Despite his young age of 39 years Andreas Senn’s restaurant already has two Michelin stars. And that is due to his extraordinary skill which he has put to the test plenty of times in regional and international houses – from Hangar 7 to “Heimatliebe” in Kitzbühel. And it is also because of his Salzburg-born partner Christian Geisler, 34 years old, who also happens to be a star cook. In their La Loupe double interview the two extraordinary chefs speak about their path off the beaten track, “threshold fear” in top gastronomy, and about tinkering to perfection.
L.L./ SENNS.Restaurant! A name, a statement? What does SENNS.Restaurant stand for?
A.S./ In the past, when I was in my teens, I always had a vision of opening my own restaurant. Then you work in the restaurant industry for a while and you lose sight of that wish because you realise: all of that costs a lot of money. During my five years at Heimatliebe in Kitzbühel I was quite successful. After it was closed I had to find myself again. During that summer, before SENNS was opened, I opened a pop-up restaurant here at Gusswerk, still under the name Heimatliebe.
„Perfect ingredients are the most important part of a dish.“ Andreas Senn
I immediately fell in love with the location. It took years of work until we had all the permits and the right partners were on board. When the time finally came I knew the restaurant would need a face, a name. Calling it the “restaurant at Gusswerk” was never an option for me. It needs a face, a personality. The guests are supposed to enjoy themselves at the restaurant and they should also see that we’re having fun. Occasionally, the guests will even pay us a visit in the kitchen while we’re cooking. Christian told me that only recently a few people came by and popped in.
„We consciously wanted to do things differently right from the start.“ Andreas Senn
C.G./ Yes, they were colleagues who have their own restaurant. They asked if we’d be ok with them having a look around the kitchen while I was out serving food. Yes, we also help with the serving. That makes the whole atmosphere a bit more relaxed and we can also explain the dishes a little differently.
„I can really, really identify with Andi’s restaurant.“ Christian Geisler
L.L./ Between you two you have two stars – that’s quite unusual! How did you find each other?
A.S./ We used to work together at Hangar 7 – twice, even. After that we kind of lost sight of each other. I stayed in Austria while Christian was in Switzerland.
C.G./ I was in restaurants in Switzerland, in Zurich and Zermatt, for almost ten years. Then, when my kid was on its way, my partner and I decided to come back to Austria. I am from Salzburg, my roots are here. And the thing with Andi was a coincidence, really. We met up and had a coffee and we chatted. Then Andi asked me if I’d like to join him. It didn’t take me long for me to make up my mind – it’s just such a great place! It’s Andi’s restaurant but I really, really identify with it. I’m really happy I get to be here.
A.S./ We are connected by a private friendship. And in the kitchen we each do our own things and we complement each other perfectly. Which is pretty obvious in our dishes.
L.L./ “If you never stray from the beaten path you’ll only ever get to where others have already been.” This is something you say a lot. Where did you go to find new inspiration?
A.S./ The most formative time for me were the seven years at Hangar 7. The things you learn there, with eleven different guest chefs each year, that’s really crazy. And that saying came up because all gourmet restaurants are somehow the same – and often really stiff. Thankfully this has changed a bit in recent years, though. We wanted to consciously create a different kind of restaurant. For one thing the location isn’t a classic restaurant location – there are no table cloths and there is no silverware. And the cuisine is more daring, more modern. It’s simply supposed to be fun.
„Our goal is not to copy but to be copied.” Christian Geisler
L.L./ What specific taste sets your restaurant apart from others?
C.G./ I think our goal is not to copy but to be copied. We keep playing around with our dishes, we try out many things and tinker with preparation methods. We try never to copy anything, instead we make what we like. And we keep doing this until we reach perfection and then we say: now, this can go on our menu.
A.S./ And the best thing is: what we like many guests like, too (laughs).
„Andreas and I do some serving, too – that way we get to tell the guests even more about the dishes.“ Christian Geisler
L.L./ How do two stars change the taste?
A.S./ You can assume that you’ll always be working with the perfect base product. The most important thing about a dish are perfect ingredients. That starts with the vegetables and, of course, goes especially for fish and meat. And this kind of quality has its price. We can buy langustino for 20 euros per kilo. Or we buy the kind of langustino that costs 120 euros per kilo. There’s a huge difference in quality there. And you can taste that.
C.G./ The quality, the right preparation, and your own handwriting, that’s what it’s all about.
„What’s most important is the right quality, the right preparation, and your own handwriting.” Christian Geisler
L.L./ Do you pass these stories on to your guests, too?
A.S./ Yes, and that’s also why we do service, too – so that we can explain certain things to our guests even better. If someone’s interested we’re happy to tell them all about the ingredients. Why we use old dairy cow and not Black Angus Beef. But, first and foremost, we want the guest to enjoy the food, to have a good time and a lovely evening. Just like they would if they went to the theatre.
„We have guests who are 18 and others who are in their 70s.“ Andreas Senn
L.L./ We hear there are guests who fly in to eat here. Who is your target audience?
A.S./ We do have guests who come from Taiwan or China to eat with us. With these “gourmet tourists” it’s probably the Guide Michelin that brings them here. And in this respect I think the three stars that the Amador in Vienna has already, will be good for us. This way even more gourmets will find their way to Salzburg. In general, however, we don’t have a classic clientele. We get 18-year-olds who take their girlfriends out for a birthday dinner or older folks of 70 years and more. We have many regulars who are already retired.
„The single biggest problem in top gastronomy is that kind of threshold fear.“ Andreas Senn
Of course, the price is an issue and we therefore attract a certain kind of people. But even an 18-year-old can afford to come here once a year – and then it’s sure to be quite the experience. And we don’t have a dresscode, so no-one has to show up in a suit and tie. We don’t want people to be hesitant about coming here, we want everyone to feel comfortable. We very much want to reduce that kind of “threshold fear”. I think that threshold fear is the single biggest problem top gastronomy has
L.L./ SENNS and the English word “sense” - makes you think that you’re supposed to enjoy with all your senses here. And, of course, we want to remember this experience for as long as possible; would you say there is a taste memory?
C.G./ When food is really good it is also memorable. I will probably remember the best barbeque I ever had all my life. I’d say you do remember the really really good and special things.
A.S./ I think all it needs is a click, in terms of visual experience and taste. And if that’s there you’ll remember it.
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Andreas Senn, owner and chef de cuisine at the top restaurant SENNS, laid the foundation for his stellar career while he was still in training. Back then he constantly took part in competitions and after receiving his apprenticeship certificate (with honours), he got his first Gault Millau toque in 2003. Many other awards were to follow, among them the “chef of the year” as well as several toques and stars. Starting in 2013 he was awarded three toques by Gault Millau for his creations at Heimatliebe Kitzbühel three times in a row. In 2015 he was awarded the first Michelin-star for SENNS and in the 2016 the second one followed.
Originally from Salzburg, Christian Geisler successfully cooked in several cities before returning to his hometown – among them were New York City, Chicago, Zurich or Zermatt. In 2014 and 2015 he was honoured with one star by Guide Michelin. He has been cooking alongside Andreas Senn in Salzburg’s top restaurant SENNS since 2018.