VIENNA – Drawing on inspiration from the cuisine of Spain and executing his culinary creations with the discipline of an Olympic athlete, Juan Amador has managed to transform his restaurant in the Austrian capital into the country’s very first three Michelin star establishment.
“I believe Spanish cuisine has given me so much: Galician, Basque and Catalan even more so. Well, surf and turf,” the 50-year-old Spanish-German chef told EFE in an interview at his “Amador” restaurant on the outskirts of Vienna.
“Surf and turf” means bringing together ingredients from the sea and land, like putting fish with snails or mushrooms. It’s a technique that Amador considers “the most important thing” in his kitchen.
The chef, whose parents emigrated to Germany from Granada in southern Spain, acquired his first Michelin star when he was 24 and has since gone from strength to strength.
But his work is demanding and “not as easy as it looks,” he insists.
Amador sees his job as a chef as more comparable to that of a high-performance athlete than that of an artist.
“For me the kitchen is more like a sport than art. It’s like soccer, we have to win, we have the final every day, on afternoons and evenings,” he said.
And yes, creative cooking needs to have an artistic twist to it, “because if it doesn’t, it’s not good,” according to Amador, who received his first star in 1993 when he was working at Petersilie in central Germany.
In the years that followed, he went on to amass further recognition at other establishments in Germany, and in 2002 he claimed a second star at a Bavarian hotel.
In 2004 in Langen, near the western city of Frankfurt, he opened his own restaurant, “Amador,” which earned a star that same year, and was followed by another in 2005 and a third in 2007.
And his Viennese namesake restaurant saw a similar trajectory. It was awarded two stars in 2016, its opening year, and a third in March 2019.
For Amador, the step up to the third represented “a huge change,” with clients from all over the world making reservations and the restaurant always fully-booked.
In Austria, news of Michelin’s decision triggered reactions from critics and local chefs because haute-cuisine’s highest distinction had been awarded to a foreign chef rather than an Austrian.
Amador, born in 1968 in Germany, points out that nationality is not a criteria for Michelin and recalls that Germany’s first three stars were given to Austrian chef Eckart Witzigmann.
But experts and colleagues don’t doubt that Amador deserves the recognition.
Columnists in local media have attacked the French culinary guidebook along nationalistic lines, apparently insulted by what they consider a lack of recognition for the traditional cuisine of Austria, justifying it with arguments about organic produce.
The gist of what has been written is that Michelin does not know how to honor the virtue of good cuisine made from produce that is regional, cheaper and more organic because its transport generates lower emissions.
“We don’t work so much with regional produce because they are not so good, that’s it. We use the best in the world. That way we don’t have to hide anything, we can make the product shine,” Amador says of such criticisms.
The dishes that have had the most success among the diners cannot be missing off the menu at “Amador.”
“Of course sometimes that is exasperating, it’s important to include them. It would be like going to a Rolling Stones concert and they don’t sing ‘Satisfaction’,” the chef says.
And so his 2007 creation, “Mieral Taube,” a pigeon dish with mango, coconut and curry, is never off the menu.
The popular dish appears on the two lunch menus made up of 3-4 dishes as well as on the evening tasting menu, featuring eight dishes and a drinks pairing.
Prices without drinks are between 89-235 euros ($99-262). There is no à la carte option but diners are able to reduce the number of dishes brought to their tables.
Amador hopes diners will be “left surprised and knowing how to celebrate food” in a relaxed atmosphere where they are not distracted by cellphones.
For that, he dreams of banning cellphones in his restaurant to avoid his dishes ending up as just photos on social media feeds.
While he chooses not to publish images of his creations, he does allow his creative process in the kitchen to be photographed.