The way to the top is underground.

Anyone who wants to eat at Austria's freshly named “Chef of the Year 2022”, an award from “Gault Millau”, has to go down a few stairs from the reception of the “Rote Wand” hotel and follow a hallway lined with red carpeting.

Up some wooden steps again, then the guests of the “Rote Wand Chef's Table” have reached their first stop.

Here, on the ground floor of an alpine wooden house, built in 1780, the dairy and school of the village of Zug, which belongs to Lech am Arlberg, were once housed.

In the 21st century, international guests lean on colorful pillows, have champagne poured, chat in French, German, Dutch, Italian and try to catch a glimpse of what is going on at a kitchen counter. From there, the first tiny gems from Max Natmessnig will come straight away: a small piece of mountain trout tartare on horseradish meringue, which combines the melt of first-class raw fish with delicately hot and sweet notes. A miniature celery taco with painted eel and wheat seedlings, a choux pastry donut with poultry liver cream and red currants - or rather “currants”, as Natmessnig, a native of Lower Austria, says. Small bites of enormous precision and taste density that promise great things.

During the aperitif, the menu is explained in a form that the young chef, he openly admits, copied from the “Frantzén” restaurant in Stockholm years ago: a tray with the most important ingredients is placed in front of the guests Stool placed.

On top of it lie a char, the shell of a king crab, a duck, trout caviar from the Lech fish farm, which is within sight of the “Rote Wand” hotel, and a few other things.

On a shelf, a cook presents two large preserving jars, one with a sparkling yellow and the other in a matt light brown: sunflower leaf kimchi and sunflower seed miso.

For the domestic scene, he came out of nowhere

This round of ingredients is intended to show the guests where they are going this evening - and it gives an idea of ​​where Max Natmessnig, just over thirty years old, was already going. He took a lot with him from Japan. Cooking utensils such as the compact Konro table grill, which brings about astonishingly high temperatures, techniques such as dry-aging fish (a special type of dry aging) and a perfectionism in terms of the ingredients for his menus and their cooking points.

You don't often find a résumé with such top-class positions in Austria's gastronomy.

For the local scene, Natmessnig came almost out of nowhere - if you want to call a three-star restaurant in New York nothing.

From the “Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare” there, the well-traveled “Rote Wand” hotelier Josef Walch, whom everyone calls Joschi, lured the young man to the Arlberg in 2017, together with his current wife, Bekah Roberts-Natmessnig, who also is top-class gastronomy.