Out of Nowhere

From kneading sore backs to kneading sourdough, Anna Matscher’s journey to the pinnacle of the cooking scene was nothing short of improbable.

  • June 2017

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Out of Nowhere

From kneading sore backs to kneading sourdough, Anna Matscher’s journey to the pinnacle of the cooking scene was nothing short of improbable.

As a massage therapist, strong hands and practiced movements helped Anna Matscher to relieve aches and pains. Talented fingers also gave her a feel for kneading various dough types. Indeed, the self-taught cooking savant, who also happens to be South Tyrol’s only female chef to be awarded a Michelin star, learned how to prepare some of South Tyrol’s most iconic dishes without training. This may just be the secret to her unconventional success. 

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Twirling a whisk was never in the cards for Anna. Whilst training to become a massage therapist in Vienna and cooking for her host family, she never could have imagined how things would change once she returned home to Lana. But then she met Alois Matscher, whose family operated the “Zum Löwen” Restaurant in Tesimo/Tisens. This was the start of a 30-year odyssey with multiple chapters. Anna first worked as a jack-of-all-trades at the inn before summoning the courage to don an apron. Things started out small with the creation of starters that primarily consisted of various dough types, as well as pastries and desserts. Who could have predicted that she would receive a Michelin star just ten short years later? The distinction is an honour Anna never sought and even today she’s not entirely comfortable in the shoes of an award-winning star chef. 

Learning by doing

Behind a heavy wooden door, where during different times cows fed on grass and a village store once stood, a modern restaurant now welcomes visitors. Anna, her husband Alois (who everyone knows as Luis), and their daughter Elisabeth greet us with wide smiles and good humour as we enter the erstwhile barn. Alois is dressed in an elegant suit whilst Anna sports the apron she first wore when she began her career as a cook.

It was this very apron that changed her life and that of her husband as well. Instead of becoming a banker, Alois is now a sommelier and treats guest to a tipple of elegance from his wine cellar. “I became a waiter by observation,” he admits proudly with the surety of a man comfortable in his own shoes. “It’s quite possible to become an accomplished host or chef, but the first step is putting in the time and energy.” As he says this, he looks to his wife Anna who nods knowingly.

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The Star

Other chefs work their entire careers to achieve the recognition of a Michelin star. For Anna it rather came out of nowhere. About 20 years ago, two unassuming gentlemen dined at the restaurant. At the conclusion of their meal, they turned to Alois and raised the possibility of a star. Alois was unsure of what to say at the time and initially put the idea out of this mind.

After all, the original concept of the “Zum Löwen” Restaurant was a conventional inn. “We skipped this step,” said Chef Anna, who knows well that the creation of an award-winning restaurant also requires many ingredients. And yet in Anna, Alois had found the perfect partner to transform the “Löwen” into something truly special. The right mix of good taste, ambition and plenty of effort were needed. To be successful, however, meant accepting that each day begins at 7 am and ends late at night. Thinking back on the award, as well as the rewards of so much attention, Anna recalls that the “resulting pressure and attention from the media was enormous.”

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Four years after receiving the first star, she finally felt ready. Alois looks to his wife with the understanding of a man who knows what his partner is trying to say. “That same year though, the star was gone again,” explains Anna. No justification was ever given and it would take six long years until she would regain the distinction once more.

In 2007, the long-awaited recognition was finally restored. By then her skills in the kitchen had grown enormously and with every step so too did the restaurant’s customer base. “Suddenly staples like ‘roasted beef and onions in gravy’ were removed from the menu, although many guests had specifically come for this dish in the past. Instead, the restaurant now offers select cuts of meat in addition to vegetarian fare. Along the way, Award-Winning Chef Herbert Hintner from the Restaurant “Zur Rose” in Appiano/Eppan offered both advice and encouragement. 

One amongst so many men

For many years, Anna was not taken seriously as an award-winning chef in South Tyrol. “I don’t think that women cook any less well than men,” says Anna. But to be a female chef takes time and women are often at a disadvantage as their attention may be split between the kitchen and raising a family. Having a family-run enterprise with everyone involved was the only way forward and in this Anna feels fortunate. “I think I wasn’t taken seriously at first also because I am a self-taught cook. I entered the kitchen and simply started to prepare food. For this I received recognition,” says Anna with humility.

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Like Father like Daughter

The wooden door creaks pleasantly as I enter the wine cellar. This is Alois’ domain where he stores his many prized wines. He knows each and every one of them. Now he shares this space with a newcomer, his daughter Elisabeth, who has become a trained sommelier herself and has also joined the restaurant’s service team. “While others played with dolls, my daughter had pots and pans,” recalls Anna lovingly of her daughter, who was always with her in the kitchen or whilst procuring the many needed ingredients. For mother and daughter, time was always of the essence and these moments were spent together.

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Though Anna plans to cook for many years to come, she is nevertheless working on a transition plan so that her daughter will one day take over. For her, this transition should be natural, rather than abrupt. Alois shakes his head. In his mind, the establishment will continue to provide quality cuisine and exceptional service, with or without a star rating. I look to Elisabeth, who smiles with confidence and assurance, yet I can’t help but wonder if the responsibilities of an inn are too great? Or have they truly found in Elisabeth the perfect successor? Time will tell.

Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Transcreation: Covi, Wurzer & Partner - Die Sprachdienstleister
Photos: Ivo Corrà
Video: Miramonte Film – Andreas Pichler