January 29, 2019

Mr. Floh: Rocking one hat and three toques

Mixing up down-home cooking and nouvelle cuisine: Josef Floh is famous for blazing trails at Gastwirtschaft Floh in Langenlebarn. At the same time, his restaurant also remains a popular destination for traditional Lower Austrian fare. Could it be this contrast that draws such a crowd?

Hiding in plain sight on downtown Langenlebarn’s High Street is one of Tullnerfeld County’s most renowned traditional Lower Austrian restaurants. A real village pub complete with animated card games and rousing local music. But it’s also been a proud recipient of two Gault&Milau toques for many years. A wine cellar serving two-Euro glasses alongside 5,000-Euro bottles. A kitchen built almost exclusively on regional products, yet flexible enough to react to diners’ every desire. Bringing these extremes under one roof has been restauranteur Josef Floh’s specialty for almost 25 years now, one which he has performed with spectacular success.

“I’ve always made it my priority to carefully select my suppliers, because it’s the quality of your raw ingredients that really drives inspiration in the kitchen.”

“I’m a real local – I grew up and went to school here in Langenlebarn, so I still know everyone."

His signature hat

Floh prefers to keep his hat on at all times, even in the kitchen. A stylish fedora in the style of Humphrey Bogart or Al Capone, only Floh’s signature hat is made of straw. Initially employed to shield his face from the sun, the hat then made an appearance on early photos. Soon thereafter, diners seeing him in the kitchen wearing a chef’s hat started joking about his famous straw Fedora, which has since become Floh’s trademark. “It’s comfortable and it seems to look good on me”, remarks Floh (who by the way is called Josef Floh by exactly no-one. Even his wife Elisabeth says “Floh”. Another trademark of sorts.) There is, however, a further reason why his simple, yet elegant hat has to be of the straw variety – it shows his connection to the farming community – an Austrian trucker cap, if you will.

"Radius 66’s central location allows us to cover much of Lower Austria”

A highly popular and richly accoladed restaurant

Floh’s high media profile (always sporting a hat!) is down to several reasons. First, there’s the ‘Floh Wine Oscars’ where guests vote on the best winemakers. Then there’s the ‘Wine Cup’ at which Floh stages a ‘winetastic’ competition among regional wineries at his restaurant. And finally there’s his awards: ‘Top Restauranteur of the Year’ from the Lower Austrian Wirtshauskultur Restaurant Association (2005) and ‘Restauranteur of the Year’ (2014 Wirtshausführer and 2016 Falstaff Guide). Not to mention ‘Wine List of the Year’ (2010 Falstaff Gourmet Club and 2015 Gault&Milau Wine Guide). But in addition to this range of unconventional events and prestigious accolades, his admirable stance towards using regional resources constantly garners him praise.

Putting suppliers on the menu and in the spotlight

Cultivating relationships with his producers and paying special attention to sustainable means of production out of respect for nature are two principles close to Floh’s heart. In fact, he’s been listing his producers on the menu for over 20 years. “Today it’s practically the norm”, explains Floh, “but back then it was seen as a little ridiculous, a bit bizarre.” When he took the reins of the traditional Austrian restaurant from his parents in 1994, he had a mere ten suppliers, while today they’ve grown to more than seventy. “It was my priority to carefully select my suppliers, because it’s the quality of your raw ingredients that really drives inspiration in the kitchen. I was resolute: we kept beef off the menu for months while I looked for a supplier who understood my requirements.“

Radius 66

While eventually the right suppliers emerged, this collaboration with farmers increasingly impacted Floh on a personal level. “You start gaining a deeper respect for nature. Now this might sound strange, but you can actually have a sort of respect for a vegetable, which in turn leads to a sense of obligation to make something delicious from it.” In 2009, Floh gave his regional concept a name: Radius 66. It stipulates that all the ingredients used – or at least over 90 percent of them – are grown, raised, or produced within a 66-kilometre radius of Langenlebarn. “At first I wanted to call it Radius 33. But after knocking on the doors of almost every farm in the area, we realised that this may have been a bit too ambitious. Radius 66’s central location allows us to cover much of Lower Austria.”

A down-to-earth restaurant

Apart from his appreciation for regional products, there’s something else about his restaurant Floh takes pride in: “I’m a real local – I grew up and went to school here in Langenlebarn, so I still know everyone," he says. “In spite of our culinary experiments, we remain true to our roots. For the locals, we’re still a real Wirtshaus (a traditional Austrian restaurant) where you can get hearty dishes like sausage and goulash. We’re part of town life in Langenlebarn, which is a real honour. That’s why it makes me feel especially happy when people from Langenlebarn are proud of what we’ve built up here!”

Floh exudes a kind of culinary delight while taking a conscious, sustainable approach to regional products. From simple daily specials to multi-course Floh feasts – Gastwirtschaft Floh has a wide selection of unique culinary dishes. Its huge range of juices is only surpassed by the most unconventional premier wine list in Austria.

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Translated by: Theodore Snydal Photos: Jürgen Skarwan and Markus Haralter