How to… Learn to Cook Viennese

cooking

© Cook in Vienna/ Jürgen Plettebrauer

Pull your own Apfelstrudel dough, make a perfect Wiener Schnitzel – passionate chefs offer tasting tours and сourses.

Maybe you’ve come to love Austrian specialties, ordering Frittatensuppe (clear broth with strips of Palatschinken, a type of crepe) and enjoy the nutty flavor of Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil made in the Austrian province of Styria) on your salad. Now you’re ready to try making some of Vienna’s specialties yourself when your family comes to visit?

The light, flaky dough of a truly Viennese Strudel requires a commitment of time, and getting the breading on a Wiener Schnitzel just right, so it puffs and bubbles, practically floating above the thin cut of meat when it’s taken from the pan, is an acquired skill.

But Viennese cuisine is not as difficult as it sounds. For most dishes, all you need is a recipe. But books can’t teach you how to master some of those special techniques; it’s best to be shown by an expert. Fortunately, Vienna offers a wide range of cooking classes in English and other languages with enthusiastic and experienced cooks leading you through the process, often ending with a filling meal of what you have prepared, accompanied by fine Austrian wines. What a truly Viennese way to spend an afternoon or evening. After all, Vienna is, according to the latest survey by Mercer, the most livable city in the world.

Gulasch isn’t that Difficult

At the apartment of trained chef and economist Bianca Gusenbauer-Hoppe, you have to take off your shoes and don slippers, as is customary in many Austrian homes. In a modern and bright flat in the 12th district, Katharina Winger, Bianca’s partner at “Cook in Vienna,” which Gusenbauer-Hoppe founded in 2015, taught four Americans and me that Gulasch needs much paprika, cumin and a bit of tomato paste.

“Cook in Vienna” offers a cooking class that starts with a tasting tour before getting to work in the kitchen. The four-and-a-half-hour class for four to 10 people costs €125 per person. In addition to Gulasch, the dishes the “guest chefs” prepare include Spätzle, Krautsalat (cabbage salad) and Apfelstrudel.

Wearing our “Cook in Vienna” aprons, we shared a toast – “Prost!” – then got down to the business of cooking. With jaunty music in the background we literally stretched out the Strudel dough on a large cloth. Ideally, it should be so thin, you can read a newspaper through it. But first we slapped the dough multiple times against the table to get out all the air bubbles. The thwacking sound, Katharina told us, reminds her of her grandmother’s kitchen on Sunday mornings.

After almost three hours of cooking together, we had earned our dinner. The Apfelstrudel was served with whipped cream and accompanied by stories about the multicultural and cosmopolitan history of Viennese cuisine. Gulasch, for example, is a Hungarian dish.

Cut Like a Chef, Share Like a Human

The next morning when I entered the Kochsalon at the Wrenkh brothers’ restaurant in the 1st district, a large table in the middle of the room was covered with sharp knives, vegetables and an enormous piece of meat.

Karl Wrenkh, decidedly a professional chef, wore a white shirt with a special pocket on the right shoulder where a teaspoon was always ready to be unsheathed to taste a spicy soup or a bubbling sauce. Everything here is less cozy and more professional than at Bianca’s apartment. We, a group of six aspiring hobby chefs, prepared eight dishes in about three hours. Karl keeps everything under control, helping one person to slice an onion while trying to hide his tears, then helping another mix slices of beef heart with wine.

This class makes you feel like a participant on a master chef program, but without the pressure of a competition. It’s a collaborative class, where people meeting for the first time share cans of spices and pay no mind to shoes dusted in flour.

The sharing ends with a glorious lunch of Kalbsbeuschel (veal innards ragout), Backfleisch (a variation of Schnitzel with mustard and Kren) Erdäpfelsalat (potato salad), a zucchini-risotto, Zwiebel-rostbraten (roast beef with onions), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Kümmelbraten (caraway roast), Wiener Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel. The Viennese dishes triumph and the tired guests fill their bellies, the perfect state for an afternoon nap.

The Wrenkh Vienna Kochsalon offers a variety of cooking courses, featuring Viennese cuisine, as well as Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, paleo, vegetarian, to name a few. Prices range from €48 for a low-key, three-hour course, to €130 for a four-hour course with several dishes.

Nibbling at the Naschmarkt

Naschmarkt literally means a market where you nibble or snack. In my experience, I can’t go to the Naschmarkt for lunch – not because there aren’t good restaurants, there are plenty – because by the time I’ve reached the chosen place, I’m already full. Almost every stand offers samples of the olives, dried fruits and other specialties they sell, hoping you’ll stop and buy. To me, it’s a magical place, a bazaar of international ingredients, where nothing is impossible to find and everything has the perfect color, flavor and smell.

And this wonderful place is where you meet Andrea Claudia Beck, who offers a shop-and-taste tour of the Naschmarkt, followed by preparation of a three-course meal that participants then enjoy together with good Austrian wine. The four-hour tour and course costs €130 and requires two to twelve participants.

With her Vienna Cooking Tours, Andrea leads people from around the world through the market, tasting delicacies such as ham made of wild boar and spirits before moving to her apartment in the 3rd district. You will not only learn to cook the best soup you’ve ever eaten, but how to mix seemingly contradictory ingredients, such as vanilla and truffle, or chocolate and cayenne pepper. You’ll also make a new friend. The day I took Andrea’s course, there were no other participants. We made chestnut soup, Wiener Schnitzel and Kaiserschmarrn, the favorite dessert of Emperor Franz Josef. It’s made of chopped sweet pancake dough roasted gently, and served with sugar and sour cherry marmalade. For many Austrians, it can also be a full meal.

These are just a sampling of what is on offer for those wishing to take a cooking class in Vienna. Whether you are looking for an intro to the basics of cooking, how to make Viennese or international specialties or tips on successful baking, you will find a variety of courses on offer, both from restaurants and individuals who love to share their passion for cooking with you.

KITCHEN GUIDE

Below are some tips to get you started. Go forth and cook!

WHERE TO FIND COOKING COURSES

WHERE TO SHOP FOR INGREDIENTS

Vienna’s markets are among the best places to search for fresh vegetables and international spices. In addition to the Naschmarkt on the Wienzeile between the 4th and 5th districts, the Brunnenmarkt in the 16th district and the Karmelitermarktin the 2nd district are among several around Vienna. For more information about these and other markets, go here: wien.info

For meat, poultry and fish, the markets also offer a great variety, but you can also order special cuts at a Fleischhauer (butcher shop). There are some in most neighborhoods, but here are a couple with a particularly good reputation: Fleischerei Kröppel Josef u. Söhne, Postgasse 1-3, 1010 Vienna; Fleischerei Ringl, Gumpendorfer Str. 105/Brückengasse 16, 1060 Vienna.

For bread, most bakeries in Vienna offer a variety from the iconic Semmel, the ubiquitous white bread roll with the pinwheel center, to hearty dark breads and baguettes. The Viennese love their bread and that is clear from the number of bakeries, from big chain stores to artisanal family-run bakeries, it’s hard to find anything but good bread in Vienna.

THE RIGHT KITCHEN TOOLS

Most of what you need to cook Viennese specialties you probably already have on hand. Some things can be improvised — a flat bedsheet or tablecloth works well for pulling Strudel dough. For Spätzle, use a large-holed colander, or buy a Spätzlesieve, starting at under €10. Most kitchenware stores have them in stock.

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Claudia Paccosi is half Italian and half Austrian, studied in Rome and was a journalist for Storyful in Dublin. She loves to see almost everything under a poetic veil, that's why she moved to Vienna, where she can learn to dance Walzer and experience its cold snowy winter.