Chefs Gone Wild: Capturing The Essence of The Dolomites

by Kathleen Culliton
Shannon Sturgis
July 2011

Gostner Schwaige - Alpi di Siusi, Italy

Gostner Schwaige - Alpi di Siusi, Italy

When Slow-Foodies die, they go to Alpi di Suisi. The isolation of this high altitude plateau in the Dolomites has perfectly preserved the classic traditions of the farming lifestyle. Cars are banned and preservatives and pesticides are frowned upon, so the air contains only the aromas of newly harvested hay, fresh flowers, and, if you’re lucky, a whiff of something cooking.

It’s that very aroma that Chef Franz Mulser attempts to recreate in every dish. Classically trained in some of the most prestigious restaurants of Germany and Spain, Mulser returned to his hometown to open Gostner Schwaige with considerable expertise at his disposal. The chef may don lederhosen and serve food from a lace-curtained log cabin—but there the kitsch ends. Mulsner is a rarity in this world, a triple-threat, a renaissance chef. He farms, harvests, forages, and cooks, all in the pursuit of a mountain breeze.

Hay Soup with Local Flowers and Herbs

Hay Soup with Local Flowers and Herbs

Hay There, You with the Flowers in Your Soup
The tradition of Hay Soup comes not from the kitchens of Alpi di Suisi, but from out back in the shed. When it was discovered that migrant farmers in Alpi di Siusi seldom suffer from arthritis, locals quickly went on the hunt for their elixir of life. They found it in the barn: a night’s sleep in the hay provided the farmers with restoration that was almost magical. Today hay baths are the thing to try at local spas.

But Mulser doesn’t bathe you; he bathes ciabatta. Served family style in a waist-high wicker basket, a loaf of ciabatta sits atop hay with wild flowers. Inside the ciabatta is the chef’s famous Hay Soup. There is an illusion of richness, thanks to complex flavors and the smooth texture of the broth, but actually the soup is as refreshing as a quick dip in a hay bath. Don’t ask us why—the chef isn’t handing out the recipe any time soon. He did, however, let slip that he steeps the hay in water and enhances it with herbs and flowers. Again, he’s keeping mum, but local dandelions, calendula, evening primrose, and pansies all play their part.

Recipe: We wish.

Chef Franz Mulser serving Muas del Contadino

Chef Franz Mulser serving Muas del Contadino

Fire on the Mountain
A chef so deeply rooted in the heritage of his homeland that he’s wearing the same leather pants every day, cannot ignore the experiential elements of dining. In the wintertime, families of skiers like to gather at Gostner Schwaige over piping hot skillet of the Alpi di Siusi oddity dish, Muas del Contadino. The chef arrives at the table with a skillet in one hand, a pan of brown butter in the other. As he pours the butter into the pan the result is an explosion of aromatic smoke. He doesn’t need a third hand for plates—he just plops the skillet on the table where spoons readily await.

For Mulser this dish does not express so much the flavor of the mountain air. Rather, it evokes the emotional response he has to the first whiff of that bright breeze after he’s been away; it encapsulates home. He begins by making a roux from farm fresh ingredients (his Mamma’s, actually) and tops it with a clean egg flambé. For Mulser, it’s home in the most basic sense of a childhood kitchen with simple, hot, food, that makes you feel safe, warm, and loved.

Recipe: Muas del Contadino: Farmer’s Stew with Flambé Eggs

Roasted Veal

Roasted Veal "Al Contadino" with Buckwheat and Celery Polenta

He’s Met Your Meat
Clearly, this chef likes to keep things fresh, but that doesn’t mean he’s trying to vegan-ize you. Like any good mountain lad, the man likes his meat. Chef Mulser likes his meat so much that he raises cattle on the family farm. When he can find the time, he slaughters and butchers his cow friends.

For his hearty-but-elegant Roasted Veal al Contadino, Mulser wraps fresh veal tenderloins in local hay and cooks them sous vide. With only four ingredients (counting salt and pepper) he recreates the earthy aromas of the farm within the context of a succulent cut of meat. The flavor of the land, steeped in ancient tradition, is present in each bite.

Recipe: Roasted Veal “Al Contadino” with Buckwheat and Celery Polenta and Baked Pineapple Tomatoes

Peace, Love, and Flower Power
As the chef himself likes to explain, “My inspiration is to enhance [a dish] with something from my own philosophy, to make it lighter and more sophisticated, but not fussy.” His dishes are temples to the regional terroir, and as a respectful worshiper should, he adorns that temple with flowers.

Kiaserschmarren: Raisin Omelet with Raspberries, Elderberries, and Rose Petals

Kiaserschmarren: Raisin Omelet with Raspberries, Elderberries, and Rose Petals

There are over 300 flowers to be found on the fruitful planes of Alpi di Siusi, and he’s probably foraged most of them at least once, but for Mulser there are none to compete with the simple elegance of the rose. Mulser prefers to bring a little richness to his desserts so that the aromatics of the ingredients can be properly savored. In Kaiserchmarren, a sweet quark-based omelet, rose petals emit a perfume of the mountains that is captured by the creaminess of fresh curd cheese (and yes, Mulser makes the quark himself).

Recipe: Kaiserschmarren: Raisin Omelet with Raspberries, Elderberries, and Rose Petals

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