C Denise Amann at mizzigreen, Frastanz © Angela Lamprecht / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Amann, a native of Vorarlberg, has created a little culinary paradise on the hill in Frastanz. It only reveals itself on the terrace side of the 70s building, however, where a vista of the Walgau region opens up and large chestnut trees provide shade for gourmands in the summer. Inside, there is a surprisingly modern space with a bar area that Denise Amann (AKA “Mizzi”) has turned into a comfortable and welcoming spot, with solid oak tables and floors, the clean lines of padded benches and chairs and subtly green walls. She casually adds that her nickname of Mizzi comes from fooling around with friends.
She loves making things tasteful – in terms of both the décor and the food. Denise Amann is a self-taught chef. She only decided to fully express her creativity in the kitchen after finishing her intermedia studies at Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences. Her grandma was one of her earliest influences, who gave her granddaughter her love of fresh vegetables and herbs at her farm in Bürs. “I like everything about cooking. Cooking is chemistry. It’s exciting what happens when you heat or emulsify, the flavours and aromas you create. I love it,” says Denise Amann, taking the little group of visitors into her domain.
Denise Amann talking about cooking and wine as the last ingredient
Light, fresh food
The ultra-modern, four-line food seems almost a little oversized. “I’ve fulfilled a dream here. I can finally offer cooking courses for up to twelve people,” she says. But the kitchen is hers alone on Tuesdays. With loud music in the background, Denise Amann prepares the treats for the next few days: cookies and cakes, jus and sauces. Today, mizzigreen is a display kitchen. The ingredients for the menu seem unexpectedly rustic: pork tenderloin with beer jus, creamy Riebel polenta, spinach and mustard caviar. Amann was in fact inspired by Asian cuisine. “I love its lightness, its freshness,” she enthuses. Her favourite smell is ginger. But she hardly uses any exotic products. “I lack for nothing in Vorarlberg. And you can make a light dish from pork tenderloin and corn, too. What is lacking is the courage of many restaurateurs. You absolutely can have confidence in your clientèle,” she says with conviction.
Denise Amann has been offering exclusively surprise menus for many years now, with three or four courses – five once a month. When ordering, people specify what they absolutely do not like. “Afterwards, some of them say ‘I’d never have ordered that but it was amazing!’ That makes me happy and means that I can cook more seasonally and be creative.” High-quality, fresh and regional products only have a short season, after all. This is why the menus change every month. She knows her suppliers personally, most of them organic or Demeter certified farmers. “Even when I was a student, I bought things that were not cheap but were really good.” She invested the money she earned part-time into travelling to countries near and far, such as India, Thailand, China or the US, and they all inspired her to try new things.
Quality of life in Vorarlberg
Born in Bregenz, Amann has also lived in France, Switzerland and most recently in Vienna. Like many expats from Vorarlberg, she had never intended to return. But like many others, she did. What she loves most about Vorarlberg is “the quality of life, especially since I have a child. I don’t want to be anywhere else,” says the mother of an eight-year-old daughter. “Plus the people are so friendly, helpful and much more open-minded than you might think,” she says, refuting a widespread cliché.
Her favourite spot is on her doorstep in Nenzing, “in the forest with its various scents and the tranquillity. Nature also provides inspiration and helps me to reboot.” She also loves taking short trips to South Tyrol to ski and hike. “Little escapes clear your mind.”
Chef and, most of all, host
Denise Amann scans her knife board and selects the biggest one. “This is my favourite knife, the finest Japanese blade, 300 euros,” she informs us, nimbly slicing leeks, carrots and onions, then using the flat to crush a garlic clove. She briskly sweeps the vegetables from the board into the pan and sweats it all down gently until it gives off a savoury scent. She then pours in some water. The stock will lend the Riebel cornmeal a soup-like flavour that the guests are sure to love when they taste it later. A little cream and nutmeg gives the mix the desired creamy consistency. The proficient chef removes the tendons from the tenderloin, seasons its and places it in the hot pan. It sizzles and a cloud of steam briefly clouds the vision until the meat is browned and is placed in the oven to continue cooking.
“I am a chef, but not just that. Most of all, I am a host. I talk to my guests and love asking them how they liked everything,” says Denise Amann. For her, good food, organic or biodynamic wines, unobtrusive music – “if any at all, my guests actually want to talk to each other” – and a cosy ambience are all part of good hosting. “I want to appeal to all the senses,” says Amann, who is currently retrieving the washed and dried spinach leaves from the salad spinner. There is a huge tuber next to the sink. “Yacón,” she says abruptly in response to the questioning look. “It originated in South America, but grows really well in Vorarlberg, too. I had to do a bit of research into what to do with it, first. You never stand still in this job, there’s always something to learn.” The wine-loving chef is currently completing a course to become a sommelier. And she has other plans for the future, too. “After spending years abroad and having had five restaurants, I’ve gained a lot of experience that I’d like to pass on. Possibly as a consultant for restaurateurs who want to get set up,“ she says.
As Mizzi, as some regulars call her, she uses deft fingers and two spoons to form polenta quinelles, carefully drapes the delicate pink slices of meat on top and garnishes them with the spinach, beer jus and mustard caviar. Delicious, and perfect for surprising your own guests. Or you could simply take an easy walk to Maria Grün with a trip to the Buddhist centre and then stop for a bite to eat.