British Chef goes up in the world
A British chef, already a winner of two étoiles Michelin and a kitchen-shelf full of awards, was invited to Austria to work with some of Europe’s best, including Chef of the Century, Eckart Witzigmann, the Dumbledore of foodie-spells.
Matthew Tomkinson swopped his normal stomping ground of the Montagu Arms, Lymington, Hampshire (height above sea-level ᵙ1m), for the Jamtalhütte, Galtür, Austria (height above sea level 2165m) in a culinary Top Trumps.
“Every year four top chefs are invited to create and cook a dish with local produce at different high-mountain huts above the Paznaun valley in the Tirol. Members of the public can hike or mountain-bike from hut-to-hut enjoying top quality food in the Alpine stunning landscape” said Matthew, “what the locals call a hut usually contains a super restaurant and overnight accommodation. It’s a foodie’s dream”
Picture of competing chefs
He gave much thought to what to cook and ultimately settled on Beer Braised Veal Cheek with smoked potatoes, carrots, and Bourguignon garnish. “It had to be simple to replicate, use top quality ingredients from the area, and above all, be proper tasty mountain food. You work up quite an appetite walking for a couple of hours to the Hütte”
He’s not kidding. Most chefs bring their whites, some secret herbs and spices maybe, but Matthew had something that none of the others had - partner Alex and their 5 month old daughter Esmé - who both kept him company up the mountain.
“Being a dad has changed my whole perception of life” Matthew said. “I’m sure it will change my cooking too. It was quite incredible to look up while I prepped the dish. There was Alex and Esmé, sitting on the terrace of the Hütte after a two hour walk in hot sunshine, watching me work. You value moments like that”
Matthew Tomkinson's veal dish
Another secret he had up his sleeve was one of the ingredients in his signature dish - smoked potato purée. The cold-smoked butter for this came from the back-yard of the Montagu Arms and it took a session of 3 hours in his home-made smoker – made from an old fridge with a discarded chimney pipe – to infuse it with the right flavour. “I’ve bought expensive commercial smokers, and none of them beat the contraption we bunged together with some left-over bits of junk out the back of the restaurant. It’s not pretty, but the taste it produces……….Mmmm!”
The 2000-odd metre altitude, hot sunshine, and unfamiliar kitchen weren’t the only hazards to contend with. There was the little matter of egos. There is no collective noun for a group of Chefs, especially those with loads of stripes, gongs, stars, and what-have-yous (A swear? A curse? A reduction ?) You could almost cut the atmosphere with a Gordon Ramsay throwing knife at the pre-match press conference. Matthew was typically British: reserved, confident, and professional (Go G.B.!) Wildcard Dutchman Laurent Smallegange (transl. smallegange = turret) was the face of rock and roll cooking, a bit cocky, he copped his first Michelin at age 25, his recipe requiring piglet breast marinated for 6 hours, then slow cooked for 12 hours. Tricky stuff up a mountain.
But the undoubted star of stars (or so he imagined) was Frenchman Marc Veyrat double *** restaurant dude, who swept in, late, naturally, sporting John Lennon National Health round sunglasses, bright red shirt straining at his chef’s pot, and wearing a wide brimmed black hat. He was flanked by two under chefs, also in black hats. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Marc is undoubtedly one of the Great Chefs of the World, but, post-press conference critical analysts reckon he’s lost the plot. His mantra was ‘based on creativity, country produce and minerals, which takes into account the protection of the environment’. Some titters therefore, when he was soundly ticked off by the organisers for collecting, with his acolytes, great handfuls of herbs from the mountain, something very, very, verboten in these parts.
Forget all this flim-flam. What about the event? Centred on the town of Ischgl, with its satellite villages of Kappl, and Galtür, it’s an impossibly beautiful setting. Distant glaciers, steep cool forest-clad valleys, tumbling waterfalls, it makes one come over all literary and arty. Come here in winter and it’s après-ski central, but in summer it’s altogether more relaxed and gentle: hiking, electric biking, swimming in the lakes, pootling around. That sort of thing. Everyone staying the night gets a complimentary Silvretta Card allowing free access to cable cars, buses, pools, etc.
What better way to spend a day than to follow the signs for Kulinarischer Jakobsweg (Culinary Way of St. James) past steep meadows accompanied by the tinkling of cow-bells, with the promise of a delicious meal as a reward.
Will the experience find its way into Matthews cooking? “We chefs are always absorbing new tastes, new ideas” he said. “Alex recently treated me to a birthday meal in Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac. What he’s doing there was a revelation to me. Add that to my Alpine trip, with the wonderful cheeses, mountain herbs and flowers, and who knows what will emerge?”
Dairy cow on culinary way
Hikers on their way to Jamtalhutte,Galter,Austria