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.