Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Modern Viennese Cuisine: Tips and Singing to Your Schnitzel with Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner

Attending this demonstration at my local Whole Foods Market at their Bowery Culinary Center was a last minute opportunity. Was it ever a good one.

Sponsored by Gerolsteiner sparkling mineral water (our go to water purchase when we are home in Germany), Austrian Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner was extremely charismatic, engaging and full of wonderful tips as he cooked and served a full modern Viennese menu for everyone in the room. Incidentally, Chef Gutenbrunner has also worked at some of my favorite restaurants in Munich. Just reading his bio made me long for my beloved adopted city. Eating his food made me want to book a return trip to Vienna.

So the evening turned out to be this funny famous German-speaking chef cooking for everyone in the room. Somebody pinch me. 

Chef Gutenbrunner owns four well-known restaurants in NYC. Michelin star Wallsé in the West Village, Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie museum on the Upper East Side, Blaue Gans in Tribeca and The Upholstery Store, a West Village wine bar currently under renovation.

The class sat at tables topped with large bottles of Gerolsteiner mineral water and printed copies of the recipes with room on each to make our own notes as we followed food preparations. The first course was pea soup, which to be honest, was never my favorite in the past because of the color and the heavy texture. 

His version was made with blanched shelled fresh peas and pineapple mint (which happens to be growing on my terrace.) The gorgeous bight green colored soup was finished with pouring a bit of fennel/mint oil over the top before serving. 
Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: When blending the peas, do it quickly and don't leave the puree covered for any length of time or the peas will start to become discolored. 

Slightly blanching the peas instead of cooking them to death also helps them retain their color. Both the texture and taste were sheer perfection. It's a whole new world of pea soup for me now. I will definitely make this at home.

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: Suggests serving this soup with lemon sorbet as a dessert. Wow.

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: When cutting veggies instead of throwing out the scraps, save them together in a pot or container and use the lot to make vegetable stock later on. Love.

The next course was a Marinated Heirloom Tomato Salad. Simple ingredients and preparation but huge on flavor. I especially liked the addition of scallions and the sidebar demo on how to make tomato water. The salad was finished with baby basil which provided not only a cute garnish but also another layer of flavor.

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: Add some freshly grated ginger on on top of for an extra pop of spiciness.

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: Buy the ripest tomatoes you can find. Usually these are about to be thrown out so you can get them cheap. Hack into pieces and puree in a food processor or blender. Salt the puree, transfer it to a cheese cloth and place in a bowl. Let the juice run out. Collect the juice and use for sauces, martini mix, etc. 

He suggested making a martini with tomato water, peppar vodka and celery salt.  This is a must try. I already bought the celery salt and have the vodka on my shopping list. 

The main course was schnitzel of course. But not just any schnitzel. Shiitake mushroom stuffed pork schnitzel with garlic, parsley and thyme. I'm not a schnitzel girl,  rarely eat pork and mushrooms are not my thing (no fungus among us) but holy cow was this tasty. Simple ingredients artfully blended together. Chef Gutenbrunner said he's a fan of not putting too many flavors on a plate. three flavors maximum.

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: Sing to your schnitzel. While the pork was cooking in the pan, we were told it was important to serenade your schnitzel to make sure it comes out right. 

I suppose if I had to sing to my schnitzel I would choose something kitschy from the Sound of Music or old school edgy from the Ramones, depending upon who was eating it.

Aside from all the beautiful food, in intervals throughout the evening, the lovely Brona Cosgrove explained the background and benefits of Gerolsteiner water as well as some interesting facts about water. I didn't know that mineral water is one of the most strictly monitored forms of water in the world and requires an official seal of approval to make sure the water is bottled in its purest form.

There were also two running gags throughout the evening. The first was the rapport between Chef and his assistant for the evening Matthew Neele, the Pastry Chef at Wallsé who has an impressive list of restaurants he's worked at as an apprentice chef. WD50, Eleven Madison Park and Noma among them. 

Matthew seemed to tolerate the chef 's commands with amusement. They had a very funny, almost antagonistic rapport together but performed seamlessly side by side in the kitchen. The second was, even though the Chef was flawless in the kitchen, he made the mistake of mentioning he had a date that evening after the class. From then on, the attendees were relentless in trying to get the name of the restaurant out of him. Of course, he refused to tell us for fear we would all show up to observe his date. 

Chef Gutenbrunner's Tip: Hold the salt and pepper shakers high over the food when seasoning. This provides a more even distribution over the food.

An attendee's question about using veggie alternatives to make schnitzel,  sparked the funniest line of the evening: "You want to ask an Austrian chef about tofu? Go for it."

Pastry Chef Neele's Tip: Whether using powdered or sheets of gelatin, always bloom before using.A perfect light, fresh, flavorful dish to top off a lovely menu. 

The evening's menu was finished off with Matthew's gorgeous Crème fraîche Panna Cotta with delectable eenie weenie strawberries and garnished with edible flowers.

Pastry Chef Neele's Tip: Matthew let it slip he added some elderflower liquor into the recipe. Good information I promptly wrote down.

Before I left I grabbed a schedule and will definitely return for another class/demonstration. If Chef Gutenbrenner repeats this evening, I'm coming back with friends. The entertainment alone is worth the price of admission.

A big thank you to both chefs, Brona Cosgrove and Gerolsteiner for such a great evening.

Additional Info:

Whole Foods/Bowery Culinary Events Class Schedule
Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner & His Restaurants
Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna (Chef Gutenbrunner's cookbook contains the pea soup recipe)
Eat, Drink, Engage

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