C Jens Schönegge outside Kochmeisterei Hohenems © Angela Lamprecht / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Before he knew it, he was in Kleinwalsertal. “At first, I had no interest in cooking,” recalls Schönegge, who grew up in Halle an der Saale (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany). His best friend had already moved to Mittelberg, 600 kilometres south of his home, so he simply upped sticks and followed him. Besides the skills he learned during his training in a restaurant with two Gault&Millau toques, the now 29-year-old primarily learned how important efficient, respectful communication is in the kitchen – and the benefits of thinking outside the box. This curiosity continues to drive him today. He is an ambassador for Austrian cuisine, travelling to destinations from Belgium to Malaysia with the ‘Young Chefs Club’, which is affiliated with the World Association of Chefs Societies. Food brings peoples together.
His career, spanning several top restaurants and hotels throughout Vorarlberg, is nothing less than impressive. In the team competition, he took home an Olympic silver medal with the Austrian junior national team, even though he is opposed to the concept of competition. That was one of the reasons why he set up his own business in 2016. He runs Kochmeisterei in Hohenems, which only opens on reservation, with his business partner Mike P. Pansi. The two also host cooking courses for up to five participants there.
Creative dishes from the food truck
The most obvious evidence of this cooperation is the food truck the two use to provide on-site catering services for 80 to 100 people. They want to get away from the classic catering concept and cook fresh on-site. The food truck does not have fixed dishes: the chefs offer each client a tailored menu – or the ‘sexiest street food’. ’Chef-on-call’ Schönegge is rarely short of a few provocative words. Vorarlberg’s first pop-up restaurant – with food good enough to earn a Gault&Millau toque. Of course, the prices are not what you would pay at a classic chip shop, but the strong demand proves they made the right choice.
Schönegge believes it is important to understand contexts, to build an awareness of the big picture. He thinks trainee chefs should buy a calf with their class and follow the breeding process until it goes to slaughter. That would teach them the necessary respect for animals, and enable them to pass it on to their guests – showing them how much work and time it takes to put the perfect Schnitzel on a plate. Another aim of his is to stop restaurateurs undervaluing their work, as many currently do.
Besides his own activities, he is always thinking about the culinary industry as a whole, and wonders how he can bring the profession’s ‘sexy back’. His answer is his characteristic ‘Alpine Culinary’ style. He uses top quality regional and seasonal produce consistently. He always aims to do as much as possible himself. His father-in-law is a hunter, ensuring a regular supply of meat. He makes his own beer and gin, for example. And speaking of meat: his concept also includes offering more (70 percent to be specific) vegetarian products. “We want to educate our guests,” he says.
For him, besides proactive international networking, being innovative means making constant improvements, and never standing still. “Standing still is taking a step backwards,” says Schönegge. He really appreciates Vorarlberg as a location, explaining that it is the perfect place to live and the perfect place to source ingredients.
He believes it is easy to grow as a restaurateur, but “difficult to stay small and remain true to oneself.” It certainly looks like Jens Schönegge is happy to take on that challenge.