And I cook the mountain

Niederkofler and Cook the mountain, a project involving actors and producers at a high altitude

16-12-2014
Norbert Niederkofler lying down among his pastures

Norbert Niederkofler lying down among his pastures in the Dolomites. The chef at St. Hubertus in San Cassiano (Bolzano), 2 Michelin stars, has recently become the promoter of "Cook the Mountains", a project that aims at promoting the whole food supply in the mountains. He will illustrate the details at Identità di Montagna, Identità Milano’s new-born format, on Sunday 8th of February 2015

Mountains in the mind and in the heart. Norbert Niederkofler, the 2 star chef at St. Hubertus, the gourmet restaurant of luxury hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, Alta Badia, is putting his heart and soul in the promotion and valorisation of mountain gastronomy and all its spin-offs. He’s the father of "Cook the mountain", an international project debuting at Expo 2015 which has the goal of putting colleague-chefs but also breeders, farmers, entrepreneurs and mountaineers all under one umbrella, in order to conceive, together, a new concept of mountain cuisine, a sustainable development model to be bequeathed to future generations. He will illustrate this project in detail during Identità di Montagna, Identità Milano’s the new-born format, on Sunday February 8th. When he speaks about it, he does so with the contagious enthusiasm that has already allowed him to get many people from all around the world involved.

How did you get the idea of committing yourself with strong determination to the safeguard of the mountain?
I got the idea 5 years ago, when thinking about the issue of depopulation. All around the world, for a long time now, young people have left their villages and moved to the city. This implies that fields, pastures and woods are abandoned. The beauty of the landscape is affected and, in the long run, the preservation of traditional culture is too. These two elements cannot be lost and are crucial in order to attract tourists and keep the economy going.

Fiume d'inverno (Winter River), a dish that represents Norbert Niederkofles’s new phase

Fiume d'inverno (Winter River), a dish that represents Norbert Niederkofles’s new phase

So what can you do?
As chefs, we can have an essential role now that food attracts the interest of the media as never before. In the mountains, we have some very great raw materials and excellent producers. We need to understand the needs of farmers and breeders and be more flexible in the kitchen. We cannot ask a farmer to supply potatoes all year long, or only fillet to a meat producer. We need to respect nature and its rhythms. This is why at St. Hubertus we buy 7-8 whole piglets every week, or as many lambs: by using various cooking techniques, we can us every part of them, not just fillets or loins. As a consequence, we have completely changed our working method: meat dishes, for instance, are served in two courses so that clients can taste different cuts or 5 or 6 types of cooking. We work with suppliers directly, so we can guarantee higher margins by skipping intermediaries. The names of the small artisans with whom we work appear in the menu, often with their photos too: those who work well deserve visibility. All this, however, is not based on technique, nor is it based on the chef. There’s nature with its product. Therefore, it is a question of culture and knowledge that needs to be rediscovered and communicated to young people to help them draw inspiration from the great richness that surrounds them and which they often cannot see.

A dish that can sum up this philosophy?
Fiume d'inverno [winter river] which was born indeed from the desire of looking at nature and recreating the beautiful feelings you feel when you walk next to a stream. We prepare it using every possible cooking technique in order to recall the looks of stones (potatoes and vegetal carbon), the stream’s gushes (mountain water jelly) and the green on the rocks (oyster leaves).

Snails and nettles

Snails and nettles

Everyone wants to be a chef: what is your advice?
Be humble and call yourself into question. Be committed in studying, understanding nature and the fact that true work is the one you do in the kitchen, not on television. With time and dedication you need to perfect your skill and acquire a deep culture, something essential to succeed.


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