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Heinz Reitbauer: Digitization and sustainability – a win-win for Michelin-starred cuisine

By: Reading Time: 4 Minutes

At the Viennese gourmet restaurant Steirereck, Heinz Reitbauer celebrates traditional regional products. But when it comes to modern software, the Michelin-starred chef also pulls out all the stops. The friendly Austrian took time for an exclusive interview with KTCHNrebel.

His eyes light up when he talks about the food of his Austrian homeland. For Heinz Reitbauer, born in 1970, regionality is not a mere buzzword, but rather a gastronomic philosophy that is lived in practice. “At the end of the day, I believe we can only produce a cuisine that is authentic, sustainable and noteworthy in the long term if we engage with the products that are available in our country,” stresses the chef, who has been continuously awarded two stars by Gault Millau since 2010 and was named Chef of the Decade in 2016.

Watch the entire video-interview with star chef Heinz Reitbauer:

In addition to the Steirereck, the passionate restaurateur operates two partner restaurants: Meierei, which like Steirereck is located in Vienna’s Stadtpark, and the alpine inn Pogusch on the alpine pass of the same name in Upper Styria, where the Reitbauer family also runs its own farm. The chef sources his ingredients from there in no small part.

Snacks from regional and fresh ingredients served at Steirereck.

Snacks from regional and fresh ingredients served at Steirereck. | Image: STEIRERECK

Mushroom fan Heinz Reitbauer knows and loves regional products

Reitbauer cherishes the pristine, original products. He particularly likes the mushrooms – just like the landscape in which he finds them. “We have always spent our summers in the alpine pasture, this is our family vacation. We live at around 4593 feet (1400 meters) and are self-sufficient, cooking what we find in the forest,” he says. You can sense his joy in the simple life, the sense of togetherness out in nature. He also has an inquisitive mind.

“It always bothered me that I didn’t know half of the mushrooms I found. At some point, I taught myself a lot and it really fascinated me,” says the committed culinary expert. “I can now identify 30 different edible mushrooms around our inn in Styria throughout the year. And of course they all taste very different. We’ve learned a lot about those. They really enrich our cuisine.” Heinz Reitbauer shows off the mushrooms he has collected in culinary creations such as puntarelle with trumpet egg mushrooms, or macadamia and Schönbrunner yuzu. He even uses mushrooms in desserts, as demonstrated by the composition Fruit of the Gods featuring hazelnuts, autumn trumpets and salted caramel. One of his fungus favorites is sheep polypore. “This grows in very large numbers in our area and is somewhat similar to the hedgehog mushroom, but much finer, more elegant and beautifully white. We use them in our cusine quite frequently, of course.”

Heinz Reitbauer's shoulder blade of the goat calf with young peas bolet mushrooms and love cap

Heinz Reitbauer’s shoulder blade of the goat calf with young peas bolet mushrooms and love cap | Image: STEIRERECK

Guests should get excited – and learn a little something as well

In other words, a curiosity for knowledge and the joy of the product are not an end in themselves. Reitbauer, who took over the restaurant from his parents in 2001, always has his guests in mind. “I believe that a visit to a restaurant should always be something special, and when there are elements that surprise the customer, it is always something special,” says the passionate restaurateur. However, he has a deeper purpose. “But by a surprise moment we actually mean we also like to enrich the guest, to bring them something they haven’t seen before, so that maybe they get to know a little bit more about the country, about the product.”

 

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Heinz Reitbauer conveys sustainability quite incidentally – while eating

Reitbauer also wants to impart the topic of sustainability to his guests. “We can no longer escape this issue, we have to enage with our land, and face our farming methods. As a restaurateur and chef we definitely have the opportunity to act as a messenger here,” he says with conviction.

 

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“We can address precisely these issues with people,” he says, “because where do people still have time today?” He answers the question himself by saying, “When they sit in the restaurant for two or three hours, you really have the opportunity to address things!”

Restaurant Steirereck, exterior view

Image: STEIRERECK

Digitalization for the best possible guest experience

No doubt about it, Heinz Reitbauer does everything in his power to offer his guests a comprehensive experience – and he doesn’t just focus on gastronomic skills. In fact, he began using modern software on a large scale at an early stage. While renovating the restaurant in 2012, he decided to also make a major investment in digitizing his business.

View into the herbal restaurant garden at Steirereck

Image: STEIRERECK

“We entered every recipe into a database – we now have six and a half thousand recipes saved! Every dish, every step, every detail is documented meticulously, right down to the video,” says Reitbauer, describing the painstakingly detailed procedure. This means that every dish can be precisely recreated at any time. The database also has other invaluable benefits. “We can always fall back on the knowledge that we’ve accumulated over the years,” stresses the star chef. “When a new season starts, the system tells us what product combinations we’ve had in the past, and we get a lot of suggestions for additional possibilities. That’s why digitalization has been a very important building block in our kitchen for many years.”

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