There is one young chef aged just 26 who inspired us with fresh hope for the future of the global restaurant business during the latest edition of Care’s – The Ethical Chef Days. We refer to Austrian-born Philip Rachinger who, despite his tender age, boasts a highly prestigious curriculum: his career started in the kitchens of Steirereck in Vienna, Döllerer’s, Pfefferschiff and Tantris in Munich, before working with Sven Chartier at the Saturne in Paris and Isaac McHale in London, at the Clove Club and the Ten Bells.
Wherever he goes, you hear talk of “enfant prodige”. In 2014 he returned to the Mühltalhof, his family’s hotel and restaurant on the banks of the Mühl, north of Linz.
When you ask for his story he prefers to recount it through one of his dishes: “Because it’s all in there”, he explains showing us the recipe he presented at Care’s. “I took the Buchteln, a traditional Austrian sweet focaccia bread made from leavened dough filled with jam. Then I prepared a savoury version and filled it with a meat sauce of mountain goat meat. The other dish is Smoked sturgeon, chicory and oyster mushrooms: the sturgeon is grilled and lightly smoked while the chicory is slightly caramelized. Then I prepared a sauce of reduced whey with the addition of oranges.
I like to use simple, almost rudimentary techniques. I like to cook at high temperatures for a very short time. One of the dishes served in our restaurant is brook trout cooked between two pieces of cedar wood. We serve it just like that and continue to cook it in front of the client.”
You always use the pronoun “we” rather than “I”: is your destiny already written in the family history?
I don’t like talking about myself. I really feel part of a team: I not only owe a lot to my father but I feel observed by the six generations who have preceded me at the Mühltalhof. The walls of our dining room have been standing since1668. As a child there was a time when I thought of dedicating my career to art: now I know this is what I do every day, trying to achieve it through my work. When I finished school, I immediately left for Vienna, Paris and London to work with the great masters.
What concerned me was: “Will I be able to work with my father, will I be up to working with my father?” While I was at the Saturne in Paris, my father came for my birthday. He tasted my dishes and, after three months, asked me to go back home to work by his side. How is it going? The answer to that question is: well. I like it, we understand each other intuitively and I have a lot of fun.
Of all the chefs you have worked with, who is the strictest?
My grandmother, even though she is not actually a chef. It was with her that I started to make my first steps in the kitchen, baking cakes. At the end of the work, instead of calling someone in to clean up, she wanted us to do it, leaving the kitchen perfect. I washed the dishes and watched her in admiration: she was a great example.
There is often an acidulous component in your dishes.
The dish improves with a dash of acidity: we do not have citrus fruits so we have worked with some berries and we use vinegar to confer the same sensation and make the mouth water in the same way. One of my most popular sauces contains vinegar and hazelnut butter: it’s fantastic. Which ingredients feature most in your restaurant? Freshwater fish, meat, 50 types of seasonal vegetables, over 200 wild herbs used in turn. We use a lot of beer, since hop and linen plants have always surrounded our restaurant. So, we have found an interesting use for linseed oil and it works well with our potatoes. We are lucky because our land is very rich and fertile.
How would you like your dishes and the atmosphere of the Mühltalhof to stand out from others?
I prefer to say what I don’t like: dishes that have too many ingredients, or are excessively expensive or excessively anything, for that matter. Our cuisine, our future cuisine is simple and if any dish happens to be complex, the customer should not be aware of it. Guests need to spend a few hours of serenity and while they are at the table, they should not have to worry about doing something wrong.