Interview by Allison Beck, De Gustibus Blogger
You are the culinary masterminds behind Elderberry Catering. When and why did you launch the catering business?
We first started working in the kitchen at the German Mission to the UN, cooking lunches for visiting diplomats from 20 different countries. Over time, many of these same diplomats began asking for us to cook for them for various private events. Eventually, we decided to formally create a catering company - Elderberry Catering - with which we could handle these, and other requests, exclusively.
When did you make the decision to open Seasonal?
By 2001, we decided to pursue opening a restaurant in the city for the public, but the events of September 11th forced us to temporarily put that goal aside. By December 2008, after a quest of about 5 years, where we had been looking all over the city for the right space, we found a lovely, cozy space on West 58th Street, near Carnegie Hall and behind the Essex House and opened up Seasonal. The restaurant opened in early 2009, and we recently received a Michelin star. Just this year, New York Magazine named Seasonal one of the Best New Restaurants in New York City.
How did you both meet?
We both grew up in Austria. Eduard grew up working in his father’s bakery business, while I grew up in a region well known for its red wine. We both went to The Vienna Culinary Institute, where we first met in 1995. We were not just roommates, but also a successful culinary team. Our principal at this school sent us all over to compete in competitions of all sorts, quite a few of which we won.
You take a “modern” approach to classic Austrian dishes. How do you re-interpret some of these traditional dishes at the restaurant?
Classically, Austrian cuisine can be rich and heavy - very much meat and potatoes. No one wants to leave a restaurant after a delicious meal feeling lethargic and heavy. We take a light and modern 21st century approach, maximizing flavor without using lots of fats, and using the freshest, high quality ingredients we can find - most often sourced locally from the surrounding area. For example, we have a light yet flavorful “kartoffelsuppe,” or potato soup, served with taleggio “pudding,” Austrian speck (a traditional air-cured pork), and dill “powder.”
As well, we are exploring modern techniques and innovations, inspired by molecular gastronomy, in many of our dishes.
Some menu items are inspired by dishes you ate growing up. What are some of your childhood favorites that appear on Seasonal’s menu?
I grew up eating my grandmother’s gulasch, a classic Austrian dish made with veal and spiced with paprika that was cooked by all levels of society. We feature a “kaisergulasch” on our menu, partly inspired by grandmother’s cooking, but we use higher quality ingredients, like veal cheeks, that wonderfully tender, and enhance the flavor of the dish.
Austrian cuisine is still very much undiscovered by some New Yorkers. What are some traditional dishes that you would recommend to new customers?
Wiener Schnitzel is a very classic Austrian dish that is also much loved by our guests. We serve it with our take on traditional potato and cucumber salads. [New York Magazine just named it the Best Wiener Schnitzel for 2010!]
Your menu is guided by the seasons - what are some new additions that we will see on the menu this spring?
We are very much inspired by the offerings at the Greenmarket. We serve a spaetzle, a kind of traditional Austrian “noodle” that is pressed through a perforated pan into boiling water, that is the perfect vehicle for the freshest seasonal ingredients. As well, we serve a white asparagus dish, which is truly special. We source fat stems of asparagus from France, and peel off the tougher outer layer. We then poach them in a mixture of milk, butter, and sugar until the fat stems are lovely and tender. They are served with a classic combination of speck and hollandaise.
What do you cook when you’re at home?
Wolfgang’s girlfriend often cooks when he’s home. As for me, I don’t! I just moved into a new apartment a year ago, and I don’t have any dishes or pots in my kitchen yet!