“Ladies and gents, this is a funeral. We’re putting meat to the grave for the next four hours, so please be quiet and follow us.” Standing outside the park of pavillons erected for the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna on a cold October night, I was listening to the speech of a bulky, red-bearded man who looked like he was in the casting lineup for a new Viking show. This wasn’t going to be an ordinary dinner, this much I knew.
Moments later, our spontaneous funeral procession started moving, led by the monotonous rumbling of a tuba player, walking at a steady pace towards the highly unclear prospect of a meal. We circled behind the largest pavilion and stopped in front of a tiny opening in a hedge. “Wait here!” we heard, then the blaring sound of a horn. “What is going on?” the lady next to me laughed out loud. I wished I could give her an answer. Instead, I stepped through the opening of the hedge and was greeted on the other side by a hand waving out of a parked Opel Rekord, offering a glass of bubbles though its open window. “The former German chancellor Willy Brandt’s car” someone later whispered to me… of course it was. Suddenly, three men emerged out of an illuminated door in the pavillon closest to us.
“This wasn’t going to be an ordinary dinner, this much I knew.”
“Welcome to Steinbeisser meets the healthy boy band. We are the Healthy Boy Band. ‘Boys’ because we’re all sons of chefs, ‘healthy’ because we’re so f-ing good looking and ‘band’, because we venture far beyond food during our performances. Please step into the studio and take a seat” All this was spoken by lead performer, Felix Schellhorn, (who looked like he came straight out of the cast of the 80’s movie Wayne’s World) as the Viking-like Lukas Mraz and quiet Philip Rachinger stood next to him. It was time for dinner.
The Healthy Boy Band is the most anarchistic and avant-garde gathering of cooks to emerge from modern fine dining. That night, we all had squeezed ourselves through a hedge to see them perform under the umbrella of the mythical Steinbeisser dinner series. Three Austrians who all are the sons of contemporary Austrian chef legends (namely Markus Mraz, Helmut Rachinger and Sepp Schellhorn) in line to take over their family-led restaurants (Mraz & Söhne, Mühltalhof and Seehof Goldegg, respectively) and all on a mission to constantly challenge any given condition on any given day.
“What is going on?” the lady next to me laughed out loud. I wished I could give her an answer.”
Founded during the Austrian cooking event GELINAZ!, the Healthy Boy Band regularly leave their kitchens to challenge cooking paradigms. Their self-produced restaurant award stickers from their “Copyshop” installation at the Cookbook 1.9 fair in Montpellier depict puns based on existing restaurant guides such as “Four Michelin Stars” and ‘Shitadvisor” and can be seen on restaurant doors across the world. Photos of them at the COOK Inc. food festival, where they cooked in female clothing to draw attention to the problems women face in restaurant kitchens, spread across food social media accounts like wildfire. The Healthy Boy Band are continuously breaking the paradigm on how chefs should act and conduct themselves, and tonight their playground was the studio of Constantin Luser within the Vienna edition of the Steinbeisser dinner series.
Steinbeisser, the brainchild of Jouw Wijnsma and Martin Kulik, is an experimental art-dinner series organised around custom-made cutlery and pottery that travels around the world. Or, as Kulik says it at the studio that evening, “every Steinbeisser dinner is built around a few cornerstones: Vegan, organic and local. This applies to both food and tableware. We ask chefs and artists to upcycle, recycle, experiment, all for the sake of venturing far beyond our respective comfort zones.” The looks on people’s faces around me that evening made it clear they had boarded the train from comfort zone-town a long time ago, and were well aware there was no turning back. The only option was to sit back and enjoy the whole ride to its final destination.
“The Healthy Boy Band is the most anarchistic and avant-garde gathering of cooks to emerge from modern fine dining”
What many may not have realised prior to buying a ticket for this experience though, was to what extent their comfort zones would be challenged. Three pumpkin variations served on “spoonmania” spoons by Lisa Fält, all connected at their bases, required coordinated and simultaneous eating…or feeding – it was up to you. The “Tower of Pisa” salad with a hazelnut vinaigrette had to be fed to each other with meter-long “longdingdong” spoons by David Wolkerstorfer. And if you were (un)lucky, you were sitting next to a “jailbreak(fast) spoon” created by Wolkerstorfer, which meant eating your food from a spoon chained to a massive rock with a cast-iron chain.
“Every Steinbeisser dinner is built around a few cornerstones: Vegan, organic and local.”
The tableware and cutlery, which sparked conversation and laughter to the left and right of me, created an eclectic atmosphere. The custom-made electric soundtrack by Gregor Sanchi and the generous pourings of Austrian wines added plenty of fuel to that fire. Between the dishes you could see the Healthy Boy Band in the open kitchen, engaged in acts such as whipping up a porcini matcha with Japanese brushes attached to cordless drills whilst wearing protective glasses, dancing, and with Mraz exclaiming: “This is the loudest Steinbeisser dinner and the quietest Healthy Boy Band dinner EVER!”
Across all the available distractions, the part that shone strongest that night was the food we were fed. Despite being forced into the local, vegan framework of the Steinbeisser concept, a highly unusual way for these three chefs to cook, it was remarkable to see how wildly innovative and strikingly tasty the food was. It sure as hell wasn’t always easy to eat, but items such as the Tomato X.O., Celeriac Fake Pork Roast and Crispy al dente Beans “Kuru fasulye”-style were absolutely brilliant. Rachinger had said earlier, “no compromises today, no substitutes, just real cooking”. It was simple food, but on the phenomenal tableware it unfolded itself in a myriad of different layers. Layers were also the topic of Rachingers dessert strudel that he made using his left hand only – all in honor to his grandmother, whose recent broken arm had not prevented her from baking her sublime strudel a few weeks ago.
“The looks on people’s faces around me that evening made it clear they had boarded the train from comfort zone-town a long time ago, and were well aware there was no turning back.”
Later that night, I found myself at a Würstel-Imbiss sausage stand in the center of Vienna, eating an Eitrige Käsekrainer sausage with cheese, reflecting on what I just had experienced. For the final course, our Boy Band hosts had walked around the tables pouring Austrian schnaps into guests’ mouths with the help of medieval-looking metal mittens created by Eija Mustonen. We all walked home that night with schnaps all over our faces, but I don’t think anyone did mind. Easily one of the most entertaining meals I’ve had in years.
The Steinbeisser dinner keeps on travelling the world and info and tickets can be found on their website. All the tableware from the dinners can also be purchased at the Steinbeisser Jouw Store.