Food is culture, tradition and territory”: about Norbert Niederkofler, the award-winning chef of the first Dawn to Earth edition

Originally from Valle Aurina in the province of Bolzano, Norbert Niederkofler is chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant St. Hubertus in San Cassiano in Alta Badia and promoter of a philosophy that focuses on cuisine based on local products.

With Dawn to Earth, the International Alba White Truffle Fair gives an award to people who have distinguished themselves in the field of environmental sustainability, true game changers capable of catalysing the public’s interest with specific actions aimed at prompting a change in approach towards the relationship with the environment.

Norbert Niederkofler, the first chef to receive the award, has long fought for a cuisine that knows how to enhance the distinctive features of the local area, in his case the mountains of the Dolomites, by adapting his dishes according to seasonal products. His challenge is not an easy one, and at the same time it is a shared path that also brings farmers and producers into the world of taste. Sustainability all-round, starting from the land and arriving at the restaurant.

Norber Niederkofler: in search of the most authentic taste

Norbert’s story is that of a man who has experienced since childhood a close bond with the taste and flavours of the land. Growing up in a family that owned a small hotel and a grocery shop, he learnt from a very young age the importance of respecting and valuing both the work of farmers and shepherds and the mountains in a broader sense.

He soon developed a great passion for cooking, which led him first to complete his training as a cook, then to gain experience around the world. He worked in Germany, Switzerland, the United States and Austria. Some of the chefs he considers to be his masters include internationally renowned German Chefs Jörg Müller and Eckart Witzigmann.

In several interviews, he recalled the moment that marked a radical change in his approach to cooking: the birth of his son Thomas. A sense of responsibility and a desire to do something tangible to preserve the land and the environment, the legacy of tradition and the creativity developed through years of work at the St. Hubertus in San Cassiano in Alta Badia led him to devise a cuisine based solely on seasonal mountain products

A limit on ingredients does not mean that creativity is stifled, far from it: and in creativity, inspirations from the past, suggestions from the world, values and a real ethics of cooking come to the fore.

Upon being awarded his third Michelin star in 2017, he was praised with words of high appreciation.

“LAn encounter with his cuisine is not a meal, but an unforgettable human experience”.

Niederkofler has nurtured a virtuous network in which those who work the land see their products become a source of excitement on the table, sustainably cultivated and sustainably brought into a relationship system that does not seek exploitation, but collaboration.

Sustainability, according to Niederkofler, is not an abstract concept. It is another way of understanding the relationship with the environment, haute cuisine, the land, its traditions and the people who live it.

Game changer is a challenging definition: it implies something or someone who really changes the rules of the game, by challenging an established model and providing a functional and innovative alternative. It is a definition that fits perfectly with Chef Niederkofler and his Cook the Mountain philosophy.

Norbert Niederkofler: cook the mountain

Cooking is a dialogue between raw materials, individual sensitivity, fine ingredients and the chef’s personality. A harmony of elements that, just as in a shared dialogue, help convey a message. Dawn to Earth continues its own dialogue, by sharing a message that combines environmental and sustainability issues with the exploration of a gastronomic philosophy that prioritises products within their land of origin.

Niederkofler has a clear idea of what sustainability means, both in the kitchen and beyond. His Cook the Mountain philosophy, the protagonist of a book he recently wrote, tells of a new model of socio-economic development. A model to be conceived starting from an investigation into the relationship between production, product, territory and consumption.

To encourage an important reflection on what global cuisine is today, the experience gained during the years spent abroad.

“To see the same cuisine in New York, Tokyo and other big cities gave me a strong sense of dissatisfaction. It was a ‘standardised’ cuisine in which there was no respect for nature and the culture of the place nor attention to a sustainable future”.

The loss of identity that standardises taste, instead of enhancing its different origins, prompted Niederkofler to formulate his own theory. At the heart of Cook The Mountain is the desire to enhance the local flavours and ingredients during the season in which they grow. An attitude that rewards the unravelling of flavours throughout the year, making this or that particular flavour even more appreciable because it is inevitably confined to a specific season.

Alongside Cook the Mountain, Niederkofler has launched a project involving chefs and catering experts from all over the world. It is Care’s – The Ethical Chef Days: Care’s aim is to precisely to take care of the territory, the environment, nature and its rhythms. In a broader sense, the whole culture of the territory.

Cook the Mountain and Care’s are Niederkofler’s manifesto, a clear programme that shows a way forward for the future of local cuisine. An act of love for the mountains, an act of love for the environment.