Chef Kurt's passion for food has been a constant throughout his life. While growing up with garden-fresh cooking in a small village on the Danube River, he decided, at age 15, that he wanted to become a chef. He promptly enrolled in a professional hotel and restaurant school and obtained a degree in culinary arts two years later. At the age of 16, he apprenticed at the Relais et Chateau Richard Löwenherz in the Wachau region, where he developed an appreciation for the wine of that region. These wines are still featured in his restaurants today. Kurt then journeyed to Switzerland to work at Crans Montan in the Wallis Valley before heading to Vienna to work with Chef Werner Matt at the Rotisserie Prinz Eugen. Under Chef Matt, who is frequently credited with developing modern Austrian cuisine, he helped earn the restaurant its first Michelin star.
How did you get into the culinary industry?
I started learning about food and the culinary industry around the age of 15. I began at a hotel via restaurant school, followed by an apprenticeship and kept on learning and working in leading restaurants in Europe. And then, I ventured to the my home for the past two decades, the United States.
Tell us about KG-NY Restaurant Group. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
KG-NY Restaurant group is the leading Austrian-German restaurant group in New York. The idea came about because I felt there was a need and a desire for Austrian –German culture. In New York, I wanted to extend my restaurants is to be on the forefront of Austrian-German cuisines, wine and culture and art.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to KG-NY Group's success?
All four restaurants play a major role in Austrian cuisine. Working together with Austrian wine makers, introducing new grape varietals to the US. I introduced Viennese kaffehouse to the Manhattanite culture. My personal connection to food and art has always worked very well for my restaurants.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
I am happy to see that food is getting more affordable for the younger generation. I like how we are focusing on a simplistic approach. Vinegars and oils are what we are using a lot right now and I would like to see this trend more in the future. I also like how we are going into a more casual and simple approach in restaurant culture. This is one of the reasons we chose to open Upholstery Store: Food and Wine. It’s an exciting time in the culinary world and we’re excited to be a part of it.
Keep on doing what you like the best.
KG-NY Group's Motto?
Celebration of Austrian Food and Wine
Your greatest success as Proprietor/President of KG-NY Group? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
I am very proud to have held a Michelin Star at Wallse for 10 years. I am proud that I manage to find a balance between my restaurants and raising my 4 kids. My most difficult moment was when 9/11 happened. Wallse had been opened for one year and I was one month away from opening Café Sabarsky. Wallse was only closed for one day. We felt it was important to stay open for the staff and the people in the neighborhood. To provide a place to be together. During these difficult circumstances, having a restaurant opening so soon tested me and forced me to be positive.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur/restauranteur?
Find a great idea. Believe in it. Stick with it.
Describe the ideal experience at a KG-NY restaurant.
I always feel like my restaurants are my home. Levels of Idealism are very different between different people, so it can change between everyone. It is in the nature of business to treat people to in my restaurant the same way guests are at my house. The only deference is money is involved.
How important are architecture/design to the success of your restaurants?
I am a very detailed orientated person. All my restaurants have a strong connection to art and architecture. I never do anything because I feel there is a trend. I need to believe in it and I need to understand why. There always has to be a why. I like architecture from the turn of the last century, from Vienna. In Vienna we call it “Gesamt Kunst Werk” It means all elements architecture design, art all come together to be one.
How do you motivate your employees?
I believe a please and thank you goes a long way. I inspire them by introducing new ingredients, making beautiful food and showing great service.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
I think about this question that same way I think about my children, I love them all.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Stephan Rechtschaffen: Du hast mehr Zeit, als du denkst
Role model - business and personal?
Tantris restaurant in Munich, and Eicmbauer family because they’ve manage to be on top of the culinary scene since 1972. They gave the platform to the best Chefs in Germany and Austria to express themselves. Personally, My Dad.
Kundalini Yoga and FaceTiming my girlfriend Angelika
Favorite travel destination?
Lately it is Vienna because this is where I found the love of my life.
What's next for KG-NY Group?
We just opened Upholstery Store: Food and Wine and we’re enjoying welcoming new customers and friends to the space. I have no new projects in the works right now, but I would love to have a place on the beach.
Kurt moved on to Tantris, a Michelin three-star restaurant that is considered Munich’s finest. He later was recruited to work at the renowned restaurant Windows of the World’s Cellar in the Sky. He worked there for one year before joining David Bouley as part of the talented team that helped the restaurant upgrade their New York Times review from two to four stars. Kurt’s next position was in Germany as chef de cuisine at Bistro Terrine, a true French bistro that had been dismantled and reassembled in Munich by Tantris owner Fritz Eichbauer. After three years at Bistro Terrine, Kurt found himself eager to expand his knowledge of exotic cuisine. He began working at Munich’s Mangostin, a contemporary Asian- influenced restaurant, where he supervised a staff of 25 Thai and Vietnamese cooks -- experts in the indigenous ingredients and techniques of Eastern cuisine. After six years in Germany, he returned to New York to become culinary director of David Bouley’s expanding enterprise. He was eventually named executive chef at Monkey Bar, where he became known for his inspired seafood dishes.
By venturing out on his own, Kurt was able to take all of his experiences and fuse them with his passion for Austrian food -- developing creative, yet authentic menus that showcase quality ingredients with an artistic flair. Kurt’s ideals have secured him a unique spot in New York’s culinary world where he is able to harmonize his two great loves, food and art, and for this he is forever grateful.
KG & Art
Chef Kurt has earned abundant praise for his modern interpretation of Austrian cuisine and his seamless integration of food and art.
Wallsé, Kurt's first restaurant in New York, mixes an early 20th century Austrian minimalist aesthetic with works by contemporary international artists, such as Julian Schnabel and Albert Oehlen. Gutenbrunner's innovative menu, which showcases modern takes on traditional Viennese cuisine, has earned a two-star rating from the New York Times and a coveted Michelin star rating.
In 2001, Kurt was approached by Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Galerie New York, and Renée Price, director of the museum, to develop Cafe Sabarsky, the traditional Viennese cafe housed in New York’s Upper East Side. While Gutenbrunner 's culinary expertise compliments the museum's collection, his passion for art strongly influenced the museum to make him an integral part of the institution. Cafe Sabarsky's décor is adorned with lighting fixtures and furniture by Austrian architects Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos and upholstered chairs with fabric designed by Otto Wagner.
Blaue Gans, Kurt's Tribeca location, pays homage to the traditional wholesome “wirtshaus” he enjoyed visiting during his childhood in Austria. Chef Gutenbrunner wanted a relaxed place where people could “just sit with friends and have a bite to eat and a glass of wine”. With Blaue Gans, Kurt has managed to fulfill this desire and create a local neighborhood favorite, where families come together in a casual atmosphere for spectacular cuisine. In contrast to the paintings and more formal artwork of Wallsé and Cafe Sabarsky, the museum and gallery posters adorning every inch of the restaurant's walls reflect the casual, relaxed atmosphere of Blaue Gans.