It is the start of the Culinary Jakobsweg. An event now in its 8th year in which five hüttes in the mountains above the Paznaun villages of Ischgl, Galtür, Kappl and See, host a signature dish from each one of the chefs for holidaymakers to enjoy. These hüttes are located on the original old pilgrims path of St James.
As the chefs pose for the photoshoot in front of an assortment of huge boulders outside the Heidelbergerhütte with each one proudly displaying their signature dish, it seemed a surreal setting with cattle drinking from streams in the background against a backdrop of lush green valleys, speckled with bursts of colour from wild flowers and snow covered mountains dominating the skyline.
We were about to sample the best of what each chef had to offer, but in order to do so we hiked to the lodge up through the Paznaun-Ischgl valley. This incredible journey took us over streams where we utilised rocks as stepping stones and over rocky paths where we passed herds of grazing cows. The greenery was so vibrant it was like viewing the mountains through an instant Instagram filter. As we followed the path and hiked higher through the valley, the stark contrast between the green and the glistening white snow mountains that loomed ever closer on the horizon, was like viewing two different seasons that had been cut from two separate photos and cleverly pasted together to create imagery that was an illusion to the senses.
Spectacular views while hiking in the alps near Ischgl.
The hike took me about three hours and was longer than expected because I was taking photos of anything and everything! The weather was slightly overcast but dry and ideal for hiking. I was looking forward to a feast and was not disappointed.
Michelin star chef Stephen Crane
There were five guest chefs in total who had created a dish using local produce and I sampled all the dishes over lunch. The star-studded group of chefs included Bobby Bräuer from Germany, who delighted us with conchiglioni with Paznaun veal, zucchini and ricotta. This dish was quite incredible with its bold flavours really packing a punch. It comes as no surprise that Bobby was voted best chef of 2016.
We were also treated to beetroot risotto with goat cheese and cinnamon-ducca, from Swiss chef Tanja Grandits who boasts two Michelin stars. Tanja likes to create dishes using one colour so not to confuse the senses and concentrating on the taste only. This dish was no exception with the beetroot giving a beautiful magenta hue. The risotto was beautifully elegant and light, with the goat cheese giving the dish depth.
Josef Steffner from Austria presented us with Alpine pasture pork with potatoes, lichen, tauern rye and sauerkraut. The key to this dish is that the potatoes were grown at high altitude giving a different taste and enhancing the strength in flavour of the pasture pork.
Two Michelin star Viki Geunes from Belgium created a dish of prime rib of local beef with celery risoni, pickled chanterelles and wild herbs. This was a whole-hearted dish full of bold flavours of the mountains.
Michelin star chef Stephen Crane from the Ockenden Manor in West Sussex, is only the 3rd chef to represent the UK in the eight year history of the Culinary Jakobsweg. With much anticipation I tucked into his signature dish of braised pigs cheeks, Alpine cheese mash, apple, celeriac and wild herb salad. Having travelled with Stephen you may think I am biased, and maybe I am, but this was one of the most incredible dishes I have ever had!
To me, the intensity of the braised pork cheeks with creamy mash and the richness of the sauce created from the juices, combined with the fragrant, flowery freshness of the herbs and strong flavours of the cheese, combined to orchestrate a melody with my taste buds with incredible flavour explosions. This is proper mountain food with the underlying subtlety of the mountain herbs that offset the big bold meaty flavours.
After a blissful sleep at the wonderful four and half star rated Hotel Post, my fellow UK journalists and I were driven to the start of the hiking route at Galtür. The sun was out in full glory and if I thought the scenery was spectacular the day before, it was like the blue sky and bright sunshine had dialled the contrast and vibrancy up a few notches! The difference was incredible and was like the difference in viewing a great film on a decent standard tv to swapping to a full HD 4k screen.
Mountain path through the Austrian Alps above Galtür.
The walk up was more challenging and rocky than the day before and it was hot work, but also more interesting as we crossed over gushing fast flowing streams that forged their way through the rocks to the river below. We crossed over planks that formed a narrow bridge and so no room for error!
After three hours we reached the Jamtalhütte where Stephen’s dish will be on the menu until the end of September. This was our chance to have a full portion and if anything, we enjoyed it even more than the day before. Maybe, this was because the Jamtahütte chef, Hermann Huber, used his very own cheese named Galtürer Almkäse on the dish from his own herd of dairy cows.
Spectacular scenery, fine wine and a culinary experience I will never forget – what more could I want! All five of the chefs signature dishes will be available at the different hüttes throughout the summer.
Inghams (01483 791114; www.inghams.co.uk) offers 7 nights at the 4.5* Hotel Post with prices starting from £689 per person on half-board, including return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers.
Further details on the Paznaun resorts are available from the Paznaun-Ischgl Tourist Office in Ischgl on 0043 50990 100 www.paznaun-ischgl.com
Mark is also the manager of Jamie Barrow (Britain’s fastest snowboarder)