Yellow bedstraw, wood sorrel, water avens: the treasures nature in the Arlberg region provides are what characterise gourmet chef Thorsten Probost’s cuisine, infusing in with special and delicate highlights for the taste buds. A feast for the senses. Tempting and intense. At Lech’s “Kräuterwerkstatt”, or “herb workshop”, the former chef de cuisine of Burg Vital Resort now offers cooking classes, and he can also be booked as a private chef and (in his function as mushroom and herb expert) for hikes. The perfect chance to discover the taste of the Alps in person and in an authentic fashion – for beginners, connoisseurs, and all those who love to experiment!
Thorsten Probost is more than an excellent chef de cuisine – he is a culinary guide who has revolutionised the innovative understanding of the Arlberg’s regional cuisine. His passion for taste-oriented cooking started at Staufeneck castle, with the Families Straubinger and Schurr, at the foot of Swabian Alb, where the likeable herb-enthusiast was born. After some stops in Germany his path then led him to Zell am See and, eventually, Lech am Arlberg. It was here that Helga Lucian, senior manager of Burg Vital Resort, introduced him to the secrets of the local herbs. She kept pressing a basket into his hands and taking him on numerous hikes where she showed him the unique taste of the mountains. Since then he has regularly been undertaking small expeditions in the area to further discover the culinary riches of nature and use them for his special cooking style which is radically seasonal and reduced to pure taste.
100 percent authentic and 100 percent Vorarlberg
In the subalpine zone of Lech’s mountains, the lush alpine meadows are full of intense flowers and herbs which constitute the individual signature of Thorsten Probost’s instinctive cuisine. “I keep my eyes open as I walk through nature and I collect those pristine treasures. In doing so I don’t meddle with nature, but I cook what’s ripe – for that positive gut feeling when you eat and so we can rediscover our healthy sense of taste.” For the passionate gourmet it is essential to look at a product’s entire history. Organic is no longer enough. “As a chef I need to care about where my ingredients come from and how they are treated. How does something grow and what is its effect as a food for people? When are the ideal slaughtering times in a year?
What different needs do different animal breeds have? The farmers have a wealth of information on this and they’re happy to share it with those who ask.” This philosophy is what makes the saying “You are what you eat” a synonym for meals “unplugged” and taste in its purest form. Probost’s way of cooking is influenced by profound knowledge of biodynamic processes: “When the animals come down from the mountain pastures, they need at least four weeks to get used to the dry roughage. During that period all the power and taste that’s in the mountain pastures develops in them, similar to top athletes, who are extremely efficient after a stay in high altitudes.” The healing effects of the regional herbs also constitute an important element of Probost’s cuisine.
The power of the mountains on your plate
On the wood-fired oven of Lech’s Kräuterwerkstatt and cooking school, Probost presents his “Grund Ehrliche Küche” or “profoundly honest cuisine” to his guests – a cuisine that is tasty and shows the body what is important and wholesome at the same time. On hikes and walks he and his guests discover, explore, experience and taste Lech’s mountain summer. “I pick up the guests at their hotel and together we collect the ingredients and herbs we need for the desired meal, which is a five-course gourmet menu with no more than four products. My approach: the more we invest in nature, the more we’ll get back.” A type of cuisine in harmony with nature that is hard to put into practise in a restaurant or hotel, which is one of the reasons he no longer works as chef de cuisine at Burg Vital Resort. “It was impossible for me to be with the farmers and out on the lake, do the shopping, organise everything – and cook in the evenings.”
The trick and the challenge for the guests is not to perfect their own skills in a simple evening but just to appreciate every product. Which is why Thorsten Probost tries to understand not just his own trade but also, and especially, the nutritional processes – both in the pots and our bodies. What are the advantages of products that were made in harmony with nature? Why is high biodiversity in our soil important? What do closed circuits in terms of rearing and utilisation mean for the taste? “Of course, it’s a huge effort but we need to try to take people with us on that journey.” Speaking of journeys: the participants also get to take the meals’ components home with them. A home-made souvenir and truly the most beautiful thing you can bring home from Lech.
The feel for landscape and taste
Once Thorsten Probost said the following about his chosen home: “When it comes to dealing with amazing resources and the respect for agriculture, Austria has left a lasting impression on me.” It therefore comes as no surprise that the Swabian decided to stay true to the mountains and Lech Zürs even after the end of his engagement at Burg Vital Resort. Deep down the place and Thorsten Probost share the same attitude: “Back home I would have to start from scratch. Nothing there is the way I’d want or need it to be, unfortunately. It would take decades of work to get a restaurant to run in a way it should be. I’d be 80 by the time I’m done!” In Lech he’s found a place where he can put down his roots: “There is so much radical sustainability in how the people think and that’s gotten the place to where it is now. They were this honest with their nature from the start and it made them realise what can be done and what can’t.” A lifestyle that has become his own: “To be able to get up and experience nature, to ski along the White Ring (a circular ski route that connects Lech and Zürs with Zug and Oberlech over 22km), that’s what the mountains can give me. And the knowledge that I get to work with world-class products here.” And he really means “get to”.
Thorsten Probost lives and works with the cycle of nature. He uses nature’s full pantry during the summer months to stock up for the sparse winter: “In winter we take out all there is. In my cooking classes we also work with pickled and preserved products that are available at the organic farm at the time and I which myself prepared during the summer. Teaching taste during this time is particularly interesting because winter offers a completely different variety of vegetables and herbs. True to the motto: what we don’t have we won’t really need!”
Private cooking class for up to six people
Preparation of a multi-course menu of your choice
Fresh, seasonal ingredients
Tips and tricks from the Arlberg’s first chef with three Gault Millau hats
No transport costs up to 30km