The first Austrian Gourmet Week in Singapore will be held from October 29th to November 2nd, 2022, at the upscale steakhouse 665°F in the Andaz Singapore, in association with the Austrian Embassy Singapore and the Austrian National Tourist Office. Gourmets may anticipate a special four-hand dining experience prepared by guest Chef Armin Leitgeb, who has worked in restaurants with Michelin stars, and 17-point Gault&Millau Chef Josef Mühlmann. In a homage to their heritage and as a testament to their skill and finesse, the pair will serve a six-course menu that emphasises Alpine cuisine.
As a part of the ReFocus Austria programme by the Austrian government to aid economic recovery during and after the pandemic, Austrian Gourmet Week attempts to promote Austria’s food, wineries, and agriculture. ReFocus Austria custom-made events and activities have been organised so far by more than 100 Austrian diplomatic missions of the Foreign Ministry abroad to support the home export industry.
We got the chance to speak with Chef Armin Leitgeb to learn more about Austrian food, his career as a chef and more.
Q. As an international gastronomic chef who has worked in various countries including France, Germany, Singapore and the United States, what have been some of the biggest highlights for you so far?
Chef Armin: My career highlights are the opportunities that I had to be able to travel for work. I love discovering the people, culture and cuisine, and of course the friends I have made. Having spent 6 years in Singapore, and during my time with Les Amis, this was a top career highlight. I had a great platform to do work on a very high level and I could see the results from the hard work I had put in as Chef du Cuisine together with our excellent team. It was extremely rewarding when Les Amis won numerous awards and accolades. It has been ten years since I returned to Europe and I’m looking forward to visiting the hawker centres this time when I’m back.
Q. We know France was extra special because you met your wife there- how important is food in the pursuit and practice of love?
Chef Armin: Like love, food makes you happy. However, there is no perfection in love or food. As chefs, we strive to make our customers happy and we use our experience to create dishes that will delight them when they taste our dishes.
Q. You were the former Head Chef at Les Amis from 2008 to 2012 in Singapore. What are your thoughts on the SIngapore dining scene?
Chef Armin: Singapore is such a small country but there is so much variety and choice. I can easily head to a hawker centre for a meal that costs $4 or goes to Odette by Chef Julien Royer for French cuisine and have a meal for $250. That is what makes Singapore so special as there is space for both concepts, especially where you have everything within just a few kilometres.
Q. Could you share more about the initiatives of Koch Campus to promote Austria as a gourmet destination for fine dining?
Chef Armin: Nature has a big influence on our culinary specialities, and as Austria is made up of many small regions, where the landscapes vary, there are so many different regional dishes influenced by various cultures and traditions. Austria’s agricultural landscapes are diverse and excellent, because of the fresh air and water that our herbs, vegetables and fruits and livestock thrive on. The high quality of our produce means they tend to be limited in quantity and the taste of nature is best enjoyed in person within Austria. This is different from a country like Spain or France where they are major exporters of their produce on a global scale.
Koch.Campus is a collective group of Austrian chefs and agriculture producers which includes Chef Josef and me. We are passionate about introducing the niche regional flavours of Austria to an international audience and we actively host and participate in culinary events such as the upcoming Austrian Gourmet Week in Singapore.
Through Koch.Campus’ partners like Austrian National Tourist Office and ReFocus Austria, Chef Josef and I have planned a four-hand menu to present authentic Austrian product combinations, with flavours from the herbs of the mountains, and other ingredients that are indigenous to a specific region. We hope food lovers will be inspired to plan a visit to Austria to discover our gourmet fine-dining scene, where one can enjoy a multi-sensory gourmet experience of nature’s beauty.
Q. Why is it important to put the spotlight on the producers, farmers, winemakers, and people who work in the hospitality industry?
Chef Armin: The quintessential Austrian dining experience combines atmosphere, location and tradition. Our Koch.Campus culinary tastemakers are passionate about how Austrian flavours are savoured and enjoyed and they are doing an amazing job internationally to showcase our ingredients in the best light.
Our philosophy at Koch.Campus is to deliver creative culinary combinations – fusing “traditionality” and new interpretations of Austrian gourmet flavours to showcase our culinary excellence to an international audience. The driving force behind “Gourmet Austria” is our people who collaborate and curate unique epicurean adventures in different regions and major cities – such as gourmet fairs, culinary trails and wine-tasting routes that await visitors to Austria.
Q. What are your thoughts on the East meets West fine dining culture?
Chef Armin: There are some similarities in tastes and preferences so dishes that have flavourful broth are popular with both audiences. Although we use different ingredients when preparing our soup stock and broths.
In Asia, the “wok hei“ flavour is expected from a skilled chef. With the guidance of Mr Desmond Lim, the owner and chairman of the Les Amis group, during my time helming the kitchen, I was able to understand the preference of the Asian palate. He explained to me that it would be difficult for a young European chef to get established in an Asian city if I did not try to adapt my dishes/style a little bit to those factors. This knowledge has influenced my cooking style in Asia. For our four-hands menu at Andaz Singapore, there are 2 dishes that will present my interpretation of East meets West. I will keep this a secret for now, so guests can come ready to be surprised.
Q. Lastly, what is the one thing you love about Austria and what is the one authentic Austrian dish everyone must try when in Austria?
Chef Armin: Home is where the heart is. And that’s what our cuisine reflects – the flavours of home. A traditional Austrian dish that everyone should try is the “Osttiroler Schlipfkrapfen“, which is typical in the area where chef Josef is based. It’s a very simple stuffed pasta dish full of mountain flavours. A good old ”Oma dish” (translates to “Grandmother’s Dish”).
Learn more about Austrian Gourmet Week here.