Amidst the South-Tyrolean mountains and landscapes near Val Sarentino a small, lonely, winding road brings you to Terra – The Magic Place. This restaurant and hotel – formerly known as Auenerhof – is part of Relais & Châteaux and is the perfect hideaway for bon vivants. For ‘Chef’s Secret’ – the collaboration between The Best Chef Awards and Hungry for More, we visited chef Heinrich Schneider and hostess Gisela Schneider to talk about their inspiration.
Terra – The Magic Place, Val Sarentino
Demure luxury, that’s how you could describe the experience at this place. The restaurant offers a pure and creative cuisine, focused on local produce. The hotel has a contemporary design, yet true to the authentic style of the region, offering the guests all the comfort and indulgence one can dream of.
In the mountains, nature spoils us year-round with magnificent views. In winter time the snowy mountain tops in South Tyrol are simply beautiful. But in spring as well, there are so many pretty little flowers and green plants and trees that are coming into bloom. At remote places, like Hotel & Restaurant Terra you’ll enjoy the beauty of nature more than anywhere else.
There are lots of hiking routes, created to discover the environment.
One route we can absolutely recommend is the one and a half hour trip to Stoanerne Mandln. It’s a mythical place, with a long history, even back into the Stone Age. As soon as the snow on the mountain top has melted, the fresh green grass is covered with flowers. Combined with the incredibly nice view, it’s a superb experience!
Road to culinary excellence
It was Johann Brugger, the grandfather of the current owners Heinrich and Gisela Schneider, who decided to start a business at this remote mountain top near Val Sarentino. Their parents as well where really into culinary pleasure, so the family visited gastronomic places on a regular basis. Back in 1998, when Henrich and Gisela, respectively 26 and 23 years old, returned back home after having studied and lived abroad, it was time to pass the torch to the new generation.
In the beginning, when the internet wasn’t that omnipresent yet, it was a tough job to make promotion for a place that was so far away from most popular tourist destinations. But Gisela and Heinrich managed to persevere, and they successfully repositioned Auenerhof as an outstanding fine dining restaurant. As a result, their efforts were rewarded with a first Michelin star in 2008. Gisela’s husband, Karl Manfredi, joined the team in 2010 and at that time they started with the complete renovation of the building. In 2014 they joined the Relais & Châteaux group and in 2017 they received a second Michelin star.
For them this was the perfect opportunity to change the former name of the restaurant Auenerhof to Terra, which represents nature and their unique vision: organic, cosmopolitan and creative.
Heinrich and Gisela Schneider
Gisela Schneider is a born hostess and sommelier at Terra. She really pampers the guests in her own, warm and discrete way. Gisela herself likes hiking and rock climbing in the area, so she can always inspire the guests with insider tips and tricks based on her own experience, so they can enjoy the environment to the fullest at this unique location.
Chef Heinrich Schneider is actually a self-taught man, as he already started working in the parents’ business at a young age. The fact that he hasn’t worked as an apprentice in the restaurants of famous chefs, did not hold him back from developing a cooking style that is both creative and technically advanced.
Inspired by nature and the area he stands for a tasteful and personal interpretation of a cuisine which appears a bit Scandinavian, yet focused on local and honest produce.
A chat with chef Heinrich Schneider
Curious as we are to discover the key drivers and inspiration of Heinrich Schneider, we take the time for a good conversation with this amazing chef, to create a new ‘Chef’s Secret’ story for our official partners of The Best Chef.
Hungry for More & The Best Chef: Terra is indeed a magical place. You couldn’t have chosen a better phrase to describe the concept. Can you tell us how it all started?
Heinrich Schneider: Well, this is the place where my sister Gisela and I grew up. Back in 1998 we took over the management from our parents. And from the beginning we wanted to express our proper philosophy, as a unique place like this needs and deserves its own special story. The concept represents our love for nature and the environment. I remember my mother wild foraging, working with herbs and making her own infusions, when I was just a kid. I found that really intriguing, even at such a young age. So that’s how I started developing a special interest in herbs and local produce. And today you can clearly see that influence in the cooking style at Terra.
HFM & TBC: So how would you describe your cooking style then?
Heinrich Schneider: First of all it’s vital that all the food you can taste at Terra represents our philosophy, whether it’s the easy dinner, the full experience or even the breakfast. That unique style has to be something guests won’t easily forget. I really strive to create memories that stick.
Therefore the ingredients we choose to use are very important. I try to work with local produce as much as possible. Mushrooms for example are used in many of the dishes we serve, as nature has many exceptional types of mushrooms to offer in this area. I love to go out and pick them myself in order to select the best and special ones. The herbs as well are fantastic here, so I go wild foraging whenever I can. In spring and summer time nature has an incredible variety of products to offer, so that’s a very nice time for chefs as well. But winter time has its charm as well, since you need to be extra creative as there are not that many vegetables and herbs available then. So in that season I use more dried herbs or herbal oils and powders to create interesting flavours.
HFM & TBC: Are there certain products or ingredients that you just love to use in the kitchen?
Heinrich Schneider: Actually I adore everything you can find in the wild nature, in particular herbs and mushrooms. Generally speaking, in my cuisine about 60% of a dish consists of vegetables, combined with fish or meat. When I choose to serve meat, it’s essential for me to use biological meat only. That meat is of superior quality, and good to use from an ethical perspective. I only use meat when I can be completely sure the animals have been treated in a decent way. For the supply of vegetables, wheat, etcetera, I have excellent collaborations with local farmers from the area.
HFM & TBC: Your cooking style is very creative? Where do you find your inspiration?
Heinrich Schneider: It is indeed important to be creative every single day, since that’s what the guests expect when they come to Terra. As we serve a menu of 12 courses, plus appetizers, I’m always looking for inspiration to be able to develop that many creations. I’m also convinced that every single dish should be a masterpiece in itself. Although the standards are high, that is in fact just what makes and keeps it exciting for me. By using local vegetables as the starting point of most creations, I deliberately limit the options and that makes me extra creative. But of course it’s not only about my own creativity. A good chefs knows how important valuable collaborations can be. Suppliers and farmers who can provide me with top quality products are also an important source of inspiration. They have a fresh and exciting perspective on certain ingredients, that can reveal so many new possibilities for fantastic combinations and creations.
However, it’s not only about the food. The plating, exclusive tableware and the atmosphere are just as important, so creativity can manifest itself. The full experience is what actually counts. We’ve made the choice to use unique plates at Terra, handcrafted by different artists. We got into the artists scene via one of our contacts in Bolzano, who introduced us to other artists as well. And today we have a really nice tableware collection in the restaurant. In the end, a creative dish can only be fully appreciated on a plate that is just as special and creative.
HFM & TBC: Are there certain people who stimulate your creativity?
Heinrich Schneider: Twice a year I take the time to travel, together with Gisela’s partner, in order to discover other cuisines, techniques and styles. I always try to study the new culinary trends in detail, so I can integrate them in my own style and philosophy when I believe it’s an added value. For example traveling to Tokyo, New York and the Nordics was quite inspiring. Many people say that my cuisine resembles the Scandinavian style. That might be true, as I ‘m using similar products such as wild herbs. But I started foraging and cooking with this natural herbs already 20 years ago, long before the Nordic Cuisine became famous.
HFM & TBC: Not so long ago, a second Michelin star was awarded to Terra. How does that feel? Did it change a lot?
Heinrich Schneider: It’s indeed just the second year that we have two Michelin stars, and we’re of course very happy that we got this distinction. It’s always great to get recognition, not only in culinary guides or award shows, but also in the positive feedback we get from our guests every single day. We have noticed that a second Michelin star drives professionalisation and the appeal to a new audience.
HFM & TBC: What are your short and long term plans and ambitions?
Heinrich Schneider: We stay really ambitious and motivated. We continuously strive for the best and try to improve ourselves day after day. So much the better if that would result in awards and official acknowledgements. Another big project we are working on is the opening of a brand new Terra restaurant in Shanghai in a couple of months. It will have the signature style of Terra, but of course by using local products and herbs as the centre of flavourful, pure and creative dishes. Just like here, it will be a rather small restaurant with only 25 to 30 seats. Nevertheless, the next months and years we keep our focus on spoiling our guests in Val Sarentino with a top-notch fine dining experience.
HFM & TBC: Thank you so much, Heinrich. We’re extremely curious to experience Terra to the fullest now. Good luck with all your plans.
Welcome at Terra Restaurant
Besides the nice hotel features and the incredibly beautiful surroundings, Terra is of course well known for the gastronomic pleasures it has to offer. However it’s not only about fine dining, it’s about the full experience.
The interior with natural wood, soft colours and fabrics, creates a unique atmosphere. It’s the perfect context to enjoy the food even more.
The icing on the cake is without doubt the magnificent view on the mountains that accompanies you all night long at dinner.
Each dish in itself is a tribute to nature, by working with local elements in an exciting and surprising way. Most guests choose to stay a night or two at Terra, so they can enjoy the pleasant five course dinner the first night and the full experience of more than 12 dishes the next day. That’s also what we’d recommend when booking your stay at Terra.
They wine list is very interesting as well, making a combination of wines from the region, classics and some exciting newcomers. It’s also a good idea to enjoy the recommendations of hostess and sommelier Gisela Schneider, who develops a nice wine pairing for every menu.
Terra Experience Menu
We’re lucky enough to taste the spring menu at Terra and we’re more than happy to share our experience which consisted of many courses and just as many pleasures.
Hibiscus praline with peppermint. Firm and crispy outside, liquid inside.
White cracker with cornflowers, flower petals and arctic char caviar
Black ash taco with aztec sweet herb
Blueberries-sphere with horseradish and smoked whitefish caviar
Cauliflower pillow with pine
Raspberry leaf with fresh flavours
Strawberry and tomato gazpacho with purpurascens basil, Imperial caviar, verbena and buttermilk cracker
“Fish & meat”: marinated arctic char with apple, organic chicken cream, red sago, pine oil powder
Organic chicken, bronze fennel, woodsorrel and hazelnut cream
“Gaider” cheese gnocchi with hawkwing mushroom foam. Don’t cut in the gnocchi as they are liquid inside. 🙂
Homemade sourdough rye bread with sour cream butter and pine oil, plus steamed bread with ramson and malt beer
“The sun of Marygold”: raviolo with caramelized yeast foam, smoked celery root, elder flowers and marygold
Trout with seabuckthorn from Pusteria valley and woodsorrel
The terra tea of organic beef with rowan berry, cranberries, dried black trumpet and boletus mus mushrooms
Glazed roe deer with thousands flowers: lavender, thyme, verbena celery root, fermented garlic, woodruff and dried berries
Rye foam with wheat grass and parsley root cornet
Ground ivy-charcoal cream, raspberries granita, woodsorrel, birch sugar and goat yogurt foam
Tea ceremony: tea of fresh herbs, raspberry ice cream praline, potato chip with white chocolate, seabuckthorn ice cream praline and verbena marshmallow
Sweet dreams at Terra
Considering the remote location of Terra, at the top of the hill, it’s a great idea to spend the night there after having enjoyed such an extensive and superb dinner. So how fantastic that Terra also offers comfortable guest rooms with a dash of natural luxury.
With only ten rooms, you can count on a personal approach. Every room is unique and nicely, modestly decorated, so you immediately feel at home.
The royal breakfast as well totally matches their philosophy: local, creative and flavourful.
Besides nice rooms, an amazing location and a fantastic restaurant, there’s also a lovely wellness area at Terra. Nothing artificial about it, as it’s located in a light and calm space at the top floor of the building. Honestly, what’s better than enjoying the stunning view on the mountains, while your body feels completely relaxed thanks to one of the spa treatments, a sessions in the sauna or a moment of relaxation in the jacuzzi.
Terra is indeed an incredibly magical place for bon vivants and foodies. Chef Heinrich Schneider spoils your taste buds with a high-end gastronomy. His creative, pure cuisine, based on the beauty of nature and local produce is just amazing. Hostess and sommelier Gisela Schneider makes sure every guest gets a warm welcome and top-notch personal service. Terra is the perfect place to enjoy the full experience in South Tyrol: fantastic nature, gastronomy and hotel service. A must visit place in the area!