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Q & A with Kurt Gutenbrunner

kurtpicresize.jpgChef & restaurateur Kurt Gutenbrunner has produced a trio of successful restaurants in the city — Cafe Sabarsky, Blaue Gans, and Michelin-starred Wallse — and made Austrian cuisine mainstream in the process.  He’s trained in some of the world’s finest kitchens, including Munich’s Tantris, and trained with such esteemed chefs as David Bouley.  Mining his Austrian upbringing, Gutenbrunner modernizes and lightens traditional Viennese cuisine with such dishes as halibut with cucumber, dill and chanterelles, and wild striped bass with lentils, bacon, root vegetables and zweitgelt.

In a relationship.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A chef…or a racecar driver

What was your first job in food?
When I was 15, I enrolled in a professional hotel and restaurant school and after completing my coursework I apprenticed at the Relais et Chateau Richard Löwenherz.

You’ve worked in countless kitchens throughout Europe – how do they compare to the kitchens of New York City?
In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter where you play with your team but how you play with your team. Just like in, say, soccer, if you have a good coach then that’s all that matters.

The menus at your various restaurants around Manhattan range from hearty German and Austrian cooking at Blaue Gans to refined European at Wallse to classic Viennese at Café Sabarsky… which do you enjoy working with most?
I have four kids and I love them all the same. I feel the same way about my restaurants!

Your extensive training includes Asian cooking at Mangostin in Munich; does that experience have any influence on your current dishes?
Honestly not really now, but who knows, maybe down the road.

What did you learn while working with David Bouley?
I think we both had a lot to give and take and I believe David Bouley learned as much from me as I learned from him.

What’s your philosophy on the relationship between food and art?  Which artists do you feel most reflect the cuisine at Wallse?…

What’s your philosophy on the relationship between food and art?  Which artists do you feel most reflect the cuisine at Wallse?…
I feel the same creativity that one requires to be an artist in many ways is required to be a chef. Whether you express yourself through making films or through painting, or sculpture, the same artistry applies to food and cooking.  I never wanted to have just a restaurant, but a space that also reflects my passion for art and its direct correlation to food. Julian Schnabel and I have a very good friendship and I admire the way he thinks- Julian does what he wants.  There are a lot of similarities between the two of us because we do things the way we want to do them, not the way other people want us to do them.

Which ingredients and techniques from your Austrian upbringing do you most utilize in your cooking presently?
I don’t really think that cooking has so much to do with nationality as it does about personality.  The key is to take what you learned from your childhood and apply it in your cuisine.  My restaurants really don’t have anything to do with Austria the country but more about who I am as a person.

How do the market and dinner menus differ at Wallse?
For me, you have to have your classics but you also need a space to work on a more contemporary level. When you go see Lou Reed in concert, everyone wants him to play “Walk on the Wild Side” and he does…but he’ll also play his newer more contemporary hits.  Ultimately, the market menu allows for a little more playfulness and experimentation.

You were introduced to wine at an early age – what is your method and inspiration for pairing wines with dishes at Wallse?
During my training at the hotel and restaurant school, I spent my summers in the WachauValley learning everything about the winemaking process.  It was there that I truly grasped the importance of the interplay between food and wine andI continually apply this practice in my own restaurants.

Which is your favorite dish on the menu at the recently Michelin-starred Wallse?
I really can’t choose anything specific to be honest. My favorite dishes are the light salads as well as the fish entrees.

Which is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Sorry, I can’t.

What culinary trends do you embrace?
I actually never pay attention to trends. I’m just not interested in them.

What trend do you wish would just die already?
I can’t tell you because I never cared.

Address: 344 West 11th Street
Phone: (212) 352-2300


Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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