North Branch resident recalls a lifetime in the world of cooking
Taking a bite of Klaus Mitterhauser’s Viennese black currant schaum torte is an adventure for the palate.
First, there’s a sweet layer of meringue topping, followed by a tart middle of black currants, with a finishing layer of dense cookie dough crust.
The flavors intermingle in perfect harmony, creating a dessert that’s a memorable culinary experience.
This is just one of the many dishes Mitterhauser, a North Branch resident, has prepared over the course of his 80-year life.
When Mitterhauser entered high school in Austria at the age of 16, he found he didn’t have much of a taste for the curriculum or his instructors.
“My parents just said, ‘Why don’t you get out of high school and find a practical profession, like cooking?”’ he said.
Mitterhauser had taken a liking to the kitchen during his youth, mainly due to the influence of his mother.
“I helped my mother at home; she had to cook for five children, sometimes with just a few ingredients,” he said. “I was fascinated about how inventive she was.”
So Mitterhauser began his culinary schooling in Vienna. From there, he lived and worked in Switzerland, France, Sweden, on ocean liners and then he moved away from Europe, settling in Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as a chef at the Canadian Embassy for about six years starting in 1956.
Mitterhauser said he didn’t get rich working in Brazil, noting that he and his coworkers occasionally had enough spare cash to go see a movie, but he thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the culture, food and language.
Throughout the course of his travels and studies, Mitterhauser has picked up four languages in addition to his native German: Swedish, English, Portuguese and French.
In 1972, Mitterhauser put his name on the map by winning a gold metal at the International Exhibition of Culinary Art, commonly known as the Culinary Olympics.
The quadrennial event, which takes place in Germany, is the biggest culinary competition in the world.
The event started in 1900 and was conceived by a group of German chefs to promote German cuisine to the world while also offering exposure to other cooking cultures.
In 2012, more than 1,500 chefs representing 54 countries participated in the team and individual competitions at the Culinary Olympics, according to the American Culinary Federation website.
The Mitterhauser restaurants
Mitterhauser came to Minnesota after receiving a job tip from a friend who worked at General Mills.
“He said they needed a researcher for a new division,” he said. “I came out here for an interview. I was like, ‘That sounds interesting, something new.’ That’s how I came to Minneapolis.”
He worked at General Mills for a time, but he wanted to get back to his cooking roots, so he opened his own restaurant.
“Mitterhauser La Cuisine” became a hit in the Twin Cities upon opening near Nicollet Mall in 1978, and eventually Mitterhauser opened three other locations in the metro.
In 1998, after 20 years in the restaurant business, Mitterhauser sold his eateries. A year later, he bought a home in North Branch.
A way with words
In addition to his culinary exploits, Mitterhauser is also an accomplished author.
While working at the Canadian Embassy in Brazil in the late 1950s, Mitterhauser began writing short stories, which were printed by an array of newspapers in Europe.
The first story I wrote was called, “The window to the forest,” he said. “I have some kind of a gift of observation — observe it as it is without doing a lot of mythology about it.”
With the help of his mother, the story was published in Vienna.
“In the period of six years, I had 23 different short stories; they were published in Vienna, Frankfurt, Germany and Switzerland.”
Later, while working as a professor of culinary arts in New Haven, Conn., Mitterhauser had his first book published in 1975: “The Professional Chef’s Book of Buffets.”
In 2005, Mitterhauser’s second book, “Culinary Escapades from Around the World,” was published.
Nowadays, Mitterhauser focuses his time on getting the word out about the benefits of healthy eating by his involvement with the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research and activism.
Through the foundation, Mitterhauser has established a number of local connections, including where he procures his black currants — Albert Tanko’s home between North
Branch and Isanti.
The two met last year, and Mitterhauser was enamored with Tanko’s expansive rock garden where he grows the currants — a popular berry in Europe that is relatively rare in the United States.
Tanko estimated he has over 20 black currant bushes and around 1,000 total food-producing plants in his garden.
This year’s crop of black currants yielded an extra 200 pounds, which Tanko sold to North Folk winery in Stark.
Mitterhauser noted he’s also made connections with farmers who offer a plethora of healthy, organic goods, and those interested in buying organic foods can go online and find local chapters of the Weston A. Price Foundation.