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Chef Jonathan Burger is the likeable maverick behind the stoves at the legendary Hotel Gasthof Hirschen in Schwarzenberg, a place that traces its hospitality roots back to 1755.
He is the culinary hipster of Bregenzerwald in Austria, and at the tender mid-thirty, he has placed the Hirschen firmly on the foodie radar, and as such, the eateries here are always packed. Dining here is a real taste-bud treat, yet it remains unpretentious. Shrouded in the inn's history, Johanthan Burger's food is uncomplicated, a disciple of head-to-tail philosophy making the humble into something singularly unique.
The Hotel Gasthof Hirschen has always worn a cultural sleeve; it is artistic, a little boho bubble surrounded by majestic mountains and meadows. Under Peter Fetz's direction, family owners for countless generations, there is an energy, a force that winks to the nostalgic past whilst flinging open their doors to a fresh approach.
Burger operates his kitchen more like a laboratory where he and his team of ten fellow pioneers explore new cooking methods to modify ancestral fermentations.
"I let everyone be creative. Everyone has different ideas, and that is a good thing. It is no good if I try to force everyone to do what I want."
One of his signifiers is his love to cook over an open flame, something he picked up working in New Zealand, a wild process that commands total concentration and changes the familiar flavours into a whole new world. He loves to forage in the mountains, forests and meadows, gathering the wild herbs that have been an integral part of food here for centuries. 'The whiff of a plucked wild herb ignites my creative process.'
'It's not all about creativity. Hirschen is a traditional establishment, where guests can enjoy a Schnitzel, Kässpätzle (cheese spaetzle) and Riebel (corn semolina mash) or boiled beef and a schnapps in winter after skiing. That is our mission." It is also a place to partake in new taste adventures, particularly when feasting on one of his tasting menus. A must-do.
Sourcing from the surroundings is a no brainer. Burger has fostered organic produce, something close to his heart, and encourages local farmers to diversify and be more innovative vegetable farmers.
He trained under star chef Christoph Zangerl for three years as Sous Chef at the Hotel Tannenhof in St. Anton before setting off for New Zealand - a land not too dissimilar in looks to that of his homelands. Here, open flame cooking caught his attention, as did the preserved indigenous ways of preparing food simply.
Chef Burger is an authentic creative type, a raw talent who 'crafts' his food, whether that be a plate of Apres-ski Spätzle or a delicate lake trout Ceviche for the summer terrace. Taste, process and provenance define his work.
Food takes centre stage at this age-old inn, perhaps an echo of its past that will keep the food pilgrims flocking to this familiar, yet always surprising, watering hole surrounded in the beauty of Bregenzerwald.