Austrian cuisine has a reputation for being heavy, and Matthias Froeschl, co-owner and executive chef at Campbell’s new restaurant Naschmarkt, admits it’s well-deserved.
“Because of the weather in Austria, most of the dishes are a little bit on the heavier side. There’s pretty cold winters over there, so you want something that heats you up from the inside,” Froeschl says.
That’s why one of the first surprises at Naschmarkt is how light many of the dishes are. Anyone who knows that quark spatzle is basically an Austrian mac and cheese is likely to be taken aback at the spry, fresh dish on Froeschl’s menu. A casserole-style pairing of the Germanic egg noodle with quark cheese, smoked chicken, corn, lemon thyme and wild mushrooms, it’s creamy, savory and smoky, but so light it barely qualifies as a carbohydrate.
An even bigger surprise is how elegantly Froeschl’s vision of upscale Austrian dining lines up with the Bay Area’s culinary concerns: fresh, local, organic ingredients and a return to simple, essential flavors. In fact, one of the most popular dishes on the menu is the summer pea soup with mint and Maine lobster ravioli.
“It’s the simplest thing ever,” says Froeschl. “There’s not many ingredients in it, so no flavors get in the way of each other. It’s nice and smooth, and it creates its own complexity with really simple ingredients. You can actually taste the peas; you can taste the mint and the lemon.”
The dish is exemplary of his larger approach to cooking: “You take a few ingredients and let them shine.”
Froeschl was born in Austria and worked his way up through the Austrian culinary system, starting his apprenticeships at 15 and simultaneously studying at culinary school. After three years, he passed his final exams and was certified as a chef. He worked around Austria, before moving to New York a decade ago at the behest of a former employer who was running an Austrian restaurant there. Eventually, Froeschl was running four kitchens for him, but he also met his future wife, Margaux, who is from Los Gatos and wanted to move back. His in-laws had run Cafe Marcella in Los Gatos for 17 years before selling it, and, along with a family friend, the two couples decided to open Naschmarkt together this summer.
Froeschl enjoys putting a Californian spin on certain dishes—Dungeness crab with mango and avocados, or roasted organic salmon with Swiss chard, for instance. But there are certain traditional dishes, like the wiener schnitzel and the incredible, succulent bratwurst, that he refuses to fool with.
“A schnitzel is not broken, why fix it? It’s perfect as it is,” he says. “It’s worked for hundreds of years now.”
So far, that approach seems to be paying off. The bratwurst is so popular he’s had people come in to the restaurant after dinner just to get a wurst fix, and his other dishes have earned approval even from native eaters.
“Last night, I had a couple that just moved here from Vienna,” says Froesch. “They relocated because of work. They were so happy to get a schnitzel—they said they thought they’d have to live without schnitzel the rest of their lives now.”
That history of Austrian food is why everything from pasta to Hungarian goulash to various styles of meat preparation can be found on the menu. At one time, almost all of Europe was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, bringing in all stripes of international influences, from Germany, Italy, France, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, all the way up to Russia.
“All of those influences stayed with Austria, that’s why it has a really, really broad range of food,” Froeschl explains. “It’s called ‘Hungarian goulash,’ but it’s also a classic Austrian dish from the old empire.”
The biggest gambit in opening Naschmarkt was betting that a community probably unfamiliar with Austrian cuisine would give it a chance.
“We weren’t sure, is it going to work or is it not going to work? Are people going to like the Austrian flavors, or reject it? It’s always difficult when you try something new for the area. There was no real authentic Austrian.”
He smiles. “So far, so good.”