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A retreat for the palate

A retreat for the palate

A retreat for the palate

Eating and drinking at a monastery? Don’t worry, there’s more than wine and bread on the menu. Instead, Herbert Hatheier, chef at the "Im Kloster Bezau” seminar and guest house cultivates great tasting cuisine, which reflects his life experience.

The ancient building’s original occupants were the Capuchins. For 300 years they lived here until, in 1975, the last priest left and the house was rebuilt. Today, only three monks, now Franciscans, pray and work on the south side of the building. The rest of the property is dedicated to seminar, overnight and restaurant guests. Those entering the hotel in the centre of Bezau for the first time, and who stand directly in the large hall, will find it difficult to stifle an exclamation of astonishment. “A lot of people feel that way,” host Simone Hatheier confirms with a grin, “we’re a small hotel with a lot of space.” Guests appreciate the openness as well as the expertise and friendliness of the hostess and the cooking skills of her husband.

“We are very close to our guests,” explains Herbert Hatheier. “At most places, the chefs hide in the kitchen and maybe peek out once. It’s different here with us: many regulars even hug me in greeting. Special requests, i.e. children’s meals or special dietary needs are no problem whatsoever and can be discussed with me directly.” His kitchen credo is fresh, regional dishes with no frills. In fact, he prefers three or four solid ingredients to twenty, and purchases a lot from the butcher across the street. Nevertheless, he’s keen to preserve his “artistic freedom and not to get hemmed in.” Therefore, he also uses products from elsewhere for his dishes as well. This is in line with the couple’s international career. Simone worked in Monte Carlo, among other places, Herbert in Mallorca.

Born in Upper Austria, he moved to the Bregenzerwald 23 years ago. His first stop was the Post hotel, which is located just 200 meters from the monastery and features Gault-&-Millau-level cuisine. In addition to the restaurant at the monastery seminar hotel, he also opened the “Kreszentia” à la carte restaurant in May 2020. There were two main reasons for this: another business foothold during the coronavirus crisis and an alternative offer for guests in Bezau when other restaurants in the village are on holiday or have a day off. Whether or not the “Kreszentia” is open depends on how busy the monastery is with seminar or overnight guests. Reservations are recommended in any case.

Herbert takes great pleasure in “pimping up” classic dishes, as he calls it, and presenting them in unusual ways. For example, he piles meat and side dishes on top of each other when roasting onions instead of arranging them neatly next to each other. Apple strudel, for instance, is served in a glass. The menu is eye-catching, so too is the verbiage of its formulation. English speaking guests will have to ask for an explanation, but will likely be pleased with the creative, tasty dishes once they’ve figured everything out. “This often leads to laughter – and direct contact with guests,” says hostess Simone.

The big plus of a three-person operation is the informal atmosphere. Those who stay here overnight can help themselves at the counter when the Hatheier family are no longer in the house, and enter on a list what has been consumed. This trust also contributes to a good atmosphere. “Unceremonious” also describes the manner in which the business was taken over. Simone’s father Norbert Schneider was the original manager of the seminar and inn. “Originally I didn’t want to have anything to do with the project,” she admits, but decided to take the plunge after all. Today, she works as an enthusiastic hostess here.

Author: Thorsten Bayer
Issue: Winter 2021-22 Travel Magazine