Martin Klein is the Executive Chef at Ikarus Restaurant at Hangar-7, a unique restaurant concept in Salzburg, Austria starring new Guest Chefs from all over the world every month. The native-born Alsatian spent his childhood in Alsace and received his training at the School of Hotel Management in Strasbourg before quickly rising through the ranks of some of the best restaurants in Germany. In 2014 he gave up a job on a private island in the South Pacific for the opportunity to come back to Austria and to Ikarus, the place he used to be Chef de Cuisine for nine years of his life, and a place he holds dear to his heart to this day. Klein’s culinary philosophy is all about product-consciousness and honesty. He greatly values fresh ingredients and despises shortcuts in the kitchen.
For Klein and the chefs at Restaurant Ikarus, the guest chef concept means adapting to a new menu, a new top chef and a new philosophy each month. How does one do that so successfully?
How would you describe the concept of Ikarus?
“We invite a different top chef each month. It doesn‘t matter which continent or country they come from – whether it‘s the USA, South Africa or Japan – or if they serve traditional, fusion or molecular cuisine. What matters most is the variety. And, of course, the high quality of the dish- es.”
What does it mean to be the Executive Chef of a restaurant with such a unique, ever evolving, rotating kitchen?
“Even though my job comes with a lot of responsibility, I consider myself a very lucky and privileged chef.”
How long does the guest chef get to train the team at Ikarus before dining guests arrive?
“Normally the chefs arrive two days before the actual ‘guest chef month’ starts. So, the training period is very short, but our team is very well prepared and we’re always able to satisfy our guest chefs and most importantly our guests.”
What has proven to be the greatest advantage of working with a new chef each month?
“One big advantage is meeting new people from all around the globe each month. This gives me the chance to learn more about different cooking philosophies and cultures. Due to our guest chef concept you’re more or less obliged to improve yourself day by day.”
What has been the most difficult part of working with a new chef each month?
“Understanding and learning a completely different philosophy and culinary style.But, I think, the most challenging thing is to receive all the special produce that’s used abroad right on time.”
In the months there are no guest chefs, what does the Ikarus Team/Chef Klein menu look like?
“Our menu is always a mix of the inspiration and experience we’ve gathered throughout the year. We always want to improve ourselves and give our guests the best possible dining experience. So far, in all the fifteen years of our restaurants’s history, we’ve man- aged to never offer the same dish twice.”
What is your process when creating new recipes?
“It ́s all about the product and its availability, and of course the techniques that are used.”
Do the guest chefs influence your style of cooking?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s influencing my style, but it is improving my knowledge. Your live and learn!”
Born and Raised in?
“In Strasbourg, France”
Living in Austria now, what do you miss most from where you grew up?
“I mostly miss my closest family; my mother, father and my brother and his children.”
What made you decide to become a chef?
“I always wanted to become a chef. I actually can ́t do anything else [laughs].”
You studied at the School of Hotel Management in Strasbourg. Do you think culinary school is a must for a chef to become successful?
“A good education is absolutely important, but I don ́t think that culinary school is necessary to become a successful chef. The most important thing is that you love what you do. And, to be honest, you need a little talent of course.”
If you hadn’t become a chef, what do you think your life would look like right now?
“I ́d probably work in food service either way. I started my apprenticeship as a waiter in a restaurant and I always wanted to care for guests.”
When are you happiest?
“When I can spend quality time with my wife and my two children.”
What, to you, is the number one ingredient that makes any recipe better?
“I am French, I guess I have to say butter [laughs].”
What’s the one thing that should be in everybody’s kitchen?
“To cook the most important things you’ll need the basics: salt and water.”
Whose table would you (still) like to dine at?
“Due to my job I ́m very lucky and I get to dine at a different restaurant each month, so I actually have no unfulfilled wishes.”
What would you want your last supper to be?
“A fresh baguette with Brie de Meaux and a glass of delicious Bordeaux.”
Do you have any advice for starting chefs?
“Determination, ambition and not giving up too easy, for as they say: ‘Life ́s not easy at the bot- tom.’ And, I think, it’s very important to be patient with yourself. Don ́t leave school and start with a very high-level position, it’s better to work your way up. And staying curious for new impres- sions is also important.”
“A business trip to Singapore and the preparation of our special Ikarus month: ‘Best of The Netherlands’.”