C Tobias Schöpf and Markus Gitterle at the Fuxbau in Stuben © Angela Lamprecht / Vorarlberg Tourismus
“It’s all about doing away with gimmicks and focusing on what nature has to offer,” says 32-year-old chef Tobias Schöpf in further describing his culinary concept. “When I was sixteen, I never thought I’d cook with pine cones, fir-tips or gentian roots.” And yet the young chef’s attitude is perfectly in line with the philosophy of the Fuxbau restaurant in Stuben am Arlberg. The restaurant’s characteristic elements, such as the baffle ceiling and wine rack, are actually made from the roof beams of the old, demolished “Fuchsloch,” which was the birthplace of Arlberg ski pioneer Hannes Schneider. Restaurant patrons feel immediately at home thanks to cosy elements such as wood, slate and coarse plaster.
Miles away from Alpine clichés
The Fuxbau is integrated into an apartment building with ski rental. The architecture and furnishings are straightforward and free from Alpine clichés. Developer Johann Lassnig, who contracted the brother-sister architect duo Ursula and Marcus Ender from Nüziders, wanted to create a building space for people who appreciate authenticity and a cosy atmosphere. Since opening its doors in December 2015, it has been popular with both house and day guests alike.
In contrast to its minimalist architectural approach, the menu offers great culinary variety thanks to Tobias Schöpf and 33-year-old Markus Gitterle. Both are originally from Wald am Arlberg and have known each other since childhood. “It just kind of worked out that we are working together now. Johann Lassnig offered us the opportunity to run the restaurant. It was a good fit because we both wanted to run something on our own,” says Markus Gitterle, whose affinity for vegetables is readily celebrated at the Fuxbau. Schöpf, on the other hand, concentrates on the meat dishes. “We complement each other well. In the kitchen, however, Tobias is charge,” says Gitterle. “Having clearly defined roles is important, especially in our kitchen.”
Cooking: Passion is the main ingredient
Nowhere is this more readily apparent than in the kitchen. With a limited amount of space, it’s key that the duo collaborate well together. At peak times, they bring in two additional members of staff. The final member of the team is an apprentice to whom the chefs impart their knowledge. “Skills and theory form the basis, but passion for cooking has to come from within,” says Schöpf. “To stick with it for the long term, one must have passion – especially at this level.” Schöpf himself had many teachers. “The three and a half years I spent learning under Thorsten Probost at the Burg Vital Resort in Oberlech were my most formative.” Coincidently, today’s recipe for Lamb roulade originally comes from Probost.
With a lamb slung over his shoulder, Matthias Ammann affectionately greets the Fuxbau kitchen staff. It’s readily apparent that this is no ordinary customer-supplier relationship: Ammann, who raises the lambs, is a close friend of the two cooks. As a guest here in the kitchen, I find the appearance of the animal somewhat off-putting. Though lacking fur, the animal is otherwise whole, including the eyes, which as an outsider is a somewhat disturbing sight. Armed with a saw and knife, Tobias Schöpf gets to work cutting up the lamb with nimble, visibly practiced techniques and movements. “I have absolutely no problem butchering an animal that’s in front of me, though I admit that I couldn’t shoot one myself,” says Schöpf, who is the son of a hunter and a confessed lover of meat dishes.
The lamb is a MOMÄH, explains Matthias Ammann. The name is derived from the Montafon stone sheep (Montafoner Steinschaf) sheep breed. “The Montafoner Steinschaf is an autochthonous breed that was actually almost extinct. Because it’s a small-framed animal with rough wool and little meat, it was nearly abandoned by agriculture. Fortunately, it is once again being bred today. In Vorarlberg alone, there are three mountain farms (at over 1000 m elevation) where the sheep happily graze on the very best mountain herbs. There are additional farms in North and South Tyrol, as well as in Allgäu and in Switzerland.” Ammann is a law graduate, management consultant, mentor in the “GVA – Vorarlberg-style hospitality” programme, and a passionate MOMÄH hobby breeder who raves about the quality of this special sheep breed. And with good reason: “If the use of local products is important to you, you shouldn’t mind if the sheep contains less meat,” says Schöpf. “If we help put the MOMÄH breed on the menu, we can increase its chance of survival.” As an aside, it apparently also tastes fantastic, or so the vegetarian author is later assured.
The lamb breast is as thin as rolled out noodle dough. Schöpf sprinkles it with Riebel corn semolina, covers it with zucchini and paprika slices, adds pieces of lamb neck, and rolls everything together. Tightly wrapped in aluminium foil, the roulade stews in the oven for approx. three hours at almost 150 degrees. This allows plenty of time to expertly prepare the side dishes.
Treating ingredients with respect
According to Markus Gitterle, cooking locally is also a challenge when it comes to vegetables. “For me it’s both limiting and liberating, because limitations lead to both new ideas and products that have been long forgotten. The Vetterhof in Lustenau has proven to be a reliable supplier in this regard. For the lamb dish, Gitterle prepares celery cream and spinach leaves. “Most of our dairy products come from the Bregenzerwald. We get our chicken, eggs, and flour from the Martinshof farm. We source our Riebel corn semolina from Dietrich, get our fish from Andi Mittermeier, and our berries from the Winder brothers in Dornbirn,” says Markus Gitterle, name dropping a few partners from the local agriculture scene. “Eighty percent of all the food we buy comes from Vorarlberg. Another ten percent come from Austria or southern Germany and the remaining ten from all over the world,” says Tobias Schöpf in summing up his selection criteria for suppliers. “We value proper practices, respectful handling of the ingredients, and of course likable personalities,” says Schöpf with a smile for Matthias Ammann.
The MOMÄH lamb has begun to exude an incredibly delicious smell, which becomes more intense as Tobias Schöpf lifts the roulade out of the oven and frees it from the foil. Meanwhile, his partner portions out blanched spinach leaves and spoonfuls of celery cream in the centre of a ceramic plate. Schöpf places a slice of lamb roulade on top and pours dark gravy on the plate. Sandra Köbler, Gitterle’s partner, transports the plate to the lovingly set restaurant table. She serves it with a glass of suitable Austrian red wine, a Syrah by Netzl from Carnuntum. The establishment’s wine cellar is Tanja’s realm. She is Schöpf’s partner and the fourth member of the Fux team of foxes. Tanja Schöpf is a Sommelière and practices her penchant for organic and natural wines at Fuxbau. “Such wines complement the cuisine far better than those that are conventionally produced,” emphasises the chef. In this regard, they also select regional wine growers from close-by vineyards in Austria, Germany, South Tyrol, France, or Spain.
Recharging batteries at the Spullersee lake
The Fuxbau is a classic seasonal business. After the summer season, the restaurant closes its doors until the end of November. This gives members of the four-person team time to relax and recharge their batteries before they start the strenuous winter season. Tobias and Tanja Schöpf head travelling, while Markus Gitterle and Sandra Köbler enjoy staying closer to home. “I’ve never flown before and don’t need to,” says Gitterle. “It’s simply beautiful here and it’s small wonder that so many people spend their holidays here with us. I prefer hiking and being in the mountains.” When Tobias Schöpf is at home, he enjoys going climbing. “Climbing allows me to switch off when I am not travelling.” As far as their preferred excursion destination during the year is concerned, however, the two are in complete agreement: “The Spullersee lake is a beautiful place that grounds me when I’m in the kitchen all week,” explains Markus Gitterle. Tobias Schöpf associates Spullersee lake with childhood memories: “It’s a place where I can collect my thoughts in my spare time and enjoy the peace and quiet.” It turns out their main source of strength and peace is also a very local supplier.