Heinrich Schneider

Heinrich Schneider

Heinrich Schneider

By taking inspiration and ingredients from the countryside of South Tyrol, Heinrich Schneider has become a true champion of the region's incredibly unique cuisine. His Michelin-starred restaurant Terra features around fifty different mountain herbs on its menu.

Heinrich Schneider’s cooking is many things, but one thing it isn’t is traditional. He aims to give the diners at his restaurant something entirely new that they won’t have experienced before, by combining modern cooking techniques with rare, unknown ingredients he picks himself in the majestic mountains of north Italy.

Growing up in South Tyrol meant Heinrich was always surrounded by the wild herbs and flowers he’s now known for using. His grandfather owned a ski chalet in Val Sarentino, and his family was very food-focused, taking him to the best restaurants in France on holiday. As a child Heinrich lived in a particularly remote area of the region, which meant there were few opportunities to play with other children his age – instead, he took to the wilderness, discovering new plants that he then brought home and cooked with.

At fifteen years old, Heinrich started his apprenticeship in cooking, where he spent the time required to learn the basic – but absolutely essential – skills needed to become a great chef. Afterwards he travelled to Alsace in France to study for a further three years, then returned home to get some more experience in professional kitchens. It was during this time that Heinrich’s knowledge of South Tyrol’s fauna and flora really came into its own; he attended as many classes, courses and events on local plants and herbs as he could.

It wasn’t until his sister Gisela returned from her own culinary studies in France that the pair decided to open their own venue. They turned Auener Hof, the chalet their grandfather once owned, into a restaurant with rooms called Terra in 1998. Heinrich looked after the kitchen while Gisela took on front of house and sommelier duties. In 2009, Terra received its first Michelin star.

Heinrich’s style of cooking has developed with time. René Redzepi is one of the chef’s mentors, as they both put foraging at the forefront of their cuisine. There are fifty different local mountain herbs that Heinrich will use throughout the year, including Lady’s Mantle, Silene, Iceland Moss, Birch, Garden Cress and Plantain. ‘I use them in different ways depending on their texture,’ he explains. ‘They can be used in starters, side dishes or as a filling, and sometimes I dry them and use them as powders. The sweet-scented bedstraw, for example, is only good when dried and used as a seasoning. You cannot buy these plants. You have to know the woods.’

It’s this knowledge of unknown ingredients, combined with a quest to create strange new dishes, that makes Heinrich one of the most exciting chefs in Italy today. Being based in South Tyrol makes this more possible than other parts of Italy. ‘You can find traditional food all over the country,’ explains Heinrich. ‘But because South Tyrol is both Italian and Germanic there’s more freedom. We get lots of international tourists who are willing to try new things and people are generally more open-minded. We’re lucky to have this mix.’

When coming up with a new dish, Heinrich always starts with the raw materials. He travels around the mountains asking friends and farmers about specific ingredients he hasn’t used before, which he then brings back to the restaurant. ‘The key is to take these ingredients and mix them with flavours I’m already familiar with,’ he tells us. ‘I make some strange combinations.’

When asked about his future plans, Heinrich doesn’t have any great ambitions. He just wants to carry on championing the local flavours which have surrounded his whole life, and to put South Tyrol in its rightful place as one of Europe’s truly great gastronomic destinations. ‘I want to develop my passion and desires here and for people to enjoy the surroundings, walking around the area and discovering this magical place.’