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Places to be Fine Dining Sustainability

Koch.Campus digs deep into the taste of soil

by Bettina Bäck

Austria's Koch.Campus is known for its commitment to the highest possible quality food and for bringing together people with ideas and a vision for the future. And for their latest workshop, the dedicated group of producers and chefs focused firmly on the foundation of our food chain, because only healthy soil can produce healthy food. The group of experts met in Wagram in Lower Austria and dug deep into the matter...literally.

One of the founding members of Koch.Campus, restaurateur Josef Floh (Gastwirtschaft Floh), handles resources responsibly, because the chef is convinced that ultimately you can taste respectful treatment of nature. His Koch.Campus colleague, vintner and founding member of Austrian-based respekt-BIODYN biodynamic wine association Bernhard Ott (Ott Winery), who has been dedicated to biodynamic viticulture for more than 15 years, agrees. He knows from from experience that healthy soil is the basis of all good produce. Together, the two initiated the topic of soil for the latest Koch.Campus gathering.

Soil masterminds from Wagram: Alfred Grand, Josef Floh & Bernhard Ott
©Anna Stöcher

A gloomy outlook

A study by Austria's Ages* health and food security agency forecast that agricultural yields in Austria will be reduced by 35% from 2036 onwards in the worst case scenario if we continue to farm as usual and treat our resources wastefully. Koch.Campus does not want to simply accept this gloomy outlook and invited experts to Wagram for an exchange of ideas. Around 120 chefs, food producers, landscape ecologists and trade journalists responded to Koch.Campus' call and met in mid-June at the Lower Austrian research and demonstration farm 'Grand Garten'. Together they embarked on a research journey into the depths of our soils...and souls.

Agricultural approaches for the future

Under the guidance of soil science expert Hans Unterfrauner, different soil samples were analysed. The landscape ecologist explained clearly how to measure the pH value and how to recognise the quality of soils. He also referred to the impact of climate change: "Every drop of precipitation must be stored in the soil so that we can keep farming without artificial irrigation in the future". Earthworms open up the soil and make it a better water reservoir. This was the cue for Alfred Grand, who produces the most valuable earthworm humus with the earthworm farm Vermi Grand. He also put forward an exciting thesis: "If every larger municipality were to establish a market garden*, that would secure a supply of vegetables for the region – in the best case, even worldwide."

Martin von Mackensen, head of the agricultural school for biodynamic agriculture at Dottenfelderhof (near Frankfurt) believes that "a sensible farmer has to see both above and below the ground". He spoke about different ways of thinking about biodynamic agriculture and viticulture, including, specifically, biodiversity, plant care and compost management. The goal of all this is to achieve the most fertile soil possible.

Enjoyment from the soil - trial and error

Sommeliers Kathi Gnigler (Landhaus Bacher) and Benny Neiber-Trybek (Gastwirtschaft Floh) hosted a tasting with wines from the respekt-BIODYN wine group. The wines came exclusively from calcareous or pebbly soils. Whilst vinified from different areas, by different winemakers, each wine clearly spoke of its soil. The wines from pebbly soils were somewhat fruity and accessible, whereas those from calcareous soils were recognisable by their tautness and elegance.

Vegetable guru Johann Reisinger, organic farmer and agricultural engineer Franziska Lerch and Arche Noah variety specialist Klaus Brugger led the taste experts through an exciting array of asparagus salads from different gardens. It was astonishing how the aroma, bitterness and acidity of the asparagus varied depending on the soil.

And it wouldn't be Koch.Campus if the theory wasn't then immediately tested in the kitchen...

The Next Generation cooks vegetarian

The Next Generation and Josef Floh. The young kitchen talents excelled with vegetarian dishes at Koch.Campus.
© Anna Stöcher

Manuel Hammerl (Sous Chef) from Landhaus Bacher, Max Eichberger & Fabian Schasching from Markthof, as well as Philipp Essl from Landgasthaus Essl, cooked elaborate vegetarian dishes using vegetables sourced from Grand Garten and Lerchenhof. This outstanding performance underpins Koch.Campus' recent statement on vegetarian and vegan cookery training.

Solstice - an essential moment

The 120-strong expert workshop team rounded off the trend-setting day at Ott Winery, accompanied by delicious cuisine from Johann Reisinger and Koch.Campus chefs Christian Göttfried (Göttfried), Michael Kolm (Restaurant Kolm) and pâtissier Manfred Löschl (Landhaus Bacher).

The summer solstice is a special time for many plants. While they have been focused on vegetative growth so far, they are now entering the phase of fruiting. For biodynamic winegrowers, the solstice is therefore a moment that is joyfully celebrated – and what better way to do that than with a solstice bonfire?

The members of Koch.Campus, and above all the masterminds on the subject of soil, Josef Floh and Bernhard Ott, are thrilled about the constructive exchange that resulted from bringing together so many experts. Winemaker Bernhard Ott summed it up best: "It only works together!"

United for the quality of soil. Koch.Campus members, together with the vintners of the respekt-BIODYN group and soil experts, in Wagram.
©Anna Stöcher

* Market gardens are small scale commercial farms. Large quantities of vegetables are grown in very small areas. They are marketed directly to consumers in the region.

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About Koch.Campus

The Koch.Campus association brings together more than 30 world-class chefs and roughly the same number of pioneering agricultural and commercial producers, hoteliers and food experts from around Austria. This task force for good taste, currently boasting 58 members, is led by Hans Reisetbauer and Andreas Döllerer. The association promotes greater exchange of knowledge and experience between chefs and producers and joint exploration and development of regional primary products. Secondary goals include encouraging contemporary interpretations of Austrian cuisine and better positioning of domestic Austrian primary products to compete on international markets. Through expert workshops, tastings, lectures, excursions and discussions, members of Koch.Campus enter into dialogue with domestic primary product producers and evaluate their quality potential based on various types and breeds, cultivation and captivity models, age and maturation levels and preparation methods.

Koch.Campus
Sieveringer Straße 27
1190 Vienna

Koch.Campus

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Bettina Bäck von Wine+Partners
Bettina Bäck
Senior Project Manager

Bettina has been with Wine+Partners since 2002, with countless projects domestic and international under her belt. She currently manages sommelier world champion Marc Almert, the culinary think tank Koch.Campus, the Styrian wineries Weingut Muster.Gamlitz, Weingut Langmann and the STK wineries, the culinary concept store Kärntnerei and the Kozlović wine estate in Istria.