Downtown, Los Angeles
In 2012, Chef Bernhard Mairinger brought Los Angeles its first taste of authentic Austrian cuisine with BierBeisl restaurant.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Nussdorf am Attersee in Upper Austria. For such a small town there was always stuff going on. It was there that I worked my first few apprenticeships and where everything got started.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a chef and how did you go about becoming one?
I was around eleven or so when I started helping out at my aunt’s restaurant, the Panorama Hotel Schoenberger in Nussdorf am Attersee. My duties were simple: pouring drinks for guests, cleaning glasses, and serving tables. At the age of fourteen, I enrolled at the tourism school in Bad Ischl and quickly realized that that was how I wanted to earn my future living. I started my career by spending two summers at the well-known Hotel Aichinger in Upper Austria.
From there I followed my instincts, which eventually lead me to work in Zermatt, Switzerland, at the Hotel Schloss Fuschl in Salzburg, the Warmbaderhof in Carinthia, the Ashdown Park Hotel near London and the Zuerserhof in Arlberg in the Tyrol. Between the seasons, I continued to work to further expand my knowledge about cooking. I went to Barcelona, Spain, where I worked at the two Michelin-starred restaurant Relais & Chateaux Neichel. Furthermore, I also worked at the famous hotel Vendome in Cologne and at the popular restaurant Da Gianni in Mannheim.
How did you end up in Los Angeles?
The idea was first brought to my attention while I was working my first season at the Zuerserhof in the Tyrol. My former colleague and good friend Andreas Roller, who has been employed by some of the best hotels and restaurants all over the world, helped us out during the busy Christmas holiday season. Andreas was much more advanced as a chef and he quickly realized my potential. He, together with Stefan Lastin and Wolfgang Staudenmaier, has probably influenced my cooking the most. It was through him that I first heard about the French restaurant Patina in Los Angeles. When Andreas returned to work for Patina, he asked me to join him. That is what I did.
What was the original idea behind your restaurant BierBeisl and how was Austrian cuisine received in Los Angeles?
During my three years at Patina, Andreas and I visited some of the best restaurants all over LA. We were constantly looking for something new to try. But as it eventually happens with all of us Austrians, we reach a point where a perfect Schnitzel with potato salad and lingonberries is all we grave. No matter how hard we tried to find great Austrian food in LA – it was simply impossible. To advance on my culinary journey, I eventually quit working at Patina and started to work at the Grand Sheraton Sukhumvit in Bangkok. There was this special arrangement that I would only be in Bangkok for five weeks which allowed me to continue developing my concept for BierBeisl, which I envisioned as “The first authentic Austrian Restaurant in Los Angeles.”
My goal was to interpret Austria’s finest dishes with a modern twist and in a way that LA had not seen before. Since Austrian cuisine was not particularly well-known and mostly associated with themore blend-tasting German cuisine, it was a bit of a gamble. No one could anticipate the response of the people of LA to Austrian dishes. I am very lucky and grateful that everything turned out so well and that people love the food.
How difficult was it to open your first own restaurant here in the United States? What challenges did you face?
I am sure opening a restaurant in any country is difficult at first. It was especially hard for me since I did it in a city that even now is still fairly new to me. There are several surprises in store for you when you try to open a restaurant: permits, inspections, laws and codes. Those are all things that, up to that point, you did not have to worry about. It was a challenge and my English skills definitely improved during the whole process.
Document after document, hundreds of pages with agreements, contracts and regulations, some of which you are forced to read twice as it is all written by and for attorneys. I would lie though if I said that I did not enjoy every minute of it. The permanent uncertainty and the constant fight to get things done definitely all pays off once you open the doors to your own place for the very first time.
Your restaurant was located in the heart of Beverly Hills: Are there any special stories or events that happened that you would like to share with our readers?
It is funny that you should mention that since everybody usually asks me the same question: “Why Beverly Hills?” Friends of mine in LA told me I was crazy when I announced that I would be opening my restaurant in Beverly Hills. They said that there was too much competition, the customers were picky and overall it would be too expensive. All these things, of course, are true, but I knew I could use some of those aspects to my advantage. So many great moments happened in this restaurant.
I once invited Hans Reisetbauer [an Austrian distiller] to visit LA and to host a schnapps tasting event with me. We served eight different kinds of schnapps all paired with a small course, as well as his own gin and whiskey brands. It was a very exclusive event. I even teamed up with BMW in Beverly Hills, who were kind enough to provide me with five 7-series limousines in order to offer free transportation home after a night of sipping brandies. The event was great and people really enjoyed themselves.
You are currently looking for a new location for your restaurant; have you found a place yet? Will there be any changes to the concept of BierBeisl?
We do have a new location in mind and we have been negotiating for a while now. Itwill be a much bigger space and therefore, there are a lot of things to be considered. However, to give you a bit of an idea: The new space will hold approximately 200 seats and will include a full Austrian bakery/café. This will be in a separate Stueberl with the charm and the flair of a traditional Austrian/Viennese café or bakery.
The basic concept will stay the same but the menu selection will be much bigger since we will be able to work with more people in the kitchen and we will have more space. I will also reduce the prices and portion sizes a little bit so everybody can try more dishes and explore the menu better. However, that being said, do not worry, a Schnitzel will always be a Schnitzel, and therefore, remain the size it is. Furthermore, we will also be able to offer a greater selection of Austrian wines, beers, and many other things, which were not feasible before. It will be the closest thing to home possible for all Austrians living in the LA area.
How do you see the future of BierBeisl and what is in store for you personally?
I want to continue expanding the brand and I want to show to people that our name, BierBeisl stands for quality and represents a piece of Austria in the heart of LA. Furthermore, we are also working on a more casual and quick-service version of BierBeisl which should be announced in the general media soon. Looking into the future, I would love to maybe own two or three restaurants but not more than that. I am a little bit of a control freak and I like to stay on top of things. When it comes to consistency and accuracy there is not a lot of room for mistakes. It seems very hard to stay in control and to provide excellent quality once your restaurant empire gets bigger and bigger. Therefore, I will be very careful and considerate with the expansion of BierBeisl.
What are some of you favorite places and restaurants in Los Angeles?
There are a lot of great restaurants in LA. It is hard to pick the best. One of my favorite places is Silaa – a family-owned Thai restaurant on Robertson Avenue. I consider the owners family and the food they serve is just fantastic. I also love eating at Bouchon, Republique, Urth Cafe,Bazaar,and many more. How would you, in your own words, describe Austrian cuisine? I consider it to be a mix of Eastern and Central European cuisine with the know-how and the tradition of using any kind of protein or vegetable to create balanced dishes. This harmony is hard to find in other types of cuisines. For me, on the whole, Austrian cuisine is the most comprehensive and vastly underrated type of cuisine worldwide. I hope that I will be able to change this (even if only on a very small scale), so that people can enjoy Austrian cuisine as much as we do.
What is your favorite Austrian dish to make and why?
I honestly cannot answer this question. There is not a single part of cooking that I do not enjoy. It does not matter if it is a Schnitzel, a Schweinsbraten, Salad, or Buchteln; all of those dishes are unique in their own way. I think that this is also something that sets a great chef apart from a good chef. A great chef loves everything about the cooking process from the beginning to the end, while a good chef pays less attention to dishes that are not as popular and maybe more annoying to prepare.
Find additional information about the new location and menu at www.bierbeisl-la.com
Interview: Anja Mayer