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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe
Specials

Two Chefs, One Kitchen

Updated on 24.10.2022 in Food & Drink, Photos: Ramon Haindl

Toni and Andi Thöni, © Tirol Werbung / Ramon Haindl Toni and Andi Thöni © Tirol Werbung / Ramon Haindl

"Tirol tastes of Swiss pine, earthy, of cranberries, of fresh, crystal-clear mountain water. It tastes honest," is Andi Thöni's reponse when asked to describe the taste of his home region. He is one of two chefs at the Berghof in Pfunds. Standing alongside him in the kitchen is his father, Toni Thöni, who has a different take on the taste of Tirol. "For me Tirol is smoky, intense. It tastes like tangy alpine cheese and young, fresh lamb from the alpine pasture, served with porcini mushrooms straight from the forest." 

Their inn, the Berghof, lies at what seems to be the end of the world, in the village of Pfunds in the west of Austria. Even Tiroleans from other parts of the region often struggle to understand the local dialect here. Pfunds and the Berghof are the last place you pass before entering the high valley of Pfundser Tschey with its wide-open meadows at over 1,600 metres above sea level home dotted with more than 100 wooden hay huts.

Wooden huts in the Pfundser Tschey valley, © Tirol Werbung/Mario Webhofer © Tirol Werbung/Mario Webhofer

Before the advent of tourism, this area was a place of farmers. Agriculture also formed the basis for the Thöni family's inn, the Berghof. Toni's father was a mountain farmer, while his mother cooked for guests. Life was hard – days started early and finished late. In Tirol, food was first and foremost a question of carbohydrates and calories – fuelling before, during and after a day of physical labour in the mountains. Maybe this is one of the reasons why to this day people in Tirol don't tend to talk much about what they eat.

There are so many local dishes which have been forgotten. We could do a lot better here in Tirol at rediscovering and preserving them.
Andi Thöni

This is something Andi Thöni noticed when working as a cook in Spain – the way in which Spanish locals spoke about food. It was one of the main topics of conversation. "For lunch today I had a fantastic bean stew, freshly prepared by a friend with some wonderful spices," young people in Spain would enthuse. Andi loved this passion. "In Tirol people tend to talk about their work – it's all about what you do, what you have achieved. That is an important thing to us. But we could talk an awful lot more about what we eat." This process of appreciating food, ingredients and culinary traditions is something Andi is now trying to bring to Tirol. "There are so many local dishes which have been forgotten. We could do a lot better here in Tirol at rediscovering and preserving them." Appreciating local produce is another thing Andi was impressed by during his time in Spain.

He is a living example of the culinary enthusiasm he wants to share. Andi talks to me about ancient types of grain from the Alps and "Muas", a kind of thick soup made from grain, milk and flour, served warm from the pan with fresh cranberries. His eyes light up as he tells me about the forgotten dish of roasted mountain lamb. "Just like a fisherman in Mallorca gets his fish from the sea, we get our lambs from the mountains," Toni explains. The animals spend the summer grazing on the high pastures. After about eight months they are slaughtered locally in Pfunds, just a stone's throw from the Berghof. In the past they used to be slaughtered at the Berghof itself, but this is now no longer allowed under EU law. "In the mountains the sheep look after themselves. They eat the grass on the meadows, which is turned into milk for the lambs to drink." Slaughter is also an important part of the process: "It's true, we do send young lambs to slaughter, but in return we have respect and reverence for the animal. At the end of the day, sausages in the supermarket also come from slaughtered animals." 

The Berghof serves only lamb sourced from its own mountain farm., © Tirol Werbung / Ramon HaindlThe Berghof serves only lamb sourced from its own mountain farm. © Tirol Werbung / Ramon Haindl

I can learn new combinations from Andi that I never would have thought of. I can't remember how many times I have said to him, 'You can't cook that with that, nobody will eat it!'
Toni Thöni

Besides meat, Andi also experiments with vegetarian products. His father, on the other hand, is more of a traditionalist. When asked what his father can learn from him, Andi answers with a grin: "He can learn to try new things". Standing next to him, Toni Thöni, is quick to respond: "For my mother, my cooking was experimental back then, and that's how I feel about my son now. I can learn new combinations from Andi that I never would have thought of. I can't remember how many times I have said to him, 'You can't cook that with that, nobody will eat it!'".

A good example was the recent purchase by Andi of two huge wheels of goat cheese, which got directly from the dairy for €100. His father threw his hands up in horror at the price. Andi combined the fresh goat cheese with caramelised apricots from the region and the dish was a big hit with diners. For Andi, it's all about the produce: "If you know the people who make the goat cheese, then you also know the quality."

Andi and Toni enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and learning from each other., © Tirol Werbung / Ramon HaindlAndi and Toni enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and learning from each other. © Tirol Werbung / Ramon Haindl

During the Covid-19 pandemic the family branched out into beer. Roman, Toni's son-in-law from Switzerland, added an in-house brewery to the Berghof in 2020 where the family makes its own craft beer called "Die Bergbrauer".

And as is the case with good chefs, it didn't take long for Andi and Toni to come up with their own beer soup to go with the drink. A liquid dish to go with a liquid drink? Why not. In England it's what you would call a "liquid lunch".

Roman, Toni's son-in-law from Switzerland, added an in-house brewery in 2020, providing inspiration for the Berghof's famous beer soup., © Tirol Werbung / Ramon HaindlRoman, Toni's son-in-law from Switzerland, added an in-house brewery in 2020, providing inspiration for the Berghof's famous beer soup. © Tirol Werbung / Ramon Haindl

Anna Moll
Anna Moll

Anna's design agency Molle&Korn creates the highlight campaigns for Tirol. During her time working on these projects she has experienced her fair share of adventures, eaten more than a few dumplings and met plenty of Tiroleans who have inspired her. One of her big dreams, again inspired by a local, is to climb the migthy Großvenediger mountain in East Tirol.

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