Paul Ivić – Visionary & Vegan chef with star


paul ivić – Visionary & Vegan Chef with Star

When chef Paul Ivić’s restaurant “TIAN” opened its doors in December 2011, it set new standards in the world of plant-based cuisine. It is the first time that a vegetarian or vegan restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star and four Gault & Millau toques. In special recognition of its sustainability, TIAN was also awarded a Michelin Green Star.

With Jerusalem artichoke, black salsify and rocket, Paul Ivić’s menu reads like a walk through a vegetable garden. The Michelin-starred chef sees himself as sustainable, which means that he is uncompromising in choosing produce from farmers who are treated fairly, as well as buying seasonal and organic produce. He also takes vegetable, fruit and cereal varieties which have been all but forgotten about, and transforms them into spectacularly refined dishes. Paul Ivić has very profound knowledge of the composition and effects of natural ingredients, which he uses to create truly sumptuous dishes. The high standards he has of this unusual cuisine are combined with his passion for healthy, innovative cooking. We caught up with him in Vienna to ask him a few questions…

… about his own diet

It might surprise most people to hear that I’m not actually a vegetarian myself. I would describe my diet as 80% vegetarian and 20% meat and fish. I like to cook fish and meat when I’m at home. And why not, indeed? If the quality is right and I know where my food’s coming from, I don’t see any reason not to. For me there’s nothing better than a balanced diet.

… about his culinary journey and the moment he realized what he wanted to do with his life

The journey began in my home town of Serfaus in the Tyrolean Alps, when I was 14 and I didn’t want to go to school any more. My sister suggested that I become a chef. She listed all the positive aspects of the job: you can travel the world and be creative. I immediately thought of the words “free” and “independent”. I liked the idea straight away and from then on that was exactly what I wanted to do!

… about the decision to dedicate the restaurant to vegetarian haute cuisine

I was looking for a new challenge a few years ago, and it so happened that this was when I got the job offer from TIAN. One thing led to another and I decided that from now on, I would concentrate solely on vegetarian ingredients.
What I particularly love about vegetarian cooking is working with natural products that feel alive, and I appreciate the fact that nature provides us with a rhythm with special vegetables from each season. It’s important to me that my cooking never imitates the taste of meat, but conjures up the taste of nature instead. Most vegetarian restaurants feature tofu or seitan as a meat replacement in their menu plans. That’s where we’re different.
Also, that was never our plan. Nature has so many remarkable flavors to offer – so why should we try to imitate something else, when we can work with the most primal ingredients of all?

… about the launch of TIAN – a vegetarian restaurant

I was part of the team right from the start. We opened in December 2011. To begin with, it was just an idea – the idea of a vegetarian restaurant. The idea was already there when I started as chef. The idea of being limited to vegetarian ingredients only was precisely what sparked my interest. We started out with a rather “normal” menu and have worked hard to become the restaurant we are today. This shared experience is what keeps my team together. We all know how much we’ve achieved.

… about his philosophy and the decision to cook exclusively with vegetarian ingredients

For me, what we do is much more than just restricting ourselves to vegetarian cuisine. Food is about so much more than just consuming energy. Food is about taking responsibility for all the ingredients and for all the hardworking people who are behind them. Food means bringing people together, because you don’t need to speak the same language – you just need to have a good soul. What I mean by that is this: behind every meal we eat are people who have worked hard to make sure that the ingredients end up on our plates, and that they end up there in the best state possible.
For example, they have taken time to work out what the best soil composition is for the earth in which the seeds are planted. They have, for example, experimented to find out the ideal time for harvesting; they have pulled out all the stops to ensure that their products are as fresh as possible when they make it from farm to restaurant. And my team honors their hard work by always making every effort to use the whole plant from root to leaf, and to throw nothing away.

… about vegetarian cooking as a trend and about what our diets will look like in the future

I don’t see what we’re doing as a trend – I see it as necessary. Theoretically, there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone, but a large proportion of the food harvested goes straight into industrial farming. During recent years, the food industry has gone in a direction which is not necessarily the best for us and our health. Just think of all the drugs which are used in intensive livestock farming. In the long-term, all of this will destroy our planet. That’s why in the long-term, we need to think more carefully about what we eat and what foods we buy.

… about how people react to not being served meat or fish

Many fellow chefs appreciate what we are doing and congratulate us on being so brave. Because obviously, we could make life much easier for ourselves. But we have taken on this challenge and we fight for it every day.
Of course there are people who walk straight back out of the restaurant when they hear that there’s no meat or fish on the menu. It feels like a stab in the heart, because we’ve worked so hard and then they don’t even want to try our food. Sometimes we manage to convince them to stay, however. And whenever that has happened, nobody has ever gone home dissatisfied! Most people apologize for their behavior and are happy to have had such a taste experience. What more could you wish for?

… what the most unusual comment from a customer has been?

There was a girl who came to our restaurant with her parents a few years ago. She had asked to come here for her tenth birthday. She had read an article about me and the restaurant in a magazine. At the end of the evening, I went over to her table and asked whether she had enjoyed the food. She just looked at me and said: “No, I loved it.” That was a very special moment for me, because children are the most honest people of all.

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