She is the first and only female chef to receive four Gault-Millau Toques* and 2 Michelin Stars. The family owned Relais & Chateaux Hotel in Filzmoos, in the Austrian mountains, provides the perfect place for Johanna Maier to materialize her gourmet magic and is where her restaurant resides.
LM: What was your favorite food as a child?
JA: "Beerenschmarren" - sugared pancakes with fresh, self picked berries from the Austrian woods!
LM: Mrs. Maier, you are considered to be one of the best chefs in the world. How did you become a top chef?
JA: My husband invited me to dinner at the restaurant "Obauer"in Werfen/Austria. After this meal I knew: I want to be able to cook like that.
LM: Who were your teachers and what were your most important learning experiences along the way?
JA: At first I spent a lot of money on cookbooks and flight tickets, to let myself be inspired by international top chefs. My journeys took me to Hans Haas ("Tantris" Munich), to André Jaeger ("Fischerzunft" Schaffhausen) to Jean-Georges Vongerichten ("L'Espinasse" New York) and to Gray Kunz ("Regent" Hongkong). I also was guest chef for the King of Thailand. There I got to know and love the incredible variety of completely new flavors, which ignited my great passion for the world of herbs and spices. Out of all these experiences, I developed my own cuisine.
LM: What drives you to keep continually evolving?
JA: The love of cooking and the wonderful gifts of nature, the sensuality of flavours and especially my love for people keeps me going. I can contribute a lot to the well-being, happiness and health of people. That alone makes me happy.
LM: What is the philosophy behind your cuisine?
JA: My greatest inspiration is nature itself. Regional and seasonal ingredients in all their freshness, this has a special quality for me.
LM: What are the success factors of your family business and how do you share the responsibilities within?
JA: Pursuing a common goal and constantly setting new ones - that creates unity. It is also important that everyone has their clearly defined competence area. I am responsible for the kitchen and the cooks, my husband for the administrative area, the hotel and the service. Very important is a good communication culture. You have to talk to each other, dream, think and argue fair, without hurting each other with words. Therefore every discourse also becomes an impulse for mutual inspiration and value creation.
LM: You call your cuisine "The tasty and healthy Austrian world cuisine". What do you mean by that exactly?
JA: My world kitchen is a cosmopolitan cuisine. In every country there are outstanding cooks and each country has culinary specialties. What makes the Austrian cuisine so special is its history. Our food culture has evolved from the kitchen traditions of Hungary, Bohemia, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. The Turks also left an indelible mark with their coffee tradition. The result of so many cultures is a fusion cuisine that provides an inexhaustible pool of ideas. There are so many dishes and regional specialties that are waiting to be interpreted in a contemporary way. Coming from this rich history, we are open to the world when it comes to accepting and being curious towards new flavors.
We integrate new ideas into our native cuisine, using our local products as much as possible. In this way our cuisine reinvents itself and is regionally honed at the same time.
LM: Your restaurant and hotel also houses a cooking school. What inspired you to teach?
JA: My goal today is to share my knowledge with as many people as possible and to make it easy for them to cook my cuisine in their homes. That is why I have developed my spice mixes and why the feasibility of the recipes in my cookbooks is of great importance to me. This is also why we opened our new cooking school for anyone who wants to evolve culinarily. In addition cooking together is also an active enjoyment of education, inspiration, enrichment and of life.
LM: Where do you get the inspiration for new recipes and how is your approach on creating a new dish?
JA: As mentioned earlier, nature inspires me. For example our Filzmooser mountains and pastures, where I am out and about, walking my dog, there is no better place for me to be able to "listen within", to clear my head and to waken my senses.
LM: What was the greatest challenge you had to overcome throughout your career?
JA: Reconciling family and professional life, to remain determined and persistent and at the same time taking care of my own well-being, that has never been easy. Today I am also thankful for all the difficult times and the unpleasant experiences of my life. The greatest reward for our efforts is not what we get for them, but what we become as a result of them.
LM: Becoming a top chef requires great inner strength, willpower and a clear vision paired with a continuous drive. What gives you the strength to continue on this path?
JA: Paulo Coelho writes in his book "The Alchemist": Life is very generous with the ones who follow their distinct, self-determined journey through life. Cooking is my calling, my love. And as everyone knows, love can accomplish a lot. One also needs the support of the family, a healthy way of dealing with emotions and ambition, plus creativity and inspiration. It requires a lot of patience, discipline, perseverance, tireless effort and you having to face up to your own truth - again and again. Even if a recipe has been tried for the umpteenth time, you have to keep going until it is perfect. One should never stop.
LM: Which female chefs do you admire?
JA: I have respect for everyone who likes to cook well and contributes to people eating healthily, consciously and pleasurably.
LM: Do women cook differently than men?
JA: It is true that men and women have different dietary preferences and need different nutrients and therefore have different approaches to cooking. In addition, women always pay more attention to the figure. It can be said, that the woman makes the salad and the man grills the steak. But this theory can not be applied as a whole. A good male chef can make a divine salad and a good female chef can serve a perfect steak out of the pan.
LM: What do you think of Asian cuisine?
DWE: My passion for herbs and spices was sparked there. The knowledge about sustainable and healthy nutrition is important for me. I am convinced that the correct food not only supports your well-being, but also helps to cure illnesses. Therefore I am also interested in the traditional Chinese Medicine cuisine and in Ayurveda.
LM: What does “luxury” mean to you?
JA: Time for myself and the freedom to live an independent life.
LM: What is the future vision for yourself and your cuisine?
JA: I hope that people start to cook more again and that cooking lessons at school are a compulsory subject for all. It should matter how we keep our bodies and minds on the go. Only the awareness of right nutrition and making new and valuable experiences can stir things in the right direction again. This is particularly important to me.
By Karin Loitsch