Cooking at the ends of the Earth with Nick Liberato

Restaurateur Nick Liberato has travelled to the far reaches of the globe for the new season of Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge, which helps struggling chefs create menus to match their restaurants’ spectacular locations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
American restaurateur Nick Liberato, seen here in one of this favourite destinations, Austria, is the co-host of ...

American restaurateur Nick Liberato, seen here in one of this favourite destinations, Austria, is the co-host of Nexflix's Restaurants on the Edge, which launched its second series on 8 May 2020.

Photograph by Restaurants on the Edge

The wilds of Finland, the beaches of Hawaii and Canada’s lake-laced Muskoka region are just some of the places that restaurateur Nick Liberato travelled to for the latest season of Restaurants on the Edge. From mountain peaks to coastal retreats, and food venues set deep in the forest, Nick has visited some of the world’s most spectacularly located restaurants — businesses that don’t always have dining experiences to match their wow-factor settings. Here, he reveals the most memorable locations, people and ingredients from the series — and shares a recipe for The Yodeler, a whisky-based cocktail he devised while filming in the Austrian Alps.

Where was the most remote restaurant you visited?
Muskoka, in the Canadian province of Ontario, felt like the middle of nowhere. It’s just a few hours north of Toronto, but I’m a city boy and we arrived in mid-winter in the midst of a snowstorm, and the temperature rapidly dropped to -50C: horrendously cold. You couldn’t walk outside without your eyeballs freezing.

Which location posed the biggest challenge?
A place called Roots, on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, which is up on a clifftop outside Marigot Bay. We literally had to rebuild it from the ground up; it was like an old family home, with sinking floorboards — somewhere with great home cooking but definitely not built to restaurant standards. Another challenging spot was in a Hong Kong fishing village. The place was run like a gift shop with a very small kitchen out back, and just enough space to seat six to eight people. There’s only so much you can do with small spaces, but we turned it around.

Nick Liberato, presenter of Netflix's Restaurants on the Edge, is seen here with his co-hosts Karin Bohn (centre) and Dennis Prescott (left) in a still from the new series.

Photograph by Restaurants on the Edge

What location surprised you the most?
We worked with a B&B in St Anton, Austria. I’d never been to that part of the Alps. Hands down, it’s one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever seen: snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, summer meadows. It was run by a couple, and the food produced by Miriam, the wife, was really impressive — not just the scale of production but also that she was curing her own meats and making her own bread. She had a huge food offering but little of it spoke to the surrounding area. She was doing dishes from across Europe, so we sourced local cheeses, explored traditional spätzle (pasta) recipes, and set her up with a signature cocktail that embraced the B&B’s location, incorporating Alpine flowers and herbs from her garden.

Was there anywhere you’d be tempted to work yourself?
One place that was never on my bucket list was Slovenia. But the capital, Ljubljana, just blew me away — the layout of the city, the surrounding mountains and its location so close to the coast. It has such diverse cuisine: seafood, mountain food, Italian and Austrian influences, and amazing wines. I’ve travelled lots to neighbouring Italy and I never imagined Slovenia being as impressive a destination for food.

Of all the people you met, who stood out as real food hero?
Miriam, from our Austria episode — she really knew how to cook, and I can see her expanding on the menu we set up. I was also really impressed by the owners of the Finnish restaurant we worked with. The food they were producing was already right on point — it was the aesthetics of the building that was problematic. The owner made a brisket for us (home-smoked, which was out of this world) and a rhubarb dessert with crumble and homemade fresh strawberry ice cream that was so beautiful. The food really emulated the spirit of Finland: structured but beautiful. It was our job to fine-tune and make the most of the setting.

Tell me about the most interesting and exciting local ingredients you encountered?
Wherever we are, we aim to have the food and cocktails reflect the environment. In Slovenia, for example, we wanted to create an experience guests would interact with, so we used a whole wheel of local cheese, with a pasta inside it. We sourced wines from a local vineyard — varieties that not too many people would know at that restaurant. Slovenia makes great wine, but much of it is consumed privately. In Hawaii, we were dealing with restaurant owners who didn’t really know too much about their business. Regardless of the ingredients you choose, if you’re not in touch with your business, or perhaps take its unique qualities for granted — location, setting, local ingredients — you’re doomed. The most important ingredient is passion — you have to be involved on every level to keep a restaurant going, no matter where you are.

Will you return to any of these places?
I can’t wait to get back to Slovenia. While I loved its urban side, it was so easy to get out into the country. I’d love to learn more about wine making and meat curing. And Hong Kong — there was so much more I wanted to do and see there, particularly exploring ingredients. But upmost, it’s probably Austria. I love nature and mountains, and I’m a keen skier, so I’d like to return when that’s possible.

Chef and restaurateur Nick Liberato has visited some of the world’s most spectacularly located restaurants — businesses that don’t always have dining experiences to match their wow-factor settings.

Photograph by Nick Liberato

Be your own bartender: mix up The Yodeler

Get a taste of the Alps with this whisky-based cocktail that Nick Liberato devised on location in Austria. 

Ingredients
44ml Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky
30ml lime juice
22ml simple syrup*
3 slices cucumber
3 mint leaves
Hot water
White sugar

Method
Muddle mint and cucumber in shaker. Add the whisky, the simple syrup and lime juice. Shake hard over ice, strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with an additional cucumber slice.
*Simple syrup: two cups of sugar to one cup of boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Chill in refrigerator.

Nick Liberato is an American restaurateur based in Los Angeles, known for culinary shows including Bravo's Top Chef Masters. The seven-part second series of Restaurants on the Edge launched on Netflix on 8 May.

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