If you’re done with dining out, or are keen on learning the unique pleasure in cooking delicious food and then eating it with friends and hearing them tell you how good it tastes, take the first steps to culinary greatness by visiting the masters of the kitchen at Wrenkh Kochschule (cooking school).
This unique experience taught a home-grown Viennese girl about her national cuisine. It also upgraded her cooking qualifications from creating dishes from recipes that always came out like online dating – never how it looks in the pictures – to being able to make a mean potato salad and Schnitzel… when supervised.
A Viennese cooking class at the Viennese institution of a restaurant, Wrenkh? And here we were thinking the place was vegetarian! Well, it is, but it’s not. So here’s the deal: The food served at Wrenkh is 95 percent vegetarian (the remaining 5% are for meat dishes that the chef’s decide are worth an exceptional guest appearance in the menu) but their cooking classes come in a variety of forms.
A familiar family in the Viennese dining scene – Wrenkh – own a restaurant in the city’s center that also offers cooking classes for hopeless cooks – that being, me – and also cooking enthusiasts, I guess (there were some show-offs in the class – you know who you are! Just because you know what a spatula is doesn’t make you better than me!)
I was excited and nervous when walking into the bright and open space of the Wiener Kochsalon for two reasons – I could finally abandon my reliance on food delivery services and having somebody else cook my food for me in a restaurant most nights of the week, and secondly, the prospect of finally learning something about my dear old Austria’s kitchen creations made me feel like I was having a traveling experience without going anywhere. A common experience we have here at Vienna Würstelstand.
So there I was, in a kitchen with immaculately clean benches, with neatly arranged raw produce set out on them, along with 12 strangers. The goal? to learn how to cook an Austrian dish.
Going to a cooking class is an interesting experience for a 25-year-old. You get to meet all kinds of people that don’t usually come together, much like in high school. You have your cool kids hanging out at the back throwing carrots at the other people in the group (ok, that’s not a thing, but…), the nerds asking all of their nerdy questions about temperature and grams and stuff, and then you have the over achievers that have already cooked the dish before the teacher has even uttered a word (this was me, of course). Anyhow, it’s a glorious setting to get to know a bunch of strangers and the champagne, baguette and olive tapenade helps. That’s right, you’re spoiled here with good quality food as you prepare your food – what a dream! If only I had somebody taking care of this at home for me.
The cooking school is set in a wonderful (said in a elegant and wispy Biritsh lady’s voice) location in the city center. As we crowd around the chef and the cooking benches I feel like we’re a sports team huddling in to hear the game plan. You can see the jealousy (or maybe it was curiosity) in the eyes of the passersby on the street who peer into the big windows at us, as if we’re zoo animals, or captives of some sick reality TV show in which the weakest of the cooks have to clean up the mess once everybody is done. Little do they know that we are apprentice cooks, soon to be sous chefs of our own kitchens, on our way to dinner party greatness! (said with the same British lady’s voice)
We’re walked through by our fearless leader the basics, like how to peel a carrot and the most efficient way to cut an onion into teeny tiny perfect little pieces. We also learn that the sides of Austrian cuisines are just as sacred as the main. We learn how to put together the potato salad, Erdäpfelschmarrn (a traditional Austrian potato dish), and Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage). Step by step, I feel myself becoming stronger, sharper as a chef and by the time I’ve cut my first carrot as Mr Wrenkh had instructed me (15 minutes later), I know I’m ready for the big time – the Schnitzel.
Surprisingly, as a vegetarian I still enjoyed the making of my prize Schnitzel. Watching people let out all of their frustrations as they beat the hell out of the meat with a hammer was somehow soothing and made me think – if only Trump made more Schnitzel. And while the deep frying of the flattened and battered piece of meat in bread crumbs let off a stink that only lovers of Mcdonald’s could appreciate, watching it bob about in the oil was somehow satisfying…in a disturbing way.
We made you a pretty little recipe card to stick on your fridge at home so you can experience the same satisfaction (click to enlarge):
And To top it all off, we were given a little history class about Austrian cuisine from the very entertaining chef, Mr. Karl Wrenkh himself.
During our three-hour cooking marathon, in which I was put in contact with more butter than I could eat in a lifetime, I was looking for cooking tips to take away and impress my grandma with. Here are two I’d like to share with you:
1. The most important thing when buying meat is that you get it dry-aged. The freshness of the meat is much less important. According to Karl Wrenkh, 80% of the work is done by the Fleischhacker (the butcher) and only the remaining 20% is done by the cook (that suits me!)
2. When making a Schnitzel, salt the meat at least 20 minutes before you bread it. This is because the salt absorbs the water and allows air holes to be formed between the breadcrumb coating and the meat. Thats’ why well-made Schnitzel’s are so fluffy.
Restaurant Wrenkh itself was one of the first vegetarian restaurants in Vienna, existing since the 80’s. The family restaurant first opened its doors in the 15th district, and the two sons of the owners grew up practically living in the kitchen and inhaling the smell of burnt butter and garlic. By 2009, the sons co-created the Wrenkh restaurant and cooking school we now know and love – an idea initially started by their father.
Learning from the Wrenkhs was like learning family secrets. I felt like we’d been let in on the secrets of the Austrian kitchen (one of them being – add a fuck load of butter to everything!)
Did it make me ready to host my own dinner party and woo my guests? Probably not. However it did give me an experience and inspire my love of food in a way that only the sight of a perfect Schnitzel coming out of a pool of bubbling oil can.