Broadening the taste horizons

A glimpse behind delightful scenes!

I find myself standing in the middle of the award-winning restaurant of the Hotel Engel 4**** and I am permitted to put on one of the hotel’s aprons – I will be spending a whole day as a member of the Engel’s kitchen crew!
I join a close-knit team toiling with quiet concentration at their respective working surfaces. Each touch is precise, every step carefully directed, because the morning sees the menu and the distribution of tasks discussed in detail. While I peel the potatoes – a lot of potatoes – salted water bubbles in the pots, herbs and vegetables are cut, sage and thyme are marinated.

A vegetarian banquet
“We compose our salads”, says head chef Theodor Falser. And, tasting the millet, quinoa, lentils, cauliflower - the basis of the vegetarian and largely vegan salads – I understand what he means. “Sometimes you need a mild, fruity acidity, because the salad base is sweet – so we drizzle lemon or grapefruit juice over the mixture”, Theodor states. “We cook as lightly and purely as possible”, he says as he stirs, testing it for taste one last time and garnishing the colourful salad compositions with a practised eye.

Too quick for the eye to see
Lined up in rows, the chive stems are waiting to be cut. With chef Theodor Falser next to me, they are chopped into tiny green rolls - at high speed - then sprinkled over the latest salad symphony.
Mother Nature’s eye…
…has already been at work. We push the brimming, vibrantly decorated bowls on their trolley and over to the buffet. Here we see that the chef not only composes his salads, he also arranges the buffet. Fresh fennel, sweet potatoes and carrots form a framework for the salad orchestra. Their stage consists of little wooden boxes. Here, every decision is also a way of saying “yes” to beauty – with the right lighting already in place.

Get the knack
Everyone around me has a particular knack. Fresh flowers are taken individually from small boxes - nasturtiums, violets, cornflowers, rocket leaves, scurvy grass. They are arranged on the plates with delicate fingers and - as I learn later - with even finer decoration tweezers. For the beetroot gnocchi, for instance, which nestle soft and pink on little nuts. I scatter blue potato powder over them, with the flowers added by my neighbour’s hand. From the adjacent stove comes the aroma of a glazed duck breast, while the potatoes I peeled have now become Pommes Duchesse. Orange flowers are scattered over the quinoa burger – that’s my job. Mr Falser puts his head slightly to one side, turns a blossom by 45 degrees, and the dish is ready to serve.

Light and foamy
I finally realise what the biggest pot is for: a great heap of stinging nettles! They swiftly disappear into the boiling water, then are put in an ice bath to form the base for the nettle soup. “Each soup is foamed, because the air creates lightness.” I scatter little choux pastry biscuits over the pale green soup and follow up with some dark-green parsley oil.

A poet at work
While the main courses are still being sent forth, chocolate muffins with custard are being prepared on the left-hand side of the kitchen. The quiet way in which everything occurs simultaneously no longer amazes me. Yet I still marvel at the poetry I encounter in the kitchen of the Hotel Engel as I talk to the head chef about his job – or perhaps that should be vocation. "It is love that shows the way. You should always follow your feelings”, he says. Then from the other corner comes: “Sometimes we are so far away from life…”. I look on dumbfounded and am not sure whether or not I am on a stage in the midst of a meticulously choreographed play. The two men, both important members of the kitchen service, grin at each other. They do not finish the sentence. But I know how it ends: “Sometimes we are so far away from life… because sometimes we are in the midst of a paradise of the senses.”
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