By Guy Martin
October 30, 2014
Image courtesy of Restaurant Vestibül has long been one of the top dining destinations in Vienna, arguably the town in Central Europe most serious about its eating and drinking. Directing the action at Vestibül’s massive stoves is Austria’s stellar chef-owner Christian Domschitz, 55 – Michelin-starred, two toques from Gault Millau – whose bold, twisty blend of international and classic Viennese dishes have every macher in town in a mad dash for tables. The directors of the Vienna Philharmonic, the State Opera, and the Spanish Riding School rub elbows with the business elite at Vestibül’s daily power-lunch hour, right on the imperial Ringstrasse, just a few steps west of the Hofburg, the Habsburgs’ vast castle. Vestibül – so named because it is housed in Kaiser Franz Josef’s very own marble-lined Belle Epoque private dining vestibule in the south wing of the Habsburg’s Burgteater, the Castle Theater – is a very luxe feeding trough.
Top chef Domschitz has just published an aptly witty cookbook – in German and in English – in the form of postcards that can be taken from their elegant little box-safe to be used in the kitchen. There are are sixty-four of his greatest hits, the dishes with which he revolutionized Viennese cuisine over the last two decades – the Szeged lobster with cabbage, his chicken in a salt crust, and not least, the completely awesome Vestibül schnitzel with capers. The Domschitz signature is his creative mashup of Austrian food, which is to say, he ruthlessly exploits every creative culinary corner of the old Habsburg Empire, from Hungary through Italy to Spain to wake this cuisine up. The man flies in one ton of (live) Canadian lobster per year, if that gives you a picture of how his fans feel about just that one Hungarian-influenced lobster dish.
Every chef worth his salt is at some point in his life a glorious culinary hobo, manning and mining the stoves of the region and/or the world for their lessons. Chef Domschitz is no exception, having worked in Genf, Switzerland, at the Hotel des Bergues and at the Auberge d’Lion D’Or for ten years before returning to Vienna. And: if a chef is very, very good, as Domschitz is, later in life he or she passes that knowledge generously on. Ten years ago, after Domschitz returned to the stove in Vienna, Sam Kass – now the assistant White House chef, Michelle Obama’s lead food-policy advisor and a consummate White House insider – set out on his own odyssey and showed up in Vienna, ready to learn to cook. Domschitz took the young American under his wing, and a fast friendship was born. Kass pays direct filial homage to his mentor Domschitz on his, Kass’, White House bio webpage as one of Austria’s greatest chefs.
“We sent him one of the new cookbooks for a wedding present last summer,” smiles Domschitz, referring to Kass’ star-studded wedding to MSNBC host Alex Wagner two months ago, attended by President and Mrs. Obama. “Sam showed the Obamas the cookbook, but we haven’t yet heard whether he has cooked them anything from it.”
It’s a fair bet that some Kass-inflected version of a Domschitz creation will land on the Obama table, if it hasn’t already.
“Chef Domschitz taught me all of the fundamentals to cooking, and has shaped my whole approach in the kitchen,” writes Chef Kass via email in response to a request from Forbes. “Work hard, have respect for the food and those who produce it, always serve food you are proud of, work clean, controlled and organized. I could go on, but his training is the foundation of all of my success.”
In the meantime, a bit of gustatory travel advice: if you are in Vienna for any length of time, let Christian Domschitz and his superb Vestibül staff nourish you with the very dishes that he taught Sam Kass. Restaurant Vestibül Universitätsring 2 Vienna, Austria T: +43 1 532 49 99 www.vestibuel.at