sous chef Michele Lazzarini, very talented and born in 1991, since 2013 at St.Hubertus («I arrived here as a simple intern»). Norbert says: «I’m turning sixty next year. At some point I will stop working. What’s important, however, is that Michele – and many others like him – will continue to apply the concepts on which Cook the Mountain is based: he will be able to do so here, or in his Val Seriana, or wherever he wants. What’s essential is that this idea will continue, it would be useless to create all this and then see it crumble when I retire. This is a big issue in Italian cuisine, which is strongly based on single people, who inevitably move on. Instead, we want to stabilise the model, make it effective for the future too».

Niederkofler with his sous chef Michele Lazzarini

Niederkofler with his sous chef Michele Lazzarini

In the meantime the food at St.Hubertus perfectly represents these principles. It’s rare to find such a close link between theoretical approach and reality, between the spoken desires and the daily, edible practice. The restaurant in San Cassiano has every aspect of a great three-starred restaurant – the site, the elegance, the team work, the allure, the "weight" – but it preserve its incredible freshness because it is rooted on a strong and fruitful concept, open to the future. Because it knows what it wants to do, now and in the future: it has the tools, the references, the techniques, the entire equipment. It grows, instead of remaining still; it screams its success not out of vanity, but by “political” choice, thanks to a strong desire to be imitated.

Our dinner was simply magnificent: deep, wide, elegant, with no flaw at all. On top, it was perfectly coherent with that fire of ideas that makes everything better, not only on the palate but also for your mind. Here’s how it went, through the photos of Tanio Liotta.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

Buckwheat tart, cream of pork blood, powdered burnt onion, "delizia di monte" (BergGenuss, a cow’s milk cheese matured for one year by Hubert Stockner in a natural cave and an old bunker from WWI in San Lorenzo di Sebato, Bolzano, now a warehouse for the ageing and production of delicious cheese made with raw milk, 99% of humidity, genussbunker.it)

Buckwheat tart, cream of pork blood, powdered burnt onion, "delizia di monte" (BergGenuss, a cow’s milk cheese matured for one year by Hubert Stockner in a natural cave and an old bunker from WWI in San Lorenzo di Sebato, Bolzano, now a warehouse for the ageing and production of delicious cheese made with raw milk, 99% of humidity, genussbunker.it)

This marinated salmerino (in salt, sugar and dill) and smoked (in the caves used to age speck, hence the notes of juniper) is minimalistic. You must dip it in a fantastic cream of panna cotta reduced up to its caramelisation and served with some grated horseradish.

This marinated salmerino (in salt, sugar and dill) and smoked (in the caves used to age speck, hence the notes of juniper) is minimalistic. You must dip it in a fantastic cream of panna cotta reduced up to its caramelisation and served with some grated horseradish.

Rye bread bruschetta with sauce of "mountain tomato" (that is to say a reduction of fermented plums)

Rye bread bruschetta with sauce of "mountain tomato" (that is to say a reduction of fermented plums)

Buckwheat schiacciata, mountain garlic and fresh leek, with a brush of lamb fat 

Buckwheat schiacciata, mountain garlic and fresh leek, with a brush of lamb fat 

Salad from the garden. Made of almost 30 herbs and flowers, with three types of lettuce that come from a vegetable garden in Kronplatz. And then crumbs of puccia (the classic local loaf made with rye and wheat and seeds of fennel and cumin), seeds of amaranth, flax, Jerusalem artichoke and all soaked with a kombucha of elderberry flowers, which in fact makes everything a little too sweet. To balance, the pairing with Total Green, a juice of green apple and herbs 

Salad from the garden. Made of almost 30 herbs and flowers, with three types of lettuce that come from a vegetable garden in Kronplatz. And then crumbs of puccia (the classic local loaf made with rye and wheat and seeds of fennel and cumin), seeds of amaranth, flax, Jerusalem artichoke and all soaked with a kombucha of elderberry flowers, which in fact makes everything a little too sweet. To balance, the pairing with Total Green, a juice of green apple and herbs 

The bread is made with a mix of flour – corn, wheat, rye – by a cooperative in Gries that helps disabled children. Two steps of leavening: the first, at daytime and at room temperature, the second at night, at 3-4°C. It has very little gluten...

The bread is made with a mix of flour – corn, wheat, rye – by a cooperative in Gries that helps disabled children. Two steps of leavening: the first, at daytime and at room temperature, the second at night, at 3-4°C. It has very little gluten...

... and is paired with two types of mountain butter, whisked and marvellous. The first, more delicate and milkier, comes from Valle Aurina, from pastures at 1,500 metres; the second, more intense and creamier, from Cima Bianca near Vipiteno, at 2,740 metres. We vote for number one 

... and is paired with two types of mountain butter, whisked and marvellous. The first, more delicate and milkier, comes from Valle Aurina, from pastures at 1,500 metres; the second, more intense and creamier, from Cima Bianca near Vipiteno, at 2,740 metres. We vote for number one 

Exceptional balance and perfect taste in this White fish tartare. The scales of the freshwater fish are boiled and fried to create some crispy notes. The bones are toasted and infused to make a sauce made richer with Terlano wine, oil of vine seeds and dill. The dish is both intense and delicate, with beautiful vegetal notes and total harmony.

Exceptional balance and perfect taste in this White fish tartare. The scales of the freshwater fish are boiled and fried to create some crispy notes. The bones are toasted and infused to make a sauce made richer with Terlano wine, oil of vine seeds and dill. The dish is both intense and delicate, with beautiful vegetal notes and total harmony.

An off menu inspired by tradition: Potato & salsa bolzanina. The baby potatoes are cooked in buttermilk (they come from a vegetable garden in Brunico owned by a farmer who works with St.Hubertus), the sauce is made with strained egg, oil with chives, mustard, pickles and blanched garlic 

An off menu inspired by tradition: Potato & salsa bolzanina. The baby potatoes are cooked in buttermilk (they come from a vegetable garden in Brunico owned by a farmer who works with St.Hubertus), the sauce is made with strained egg, oil with chives, mustard, pickles and blanched garlic 

Another marvel: Glazed eel & smoked broth. The glazing is with honey, soy sauce and sage. On the side, a broth made with what’s discarded of the eel, toasted, with lemon balm, mint, verbena and nasturtium 

Another marvel: Glazed eel & smoked broth. The glazing is with honey, soy sauce and sage. On the side, a broth made with what’s discarded of the eel, toasted, with lemon balm, mint, verbena and nasturtium 

Ravioli with bagoss, onion and chicory coffee. A perfect dish, tasty, fully deserving three stars. It’s seasoned with oil aromatised with walnuts, peeled nuts and powdered Sarcodon mushrooms

Ravioli with bagoss, onion and chicory coffee. A perfect dish, tasty, fully deserving three stars. It’s seasoned with oil aromatised with walnuts, peeled nuts and powdered Sarcodon mushrooms

Bernia, that is to say sheep’s meat, marinated with salt, wine and spices, and then left to dry. It’s a very ancient rural tradition from Bergamo, it differs from the sbernia illustrated by Riccardo Camanini, same meat but covered in wax, read here). The bernia is grated on the following dish...

Bernia, that is to say sheep’s meat, marinated with salt, wine and spices, and then left to dry. It’s a very ancient rural tradition from Bergamo, it differs from the sbernia illustrated by Riccardo Camanini, same meat but covered in wax, read here). The bernia is grated on the following dish...

... Risotto with mountain garlic, kefir & sheep. Cooked on a wood stove

... Risotto with mountain garlic, kefir & sheep. Cooked on a wood stove

Trout “mugniaia” style, a trip to France (the traditional sauce is with butter, lemon and parsley. There are no lemons in the mountains, hence it is replaced with fermented plums). Perhaps the only dish of which we were not crazy about, rather classic

Trout “mugniaia” style, a trip to France (the traditional sauce is with butter, lemon and parsley. There are no lemons in the mountains, hence it is replaced with fermented plums). Perhaps the only dish of which we were not crazy about, rather classic

Served separately, emulsion of sorrel and larch pinecones...

Served separately, emulsion of sorrel and larch pinecones...

...for Veal sweetbreads & larch. The sweetbreads are cooked with butter, in a cast iron pan, on embers. Very good 

...for Veal sweetbreads & larch. The sweetbreads are cooked with butter, in a cast iron pan, on embers. Very good 

Pork head. Another dish off the menu: there’s a crispy chip made with boiled, toasted and then fried pork tendons. Then the head is boiled with the same herbs once used for the charcuterie delicacy; in this case it is served cold. To season: powdered sorbo, olivello spinoso, burnt onion 

Pork head. Another dish off the menu: there’s a crispy chip made with boiled, toasted and then fried pork tendons. Then the head is boiled with the same herbs once used for the charcuterie delicacy; in this case it is served cold. To season: powdered sorboolivello spinoso, burnt onion 

Carrot BBQ. Coked on the embers and then on the grill, glazed with BBQ sauce made with cherries, red apple, agon and onion. Umami

Carrot BBQ. Coked on the embers and then on the grill, glazed with BBQ sauce made with cherries, red apple, agon and onion. Umami

Veal from our masi. Another masterpiece: it’s cooked on the embers, its bone marrow is smoked, then green sauce with white currants and mountain herbs, veal jus 

Veal from our masi. Another masterpiece: it’s cooked on the embers, its bone marrow is smoked, then green sauce with white currants and mountain herbs, veal jus 

The second part of Veal from our masi: the tongue, marinated for 48 hours in red wine is grilled and seasoned with fermented red currants and a jus of vegetables. The last structured dish, even too rich 

The second part of Veal from our masi: the tongue, marinated for 48 hours in red wine is grilled and seasoned with fermented red currants and a jus of vegetables. The last structured dish, even too rich 

It’s mushroom time at St.Hubertus...

It’s mushroom time at St.Hubertus...

And here is Mushroom, with mountain garlic berries, foam from the cooking water of the mushrooms, and Marasmius, also known as

And here is Mushroom, with mountain garlic berries, foam from the cooking water of the mushrooms, and Marasmius, also known as "garlic mushroom"

A Swiss pine marshmallow is

A Swiss pine marshmallow is "burnt" on a burning stone...

... and it is placed, caramelised, on top of green apples and sorrel. The desserts are signed by Naoko Nikaido, new pastry chef, from Osaka, Japan, born in 1977

... and it is placed, caramelised, on top of green apples and sorrel. The desserts are signed by Naoko Nikaido, new pastry chef, from Osaka, Japan, born in 1977

Fior di castagno: gelato with chestnut flowers, black walnuts, mousse of goat’s milk ricotta, crumble, popcorn with liquid nitrogen 

Fior di castagno: gelato with chestnut flowers, black walnuts, mousse of goat’s milk ricotta, crumble, popcorn with liquid nitrogen 

Curd, with blackberries, blueberries, white currants, chips of Jerusalem artichokes, black walnuts, juice and sorbet of dogwood

Curd, with blackberries, blueberries, white currants, chips of Jerusalem artichokes, black walnuts, juice and sorbet of dogwood

Petit fours: canelés, pickled and candied white, yellow and red turnips

Petit fours: canelés, pickled and candied white, yellow and red turnips


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