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- Friday, 08 January 2016 12:53 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
From left to right: Marco Stabile (Italy), Hans-Jörg Unterrainer (Austria), Nils Henkel (Germany), and Rudolf Stefan (Croatia)
JRE – or Jeunes Restaurateur d'Europe – is the largest association of young chefs of Michelin Starred or comparable level in Europe. Last year, I had the pleasure to join JRE’s biannual congress in Roermond, Netherlands to learn about this great organization face-to-face.
The association is open exclusively to young chefs and restaurant owners who are dedicated to the highest cooking and gastronomic standards.
It did not came as a surprise that the days in Roermond were incredible, full of great moments, good food, and – because we’re talking about young chefs – amazing parties!
“We are family” is one of JRE’s core values. Being curious about the attitude and values of JRE and how the members translate these values into their work ethic, I talked to Chefs and JRE members Rudolf Stefan (Croatia), Nils Henkel (Germany), Marco Stabile (Italy), and Hans-Jörg Unterrainer (Austria) to find out what drives these young chefs ever forward.
1. Tesi: The first JRE value is “that you care more.” Can you tell me what that means to you and the way you source and treat your products and ingredients?
Hans-Joerg: We are always on the run trying to get best quality products for our customers. We are working with local farmers and have our own hunting area – seasonal daily recommendations are part of our concept.
Marco: Our dishes are our message: We buy ingredients that have just one history, a respectful way to do things for our planet. I believe in energy from the heart and transmitting that through my hands and food to other people.
Rudolf: I wake up early every morning and do my daily purchasing. It is essential that I do this very early to get the best ingredients possible. Here in Šibenik, where we live and work, ingredients are scarce, so you have to make sure you get them first. It takes a lot of effort to source your ingredients locally, and it’s a work in progress; however, over the years we have ensured the support of local suppliers.
The development of our cuisine is never-ending, and each day we try to improve yesterday’s efforts. Our cuisine is a combination of tradition and innovation. This is why every year we create nine new dishes for the upcoming season but also try to reinterpret our bestsellers such as traditional bruschetta, beef cheeks, and monkfish tripe.
Nils: For many years, I've been thinking about the big value of sustainably produced products from the region. I work a lot with vegetables, especially old varieties, and I work personally with small producers. As chefs, I think we also have a little challenge in making valuable – away from the typical luxury products – the daily consumption of meat and, above all, of intensive livestock farming. And we represent exactly these values with the Jeunes Restaurateurs.
2. Tesi: “We are modern by keeping our identity” is your second value. What is your understanding of combining tradition with modern approaches to the gastronomy?
Hans-Joerg: Our restaurant is one of the oldest in the Salzburg area, and its history dates back to the year 1326. We feel really privileged to continue a place that has so much history. We are always trying to combine tradition with modernity – an exciting balancing act that never gets old!
Marco: I study the traditions of my region. I extract the essence of the dish. In my mind, I elaborate on my culture and the modern sense of gastronomy: health, lightness, and entertainment.
Rudolf: To offer local ingredients and reinterpret domestic food has been our goal from the beginning. We are challenged by the fact that we occupy a specific historical location and therefore find it somewhat obligating to respect our gastronomic heritage. Such a philosophy of life though has been recognized, and that's why we won the award for the best restaurant in Croatia. We are honored, especially because the award came from colleagues and fellow professionals.
Nils: Each country has its culinary identity. I think it's important that a traditional country kitchen is modern and renewed. In a globalized world, the traveling guest will often be international mainstream. We want our guests to taste the special features of the country itself.
3. Tesi: The third JRE value is your passion for what you do. When did you feel passion for food for the first time? Do you remember that moment, and, if yes, what did you feel?
Hans-Joerg: There is rarely a profession as versatile as ours! I’m glad to work with my senses in a proper way every day – this captivates our senses!
Marco: I started to cook with my mother when I was child because I was sick and not able to play football like my friends. My passion for it really grew, and I chose culinary school and rushed to start working in the kitchen: it was a real and strong choice!
Rudolf: I started cooking because, at first, I couldn’t find cooks to deliver what I envisioned. I worked a lot to improve my own knowledge and skills to be able to produce this explosion of tastes that I enjoyed in other restaurants. Today, I am happy to do what I love in my hometown. I find pleasure every day both in this job and the city I live in.
Nils: Basically, the enthusiasm for cooking, the passion, was already in me the moment I decided to enter the profession. In the moment when I arranged my first dish began an enthusiasm that has not left me to this day. I find it special to do the one job I truly love and the only way to master the often hard life with long working days.
4. Tesi: Another aspect of JRE is that you understand yourself as a family. What does it mean to you to be part of JRE?
Hans-Joerg: JRE is the most powerful association you can imagine. Knowledge exchange without envy is always put first; furthermore, some amazing international friendships arise.
Marco: It is the best opportunity for a chef with a high level of passion for food and family. We can exchange ideas and experiences; we can make big events together and promote our style of cooking in the best way. Also, we show the world how many styles of cooking and ingredients we have in every country, which, with our creativity, become extraordinary moments and memories for our guests.
Rudolf: It is exciting to be a part of the JRE family because it provides me with an international perspective. I love sharing experiences and knowledge with my colleagues. It is both inspiring and comforting to see that you are not alone in your successes and problems. It gives me a sense of belonging.
Nils: The Jeunes Restaurateurs are indeed an international group of like-minded people. This is most apparent at an international congress like the one in Roermond. You exchange opinions, burning for the same thing, but you also support each other. It's a good feeling that you can count on each other; to a certain extent, that is really like a family.
5. Tesi: As a last value, JRE members feel dedicated to create perfect moments. Do you remember when guests in your restaurant had an absolutely perfect moment, and if yes, please tell me about it.
Hans-Joerg: We work on this goal every day. Our guests come to spend a wonderful time apart from stress and the fast-moving world out there. Centuries of tradition makes time calm and still, and we try to give this to our customers.
Marco: A lot of men choose my restaurant for proposals, so there are emotional moments for guests and for us, too. I think of us as the Father of 100 Marriages: After tasting our food, people say, “YES!”
Rudolf: We aspire to prepare local foods in a somewhat different fashion and thus offer our gests a genuine gastronomic adventure. The first ingredient in our kitchen has always been and always will be flavour. We like to experiment but never at our guests’ expense.
Nils: I feel very often in the restaurant that our guests are thrilled and experience happy moments, indeed, often very personal events. These moments can only happen when everything fits: the kitchen, the service, the atmosphere. Often, I hear that guests remember certain dishes and special moments for years, so we have done everything right.
6. Tesi: What does good food and wine mean to you?
Hans-Joerg: Wine and food are one of the most valuable things in life for temper and senses. We are really honored to get to know what Mother Earth is providing us. If you were asking about my favorite dish or best wine it would definitely be difficult, but I’m sure there is always a perfect match for every situation – we just need to find or create it.
Marco: The best experience I can have is to perfectly match food and wine. My memory will forever be impressed by that; like in the past, food prepared by my mother.
Rudolf: Good food and good wine are our spirits in motion. They inspire us to create.
Nils: For me, good food and drink is part of life. This can be a great meal in a gourmet restaurant, as well as freshly baked bread with cheese and a good red wine. For me, it is important to implement them in everyday life, even if the time is often scarce.
Matthias Tesi Baur
About the Chefs: Their Restaurants and Daily Work
Right now, for me, the time has come for a career change after 17 years in the Schlosshotel Lerbach. I cannot say where it goes from here professionally, but I certainly want to stay true to the circle of the Jeunes Restaurateurs.
My work is seemingly very simple: Buy the best, transform it in a very simple way, and sell to the best people that love good food. It can also be very hard: Every day I live in my restaurant; all my time is dedicated to food and research. But to be successful, you have to have a big passion and work hard. There is no other way.
Biography Rudolf Stein
2000: Graduated from the College of Hospitality Management in Opatija
1998 – 2005: Managed a beach bar on the island of Vis
2006: Opened Pelegrini
Awards: Best Restaurant in Dalmatia & Croatia, according to Dobri Restorani (2015)
In 2006, I bought a completely devastated palace where no one had lived for the past fifty years. We were aware that every beginning is hard, but our passion for gastronomy and our determination helped us move ahead.
Today, I put an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients and educating my staff. I want them to be curious and eager to learn because we recognize that we are only as strong as our weakest link. During the summer season we are fully devoted to restaurant operations, while during the winter we work on new dishes. Moreover, I make sure most of my staff get the opportunity to spend time working in restaurants abroad.
Biography Hans-Jörg Unterrainer
• Wirtshaus des Jahres 2015
• Weinwirt Salzburger Land 2014
• Goldene Kugel “Gault Millau” 2012
• Entrepreneur of Year 2015 – Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe
• Trophee Gourmet 2015 – A la Carte
10 years traveling as a Professional Snowboarder, participating in the Olympic Winter Games & X Games
• Winner of the Overall Europe Cup 2005
• Winner World Winter Games 2005
• 7th place at World Championships 2009.
I was not really connected to the global gourmet business during my snowboarding time, but I always travelled with open eyes and an open mind and now try to combine all these priceless experiences with our traditional Austrian style.
In 2010, my sister and I took over from our parents the oldest restaurant in Salzburg County (open since 1326), and we are very proud to be running this ancient restaurant in the 6th generation.
The biggest challenge is always how to set up new versions of traditional dishes with wine and other beverage pairings.