Tobias Grünberger is 31 years old. He comes from Laion, a small village at the entrance of the South Tyrolean Gardena Valley. Probably no coincidence, because this little village on the large ridge east of the medieval town of Chiusa rightly boasts that it was the birthplace of the famous minnesinger and poet Walter von der Vogelweide. Creative minds are simply born here. Tobias is one of them.
Chef de Cuisine Tobias Grünberger
A free spirit in the Tratterhof
"I wanted to become cook or pilot."
Even at elementary school age it quickly became clear what he would direct his creativity to:
"I wanted to become a pilot or a cook. Something else never came into question for me. Also because my older brother would take over the farm with the 8 cows."
So it came about that he quite pragmatically deleted from his thoughts the alternative profession as top gun of the air and instead attended the Emma Hellenstainer regional school for restaurant and food industry in Bressanone. In the field of cooking, he specialised in patisserie for an additional year. A passion that gets under your skin. So much so that the young Tobias even drew his own tattoo with trees, forest and...a kitchen whisk and had it "carved" into his skin.
A kitchen whisk as tattoo - A passionate patissier
That the tattoo would also fit perfectly to his future employer, the Bergidyll Hotel Tratterhof up in the mountains, he could not know yet at that time. The way to becoming the chef de cuisine of a kitchen brigade in the Tratterhof was still very steep and had to be walked first. The school period was followed by valuable work experience in leading South Tyrolean hotels and restaurants, until the curious "poet from the kitchen" finally sought and found the experience abroad. In the renowned Berlin CODA Dessert Dining & Bar, the globetrotter conjured 7-course menus from "only" desserts.
"The time in Berlin has shaped me very much. A great experience in a cosmopolitan city".
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean with a sailing boat
And above all on the mainland, because Tobias had worked shortly before for three months on the sailing ship Sea Cloud II as a cook for a Hamburg shipping company. A crew of 95 persons was responsible for the well-being of just as many guests and the challenges to the kitchen were very great every day.
"We had standard stocks on board which we could only refresh every 4 weeks in a port. That meant learning to improvise with what was on board. Today in the hotel it's much easier for me, the suppliers bring everything fresh every day. I could only dream of this on board of the Sea Cloud II."
Taste before aesthetics
Tobias is very happy with the local South Tyrolean offer of raw ingredients, especially when it comes to milk, cheese, butter, eggs, wines and fruits like apples and strawberries. Even if he confirms that a 100% supply of South Tyrolean raw materials is not possible due to the high demand and the varied needs of the guests. Guests at the Tratterhof are served a hearty 5-course menu every day, including 10-15 guests with certain allergies every day. The challenge is to cook the same dish with other ingredients. Especially if Tobias wants to remain true to his highest principle: "Taste comes before aesthetics. I don't want to take longer to decorate the plate than I do to make the product on the plate."
"Best ingredients for perfect taste."
The constant search for the perfect taste is also the constant and seasonal search for the most valuable ingredients. Tobias does not want to compromise. That's why he does all the purchasing on his own. In addition, as a long-standing board member of the "Manna.Organic" association in Ponte Gardena, South Tyrol, he knows exactly when it is allowed to speak of real taste. The start-up has set itself the goal of preserving the real taste of food. The association meanwhile counts 14 local suppliers who deliver their products according to very strict rules, which according to Tobias are even stricter than most organic guidelines.
The trained patissier loves his job and also indulges in many hobbies. He successfully completed his training as a mountain bike guide years ago, but he still doesn't want to know anything about cooking on two wheels. However, Tobias has found himself an almost new hobby for his spare time: cooking on 4 wheels, which basically means...a catering service for weddings. He and his team cook directly from a converted Volkswagen coach. "The old VW Syncro once served as a mountain rescue, now it rescues sociable party people from hunger.”
Tobias loves to be mobile and active. He needs the adrenaline from his creative experiments in the kitchen. Experiments that give many a guest goosebumps and that not only when Tobias cooks his favourite dish: braised beef cheek on potato cream with roasted goose liver pate and truffles.
"Simply an ingenious taste combination that results." Tobias will soon become a father and there is still enough space on his arm for further incisive immortalizations of important stages of his life.
"According to seafaring law, you can have an anchor tattooed after crossing the Atlantic. That would be a possible symbol."
Let's see what the lively chef with the likeable Jason-Statham charm next puts into the world. His Tratterhof brigade of 8 motivated staff members is ready for every blessing. The Tratterhof guests are thankful for that.
Text & Photos: Sascha Russotti