For the past 15 years, Chef Patrick Tober is the culinary geist behind the rather posh doors of indulgence at the legendary Hotel Arlberg in Lech, Austria. It is no mean feat for a man just in his mid-thirties to be at the helm of three restaurants and alfresco terraces, each equally phenomenally popular and known as the eateries that foodies salivate over.
Can you play fine dining and remain uncomplicated - for sure, just as a traditional Stube can be infused with a touch of culinary creativity.
'I travel a lot when the hotel is closed during the off-season, mostly discovering farmers markets, family-run restaurants in Italy, Portugal or Spain. This can lead to simple knocking on doors and offering a hand in the kitchen, or participating in the harvesting season of an olive oil producer, winemaker or I once participated in a truffle hunt. Then there are all the family recipes shared around my kitchen team when we discuss the next menus. Everyone brings something to the table.'
Patrick Tober is proud of his Austrian heritage, hawking from Mühlviertel. He grew up on the family farm; hence, he has always had a special relationship with the seasons, environment, and food source through agriculture. Tober harvests the Alps' bounties, picks up culinary threads from bordering lands and cooks up rekindled family recipes.
Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity, but that doesn't mean that it can't be updated with exquisite fine-dining twists. Restaurant 'La Fenice' helmed by Tober is a case in point. He triumphs in editing the traditional trattoria experience; the menu is gorgeously peppered with dishes that will induce instant hunger. Expect headliners that play with the familiar classics of 'Nonna's', cleverly refined and incredibly photogenic updates.
Meanwhile, over in the cheer-inducing Stube, Tober has rethought the fondue, introducing a whole menu dedicated to this sharing classic, including a Schnitzel Fondue or the Wagyu Beef variation that sings 'Shabu Shabu' in the heart of this cosy Alpinista parlour.
'Transforming the usually heavy Austrian side dishes –thinking of our glorious Knödel - is one thing we like to do. Or focussing on farm vegetables as the main component on a menu. However, I think that even lighter taste buds love to be served a hearty dish after a day on the slopes or hiking our many trails. Therefore, I consider our guests active and focus more on balanced nutrition, high-quality ingredients as opposed to only lightweight-focused options.'
Over in the restaurant exclusively for boarding hotel residents, the scene is pleasingly old school silver service – think white tablecloths, red banquettes and impeccably presented staff, who really can't do enough for you. Like being aboard a luxury cruise liner pottering around the Mediterranean, Tober presents his daily menu, a dialogue of homeland favourites and picks of his global favourites. Seasonally based, Chef Tober draws on his infinite repertoire of recipes, something so crucial for the regular house guests.
Tober initially had set his eyes on becoming a confectioner with a self-confessed sweet tooth - he fondly recounts his childhood birthday cakes decorated in marzipan figures. A keen baker since a toddler, his culinary road map took its first steps following the motto "without diligence, no gain", the passion became a profession.
Tober is right at home in the culinary heart of the Hotel Arlberg; you feel this in his food, authentic and honest, yet always surprising with his draw from Lech's Alpine homelands and the twenty regions of Italy with a deliciously traditional air. Hotel Arlberg is a foodie haunt, a gastro institution - a badge it still markedly deserves.
A culture of food.