Werner Absenger
Fresh, Pure and Delicious
Sure, organic ingredients are healthier -- but they just plain taste better, too.

The chef de cuisine at the Amway Grand Plaza hotel in Grand Rapids did his apprenticeship in Austria and cooked in several European ski resorts before he came to Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel in northern Michigan. He cheffed at Gasthof Gramshammer in Vail, Colo., and at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Hyatt before joining Cygnus 27 at the Amway in August of 2003. He's been paving the way to green gourmet ever since.

By PATTY LaNOUE STEARNS Photos by JOHNNY QUIRIN

Werner Absenger wants you to think twice about what you put in your mouth. The 41-year-old chef has made it his mission to educate his customers -- and anyone else who'll listen -- about the benefits of eating local and sustainable/organic foods. Not just because the typical American diet is laden with poor fuel, laced with hormones and pesticides, mind you, but also because fresh, local food tastes so fabulous.

Sitting on a stool across from the light-oozing marbleized Plexiglas bar at Cygnus 27, Absenger hands over a four-page dissertation on his philosophy about the local organic/sustainable food movement. He believes humans are hardwired as hunters and gatherers whose digestive systems have not evolved much from the earliest days of feast and famine -- acquiring game and seasonal foods that needed to be consumed on the spot.

Citing the principles of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, he explains the energy and harmonious relationship between food, body and mind, all of which are lost on factory farm goods. But that balance is achieved with the practices surrounding local foods.

"It's healthy for consumers and animals, doesn't harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer and supports and enhances rural communities," says the chef. And what thrills him is that the movement has gone mainstream. "The trend among chefs is to use local, fresh and when possible, organic," he says. "It's through necessity--the customer asks for it."

His informed patrons now demand such high-quality ingredients, and even the food-service biggies like Gordon's and Sysco are carrying locally harvested goods. "Once the corporations get into the local stuff, you know it's not just a fad," says Absenger, whose intense blue eyes light up at the very thought.

For this lanky Austrian, clearly a man who is passionate about his craft, that news couldn't be more exciting. Not content to merely parrot the tenets of the local movement, he has been on a quest to explain why people need to eat and live...

This article appeared in the August 2008 Issue of LAKE magazine. Click here to view this entire article online.



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