Jugend & Pop-Up
Traditions are also subject to change
Interview with Jochen Neustifter about traditions and innovation in regional tavern culture.
Lisa Edelbacher I friendship.is

Anyone who eats at Jochen Neustifter's house is soon met with one or the other contradiction. It serves sushi made from dumplings and falafel. There are guests in festive dress and others in waist pants. You can find beer from the area and wines from Moldova. Can that, can that be a tavern? However, says Jochen Neustifter, 48, who, with his Jo's restaurant and catering in Vorchdorf, Upper Austria, is softening the lines between traditional and experimental cooking. A concept
which has already earned him a hood and a star and in Vorchdorf no less than the status of an institution. Jochen Neustifter also sees the tavern crisis as an opportunity to face the spirit of the times and drive innovation forward. What does it take? Creativity, a bit of courage and possibly even the odd contradiction.

Twenty years ago, you opened Jo's Restaurantin Vorchdorf, at a time when family-run businesses were dominant. You, on the other hand, were the first restaurateur in your family. Looking back, was that more of an advantage or disadvantage? It's true, back then, a tavern was still a family affair. It was certainly an advantage that I did not claim to run a tavern in the traditional sense. I didn't want to reduce my menu to schnitzel and roast pork, that was clear to me from the start. As a result, I did not enter into direct competition with the old, family-run taverns in the area. But like any new company, you have to prove yourself first, and you also have to remain flexible later on. But that can also be an advantage.

In what way? The pandemic has shown that the catering industry, even more than other industries, must adapt to the spirit of the times. In my opinion, traditional companies that have rehearsed the same work processes for decades found it more difficult to react to changes.

So anyone who wants to rethink the tavern must also rethink one or the other tavern tradition? I think that the debate is being conducted with a lot of melancholy, but the traditional tavern would no longer be up to date today. As a social meeting place, it was exclusively reserved for men, women were only seen in service, and you can imagine that they did not just have the most pleasant place to work. By the way, it is such a thing with traditions, they are not a rigid construct, but are also subject to change, of course.

Where does nostalgia come from then? I think it comes from a longing for a past, a more carefree time. The tavern is a place where these memories can persist.

Is a tavern now closing, so are people also deprived of their memories? Yes, and it may be painful, but completely honest: Who would still want to eat in such a smoky, noisy environment today? Quite apart from the fact that there was no food at all in most taverns.

Our eating habits have also changed. More than ever, people are paying attention to the quality and origin of their food. Absolutely. We simply no longer eat as we did fifty years ago, and the guest houses must also react to this in the future. In my opinion, it is no longer possible to describe cheese spaetzle as a vegan dish on the menu.

With Jo's Restaurant, you've taken a different path. In addition to classic dishes, the menu also includes sushi and falafel, and your cooking style is considered creative and modern. How is this received by the guests? Fortunately, there are other taverns in Vorchdorf that offer a classic menu. This gives me the freedom to also offer emergency reports. I can also understand why you can't do anything with tagine and falafel, but to be honest, I've rarely seen guests get irritated. The mists are delighted with a creative and surprising menu. A visit to a restaurant is therefore also an experience.

At first glance, the claim that the menu should surprise does not seem to fit the tavern concept. The type of regular guest whose everyday life includes the tavern is becoming increasingly rare. Today, it is less about comfort and more about pleasure and the experience.

How important is it to follow trends? The truth is: Almost everything has already been invented in cooking — you can make foam from tomato whites and meat from mushrooms. Today, kitchen trends are becoming ever more unusual, ever more absurd. I observe trends from a distance, but I don't immediately follow along. But I still believe that it is good for taverns to broaden their horizons.

You are part of the Wirtshauslabor project by developing and implementing a concept for a tavern with students from a tourism school. Are young people interested in gastronomic trends?Kitchen trends such as molecular cuisine or cooking with insects were less interesting for students. I have the impression that the class is interested in two — at first glance contradictory — topics: on the one hand traditional tavern dishes and on the other hand in ethnic cuisine, i.e. food that does not come from our local cultures. And, of course, sustainability is a major issue.

Sustainability is also part of your kitchen philosophy; the topic of “No Waste” is of particular concern to you. What can you imagine this to mean? We have developed into a throwaway society in which we consume more resources than our planet can provide. A situation that is very harmful to the climate and the environment. No Waste is basically a concept that aims to avoid waste.

Every third food is not eaten but discarded. According to the Zukunftsinstitut, no waste is one of the defining future trends in gastronomy. That would be very important, because in the catering industry, an unbelievable amount is thrown away. In the large companies where I worked, I had to learn painfully how much edible food ended up in the trash. Avoiding waste is not only more environmentally friendly, it is also more economical.

Why does so much still end up in the bin? I think it's because there's a lack of appropriate concepts. You have to create awareness that you can still recycle a lot of waste. Vegetable sections, for example, can be used for a soup stock, and I can cook four different dishes from a chicken. Excess vegetables can be fermented, preserved or pickled. There are countless ways to avoid waste; this requires appropriate knowledge and creativity.

Jochen Neustifter, 48, opened Jo's Restaurant and Caterer Vorchdorf after stations at Restaurant Tanglberg in Vorchdorf, in the RES-Taurant Waldschänke in Grieskirchen and Beido&Co in Vienna. Only a short time later, the Upper Austrian's creative cooking style was honored with Gault&Millau bonnets and à la carte stars.

As part of the European Capital of Culture BadiSchL Salzkammergut 2024, Jochen Neustifter is contributing his expertise to a school project with ClW Don Bosco Vöcklabruck on the topic of WIRTS home culture. Together with two 3rd graders, he runs the “Salzkammer-GUAD” in Haus Rosenkranz (former Gasthaus zum Rosenkranz, closed since 1979). The pop-up restaurant is still open until November 2024 on selected dates.

A big thank you goes to Christiane Hofinger, the owner of Rosenkranzstraße 16, who is making it available for the “Salzkammer-GUAD” project. It is thanks to her that this historic house has been so beautifully renovated and that the restaurant — down to the removal of the bar — is still as though time had stood still. For more information, see: https://www.gmundens-schaetze.at/rosenkranzstrasse-haus-nr-16.html

Salzkammer-GUAD is a project in cooperation with: HLW Don Bosco Vöcklabruck