Running late for my lunch appointment with author, host, and notorious Vienna vegetarian chef Eschi Fiege, I rushed through the Naschmarkt, one of Vienna’s largest public markets. Passing under the overlapping awnings, the sky opened up, drenching the path that runs between the market stalls and lifting the fresh scent of the market’s exotic foods into the air. It’s getting close to lunchtime and the all this fresh food is making me hungry. A quick dash across the street and I am at Eschi’s building.
The first thing you should know about Eschi Fiege is that Lunch is sacred. It’s her favorite meal of the day. She firmly believes that in our busy lives, it is critical to take an hour out of the day and enjoy a meal, preferably with friends. As Eschi says, “It gets your mind off whatever it is you normally think about, recharges the spirit and refreshes the mind”. She calls it her “secret for success”, and it has served her well. Eschi says “for years I observed people rushing around at lunch, food in hand, rarely taking time to sit down, and vowed to never fall into that trap”. According to Eschi, “setting that one hour a day aside is a key to a more productive day”.
A few years ago, she decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”. This is a German word that generally means lunch, but refers more specifically to a kind of fixed menu lunch for a group or workers. Twice a week Eschi Fiege opens her home to a small group of friends and friends of friends for lunch. Guests experience a relaxing hour with great seasonal, locally sourced, vegetarian dishes, and good conversation with friends and new acquaintances. And Eschi gets an enthusiastic and vocal audience to test out her new dishes.
The food industry wasn’t Eschi’s first choice as a career. At the age of 23 the world of advertising caught her eye and she became a creative director. Following that she moved into copy writing and directing for TV commercials. All this time cooking and entertaining was just a hobby. In retrospect though, her work experience and talents serendipitously led to her current project, combining a passion for food with media savvy to bring her message to a wider audience.
Eschi’s apartment is packed with character and imbued with the continuity that only comes with a long family history. It’s where she, her mother and her grandmother lived so Eschi has been cooking here ever since she started licking the spoons. In fact, young Eschi took an early interest in cooking, experimenting with her own recipes soon after starting to cook with her mother.
The apartment feels more like a farmhouse than an urban apartment. Two resident cats, vintage furniture, well-worn, creaking floors and a balcony overflowing with plants, combine to give an impression of casual country living. A great place to put out some tables and invite some friends over for a relaxing mid-day break.
From the balcony the fresh food markets can be surveyed several floors below extending through Vienna’s “Rechte Wienzeile” district. Many of the vendors have become Eschi’s trusted allies in her endeavor to create relaxed, seasonal cuisine for her favorite meal of the day.
A few years ago, Eschi Fiege decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”… Twice a week Eschi opens her home to a small group … for a Vienna vegetarian lunch.
Eschi’s recipes draw influence from regional foods: part Austrian, part Italian, part French with a hint of the Middle East. The food is uncomplicated at first glance. On tasting though, the flavors and combinations are surprising and the dishes an absolute delight.
It’s been a few years now and Eschi has collected a loyal following. One unexpected result from this was a steady stream of requests for recipes. Once again luck was with Eschi when a Viennese publishing house offered her a book deal. The new book is titled, naturally, “Mittagstisch”. So now we can all benefit from Eschi’s years of kitchen experiments. It’s in German, but I am hoping for an English version soon.
Well, I have exceeded my hour-long lunch with Eschi and have to move on with the afternoon’s activities. But I am definitely refreshed by my Vienna vegetarian Mittagstisch and ready for whatever is in store.
The tag line for Eschi’s book is “Sie kocht als wuerde sie uns lieben”. A rough translation of that is, “She cooks with love”. That’s a good place to end.
If you’re in Vienna you can experience Mittagstisch for yourself. For times, gatherings and information, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to mention that you are a friend of the Bearleader.