© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mozart's Hidden Kitchen

Austrian TV host Barbara von Melle (left) and Berkeley culinary activist Alice Waters welcome farmers, restaurateurs and food journalists.
Austrian TV host Barbara von Melle (left) and Berkeley culinary activist Alice Waters welcome farmers, restaurateurs and food journalists.

Imagine a Mozart Festival without a note of Mozart. Instead, more than 60 artists from around the world were invited to Vienna by director Peter Sellars and asked to pick up where the musical and social visionary left off, to create new works of art.

The festival — called "New Crowned Hope," in honor of the free-thinking Masonic Lodge in Vienna of which Mozart was a member — was a month-long, one-of-a-kind, genre-spanning event linking agriculture and culture, with food at its heart. It featured a Maori dance troupe; a Venezuelan street chorus singing a new opera by John Adams; new films from Chad, Iran and Paraguay; Mark Morris' dance company; Chez Panisse founder and culinary activist Alice Waters; lunch ladies from across Europe; and farmers, chefs and seed-savers from throughout Austria.

On the eve of Mozart's 251st birthday, The Kitchen Sisters take us to Vienna, to "Mozart's Hidden Kitchen and the Tables of New Crowned Hope."

Mozart schnitzel, Mozart sausage, Mozart chocolate, Mozart balls. Mozart Cake, Amadeus Cake, Wolfgang Cake. In Vienna and around the world, the name Mozart says "quality." And it's in the public domain. Some 300 products in Austria bear the name.

In celebration of his 250th birthday, Austria went Mozart-crazy, with a year of festivities in his honor. When theater impresario Peter Sellars was invited to create part of the festival, he agreed, on one condition: that there would be not one note of Mozart. Instead, Sellars wanted to move forward by commissioning new works in the spirit of Mozart to honor the composer's free-thinking philosophy, his innovation and his radical music.

The Tables: Feeding a Sustainable Future

The Tables of New Crowned Hope was produced as a collaboration between Alice Waters and her team from Chez Panisse; her colleague in Vienna, Barbara von Melle, an Austrian TV host, food journalist and home cook; and The New Crowned Hope Festival. There were three aspects, or "performances."

The first "table" focused on school lunches in Austria. At an agricultural high school on the edge of Vienna, about 150 people from all over Austria and Europe gathered to grapple with the issues of feeding children healthy food, creating networks between organic farmers and school cafeterias, and weaving food into the curriculum. The schools of Vienna already require that 30 percent of food served in their cafeterias be organic. And there are 600 hectares of organic planting within the city limits, making it a leader in the production of organic food in Europe. This table's focus was to take what the city has already accomplished to the next step and develop best practices. The chefs of Chez Panisse, in collaboration with Austrian cooks, made a family-style school lunch for the day-long event that included local apple juice, mountain cheese, new crop walnuts, a fresh soup, chicory salad and ham, with a creamy yogurt berry desert. In attendance were those involved with school lunch and progressive programs in schools related to gardening, farming and cooking, along with lunch ladies from throughout Europe, and speakers from the Yale Sustainable Agricultural Project.

The Game Kitchen

The second table brought about 40 of the best farmers and chefs in the country together in an 18th-century game kitchen, in an old castle about an hour outside of Vienna. They gathered to explore the possibilities of creating an organic farmers market in the heart of the city, hoping to bring Austria's beautiful and varied produce into restaurant kitchens and onto local and seasonal menus. Organic food is everywhere in stores in Vienna, but not very prevalent in restaurants. Many months earlier, Alice Waters had commissioned Arche Noah, one of the largest heritage seed banks in Europe, to grow traditional Austrian fruits and vegetables for the meals being served at each of the three tables.

The game kitchen sits as a kind of museum. But that night, it was brought back to life. There is no electricity, no gas — only candles and candelabras. All the cooking was done over an open fire. Huge fireplaces line the room for spit-roasting whole animals after the hunt. The room smelled of smoke and quince, roasting ducks, apple galette. Waters and her team of chefs from Chez Panisse and their Austrian colleagues cooked for the farmers and chefs. It was an homage, a demonstration of the possibilities of merging the local ingredients into remarkable dishes, and a way to bring them together to further develop the connections and economies between them. "We call it the delicious revolution," Waters says.

The Future of Food Dinner

The third table, the Future of Food Dinner, focused on the politics of art and food. About 300 people gathered that night in the emperor's old stables in the Museum Quartier in the heart of Vienna. Artists, politicians, farmers, chefs, home cooks and environmentalists tasted the local and sustainable farm products — heritage pigs, cheese, alpine salmon, carrots in kaleidoscopic colors — and met the people who grow and produce them. The event was a collaboration between Alice Waters, designer Christina Kim, and renowned Mexican artist and activist Francisco Toledo and his Taller Arte Papel Oaxacan Paper factory.

Road Notes: A Vienna Hidden Kitchen

It was Thanksgiving night, and all the Americans who were in Vienna working on the festival were talking about a traditional dinner. Alice Waters, in town to create "The Tables of New Crowned Hope," was hell bent on turkey. Irene Weinfurter, one of Waters' Austrian collaborators, is an itinerate cook who quit her job as a secretary a few years ago to become "a driving chef." Hers is a one-woman show, with a bus fully outfitted with a kitchen and beautiful dishware that she can drive anywhere in Europe, cooking for any event. Weinfurter told Waters about Felix Muhrhofer, who builds and designs kitchens and started the Kochklub Kuhn, perhaps the first cooking club of Vienna. It's a stylish and funky community kitchen on the edge of the Naschmarkt, where members come and cook together, creating eccentric events centered around food.

Neither Muhrhofer nor Weinfurter had ever heard of Thanksgiving. They'd never stuffed a turkey or baked a pumpkin pie. They didn't know what cranberry sauce was. But, that didn't stop them. Felix even baked the symbol of the Festival of New Crowned Hope into the pie crust.

They spent days researching the meal, its meaning and traditions, more so than any American I've known. When they couldn't find an ingredient, they vamped. Word got out among the artists from other countries. That night, some 30 of us gathered in candlelight around Felix's handmade, original terrazzo tables for one the most remarkable of dinners. Among those present: Kaija Saariaho, the Finnish composer, and her team, who were there to present "La Passione de Simone;" Lynette Wallworth, the extraordinary installation artist from Australia; lighting designers, costume makers and opera singers; Peter Sellars and his mother, Patricia; Alice Waters and her raucous team of collaborators; the Jewish half of The Kitchen Sisters; and a dozen others. We were served a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal with a Viennese twist that nobody will forget. -- Davia Nelson, The Kitchen Sisters


Special thanks to Alice Waters, Peter Sellars, Heidi Lee, Christina Kim, Malgosia Szemberg, Sylvan Brackett, Mark Kidel. In Austria: Barbara van Melle, Irene Weinfurter & Book a Cook, Felix Muhrhofer & Kochklub Kuhn, Peter Zipser & Arche Noah, Hans Akal, Jim Ingalls, Marianna Kohn, Peter & Lila Morgan, Lynette Wallworth, and the Staff of The Festival of New Crowned Hope: Peter Walz, Andrea Brglez, Maria Awecker. The Lunch Ladies: Jeanette Orrey & Dr. Roberta Sonnino. The Cooks: David Tanis, Jennifer Sherman, Russell Moore, David Lindsey, & Claire Ptak. The Images: Bob Carrau, David Williamson, Patricia Curtan, Claire Ptak, & Heidi Lee. The Music: John Adams, David Williamson, Frances Nelson, Sarah Folger & Harmonia Mundi, and Wieslaw Pogorzelski. The Interns: Allison Budner and Eloise Melzer.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

United States & World Morning Edition
The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) are producers of the duPont-Columbia Award-winning, NPR series, Hidden Kitchens, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project. Hidden Kitchens, heard on Morning Edition, explores the world of secret, unexpected, below-the-radar cooking across America—how communities come together through food. The series inspired Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR's The Kitchen Sisters, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year that was also nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food. The Hidden Kitchens audio book, narrated by Academy Award winner, Frances McDormand, received a 2006 Audie Award.