A couple of weeks ago, Steinbeisser Experimental Gastronomy hosted their first pop-up dinner in Vienna. I had reserved my seat over half a year ago, so you can imagine just how excited I was to take part in this event. Read all about the memorable dining experience, with its plant based menu that put any meat to shame and surprises that awaited the guests at every step.
Steinbeisser Experimental Gastronomy: the short and necessary background information
The Experimental Gastronomy dinner series brings together famous chefs and artists who aim to create a memorable dining experience. The chefs prepare a plant based, locally sourced and organic eight-course tasting menu. The artists rethink conventional tableware and cutlery.
The event in Vienna took place at Studio Constantin Luser. Lukas Mraz, Philip Rachinger and Felix Schellhorn, a.k.a Healthy Boy Band prepared the food. Artists David Wolkerstorfer, Eija Mustonen, Jenni Sokura and Sigurd Bronger designed the cutlery. David Louveau, Erik Haugsby, Gregor Titze, Lillian Tørlen, Lisa Fält, Petra Lindenbauer, Pia Groh and Sofie Nørsteng were in charge of the tableware. The music was played live by Austrian sound artist and producer Zanshin.
If you wish to read more about the Steinbeisser project, check out my interview with Martin, one of the founders. Curious to read more about the event in Vienna? Keep going…
Steinbeisser x Healthy Boy Band: incursions into an incredible Experimental Gastronomy affair
One hundred seconds of solitude
I went to the event convinced that I was going to meet many other international gastronomes living in Vienna. Not only was I the only non-German-speaker among the 50-60 guests, but I was the only one who came alone too. As we waited for the porches to open, I tried to console and remind myself that I do, generally, like to get out of my comfort zone. I took one of my ready-rolled cigarettes out of my bag and realised I had no lighter – great conversation starter, I thought. Indeed. Especially when I noticed one of the members of the group of friends that I interrupted had one of my Berries and Spice stickers on his phone.
Soon after, the hosts opened the porches and we were invited in, lined up, two by two. This put an end to the ranty conversation about the terrible weather, that I was involved in. We walked slowly, led by Zanshin and his tuba, the organisers and the chefs.
Where the Wilde Things Are
The wilderness that surrounded the run-down but beautiful art pavillion on 3 Meiereistrasse, the procession-like march towards the venue, the dark, cold and windy weather created an eery and solemn atmosphere. The ‘funeral march’, as the chefs called it, honoured the animals that didn’t die that evening, because the menu was entirely plant-based.
Back to the Future
The procession quickly came to an end as we arrived in front of the venue. The sight of Felix Schellhorn and his vintage-looking glasses and bleached hair, standing by the old car parked in the courtyard of Studio Constantin Luser and the open fire meters away, made me feel like I was now part of a remake of Gangsta’s Paradise. The first stop: the vintage Opel that once belonged to ex German chancellor Willy Brandt. That’s where were were dealt the first glass of wine, a beautiful Ancestral St Laurent by Austrian winemaker Claus Preisinger.
A few sips later, we were inside the beautiful venue, sat at the tables and ready to enjoy and take part in the show.
Of Spoons and Hands
The meal started with a play on pumpkin with three amuse bouches, all placed on intricate and connected spoons designed by Lisa Fält. They were created to be shared among four people, an ice-breaker better than any I had seen before. After the first mindful taste, the people around me were no longer strangers.
Cornbread, broken into pieces and adorned with colourful flowers followed. We ate this with our hands, since the theme of the night was ‘hands or spoons’, and we had not received the latter yet.
Martin then distributed the spoons. I felt both lucky and a little sad to be kept in my comfort zone, since the one I received was a pretty conventional spoon, unlike some of my neighbours’. We kept wondering what it was for, since we could see the beautifully chaotic mise-en-place, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting, on the open kitchen counter. None of that food looked like it would ever require a spoon. Yet, as soon as the Tower of Pisa salad arrived, it fell and spread onto the table.
The conundrum continued, and some of us ate it with our hands, some struggled with the spoons. But as a gourmet and a gourmand, as soon as I discovered how delicious the dressing was, I scooped it straight from the table, not wishing to waste any of it. My three neighbours did the same. The spoons finally made sense!
I can wholeheartedly admit that food scooped from the tablecloth is far more exciting than that carefully placed onto your fork using a knife, following a conventional table etiquette. But I take it that by now, you probably already know my views on obsolete table manners….
How I learned to stop worrying and shared the bowl
Sitting right next to the open kitchen counter was a delight, especially for someone like me, who finds equal joy in eating and making of food. And let me tell you, watching Lukas, Philip and Felix prepare the fourth course with matcha whisks attached to Makita tools, I felt a little envy to be eating and not cooking.
The connection with the neighbours grew even stronger with this professionally whisked course. The ‘porcini matcha’ umami bomb came in a raw clay chawan that we had to share within the same group of four as at the beginning. Judging by the fact that no one stood up and left, there were no germaphobes in the room. ‘Remember which spot you drank from?’ was the wildly popular question while passing the bowl from one person to the next. But as they say… no humans were harmed in the process. If anything, sipping from the same bowl relaxed the atmosphere even further and paved the way to some pretty dirty humour too.
Meat me halfway
A highlight of the night from a flavour and technique perspective was the dish that followed the soup: the first autumn tomatoes, grilled on open fire and topped with mushrooms and a plant based X.O. sauce. They came on a plate made from foraged clay by Erik Haugsby and not only did they look fantastic, but they tasted incredibly meaty.
The plant based ‘meat’ show continued with root vegetables that the chefs cured and smoked and turned into ‘bacon’. I assumed licking your fingers at the end of this dish was an obvious choice, which is exactly what I did. For once, there was no one to stare at me in disdain. Guilt-free, finger-licking good food in the literal sense, I thought, that’s pretty darn formidable!
Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Carrot
When I thought plant based food couldn’t get any meatier, it did. The next savoury course was a Würstelstand sausage, which tasted meatier than the meatiest sausages, but was, in fact, just a simple carrot that had received the necessary love and attention to agree to a change of identity. The mighty carrot sat next to some homemade mustard and a damson plum ketchup so good that it still appears in my dreams on a regular basis. I find it hard to even think about this dish without my salivary glands beginning to activate, longing for another mouthful of the meaty carrot.
More food followed: a Turkish kuru fasulye, served with freshly baked bread, and then three desserts. I was pretty proud of my abilities when I identified one of the desserts through smell only: nasturtium flower sorbet with a nasturtium leaf jelly. Then there was poppy and basil strudel, and quince ‘cheese’ with hay, marigold and sorrel.
Eat Pray Schnapps
The dinner was concluded by the most controversial of experiences. If someone brought together a sacramental wine communion and a tequila party, this would have been it. The chefs walked around, from one person to the next, serving schnapps from palm-sized utensils straight into our mouths. The shot was followed by a slice of spiced apple, reminiscent of the way you drink tequila.
I was so amused by the schnapps experience that I didn’t even notice that as soon as everyone received their shot, the majority of people disappeared. I stuck around, had some more of the left-over wine, chatted briefly with Martin, Jouw and the chefs, then left with my new friends to drink some more natural wine.
Would I go to such an event again? Yes, for sure. Am I ready to be taken out of my comfort zone even further? Yes, please. All I can do right now is hope that Martin and Jouw will organise another Steinbeisser Experimental Gastronomy in Vienna soon.
Oh, and I’ve really fallen in love with intelligently cooked plant-based food.
Photos by Thomas Albdorf.