In 1993 Hans Fritz, the German director of Rome’s Cavalieri Hilton, asked Heinz Winkler, the chef, restaurateur/owner of “Tantris,” the only Munich restaurant with three Michelin stars (and still today the owner of the three-starred “Residenz Heinz Winkler” in Aschau), to recommend a talented protégé to become Executive Chef for a still-to-open Hilton rooftop restaurant. Job requirement: the capability to put the Rome Hilton on the world’s gastronomic map.
Without hesitation, Winkler chose Bavarian Heinz Beck, his deeply devout 30-year-old “Residenz” sous-chef, who’d grown up and trained in the Marian shrine pilgrimage town of Altötting, close to Marktl-am-Inn, the birthplace of Beck’s future spiritual mentor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (see “The Benediktweg and Altötting, The Bavarian National Shrine,” Inside the Vatican, October 2011). Fritz and Beck inaugurated La Pergola (which means “the grape arbor”) on October 10, 1994, “where occasionally, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, a sweet-tooth,” Beck recently told me, “particularly enjoyed my desserts.”
Beck was awarded his first Michelin star in 1996; two stars in 2000; and in 2006 he became the first — and still the only — chef in Rome with three Michelin stars.
In 2009 he opened the “Apsley-a Heinz Beck Restaurant” at The Lanesborough, a St. Regis hotel on London’s Hyde Park Corner, which received a Michelin star after only five months.
Today other Beck restaurants worldwide are: “Café Les Paillotes” (2009) in Pescara; “Heinz Beck Season” at Castello di Figline near Siena (2012, one Michelin star); “Gusto Heinz Beck” c/o Conrad Algarve in Portugal (2012); and “Social by Heinz Beck” c/o Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeriah Dubai (2014), with locations in Doha and Tokyo forthcoming. Yet Michelin stars are only one of Beck’s many awards and honors. For a complete list, click on his website www.heinzbeck.com or his entry on Wikipedia. The most recent are: 2013 Six Star Diamond Award; 2014 Identità Golose Chef of the Year; 2014 Leone di Venezia for his career; and the 2014 Gambero Rosso Rome Guide’s prize Gusto & Salute (“Taste & Health”).
“During my 20 years at La Pergola,” said Beck, “my cuisine has passed through several styles: from traditional, to creative with imaginative side dishes, to technically cutting-edge, to attentive to health issues. Healthy menus are my top priority. I’ve lightened my dishes by removing non-essential ingredients so today my cuisine is modern, Mediterranean, and, above all, healthy. Since we live much longer, we must eat healthily so as not to develop pathologies like Type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, cirrhosis of the liver and high blood pressure, which derive from unhealthy nutrition. However, I’m not a doctor, dietician or nutritionist; I’m a chef who pays attention to the wellbeing of his guests. I don’t invent diets.”
That said, since April, Beck has been collaborating with the Catholic University Hospital Agostino Gemelli as part of its 50th-anniversary celebrations, creating healthy, yet enjoyable, menus for their in-house patients, for those recently sent home, and anyone interested in healthy eating habits (www.gemellifornelli.it). In addition, to celebrate his own 20th anniversary Beck has put together a healthy, no-choice 12-course tasting menu, including: amberjack marinated in white balsamic vinegar with pomegranate snow; frisella with croutons and red shrimp; smoked scallop tartare and red beet shell; fagottelli La Pergola; deep-fried zucchini flowers with caviar on shellfish and saffron consommé; cod with celery sauce and curry crust; ossobuco; lamb cubes on tomato sauce, salty ricotta and basil; and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries.
“At 350 euro a person without wine, this once-in-a-lifetime treat,” Beck told me, “will be served to only 999 guests, who will receive a plexiglass plaque signed and dated by me at the end of their meal. Only the fagottelli, a homage to Rome, the symbol of Heinz Beck and La Pergola, and the deep-fried zucchini flower, sunny like me, a dish which reflects my personality, are and will remain on our much less expensive à la carte menu, which we serve nightly along with our other less elaborate tasting menus. We intend to show where we’ve come from, where we are today, but above all where we want to go.”