Aspen Daily News
After 28 years as a restaurateur and caterer in the Roaring Fork Valley — who, with his Pyramid Bistro above Explore Booksellers, brought the term nutritarian into the Aspen lexicon — Martin Oswald is heading home to Austria.
But not for the reason that many think, he emphasized.
No, despite rumors he’s heard to the contrary, Oswald is not packing his bags and chef’s knives because he’s become disillusioned with Aspen’s recent evolution to even-wealthier residents and tourists. Nor is he leaving because of a distaste for some perceived collective attitude that’s stirred bitterness in some.
“That’s not me at all,” Oswald said. “This is as good a town as you will ever live in, there’s no question about it. If it was only just to continue my journey here, I would stay here — for sure.”
Rather, he’s heading to Vienna for his family, he said.
“It’s really my parents, because they’re getting on with age now, so I want to be there a little bit for them,” he continued. “So that’s definitely the driving force. Beyond that, my kids — they’re 17 and 19 — I want to show them a different lifestyle a little bit. And have them spend time with my parents, first off, but also see the different system.”
Oswald has a long and diversified culinary legacy in the Roaring Fork Valley: his departure will mean closing shop on two current establishments that he owns, Pyramid Bistro and Mix6 in The Collective Snowmass.
But he’s also been proprietor of Riverside Grill in Basalt and was executive chef at Syzygy and Ute City in Aspen. This year’s Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience marked Oswald’s last as JAS food director, given that he won’t be in the country next year.
Not that he doesn’t have plenty of local support and invitations to stay or return to the Aspen area. Quite the opposite — Oswald is almost overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm he’s encountered here. It’s part of the reason he’s called this place home for nearly three decades.
“Here, especially in Aspen, it’s as good as it gets. You have so many philanthropists here; you have so many great, great supporters here,” he said. “I got to work with some of the greatest philanthropists that deal with health food.”
He recalled an event he was able to do with John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, when he opened Pyramid Bistro. It involved a cook-off among Roaring Fork Valley chefs and attracted roughly 300 people — but, most importantly, the event raised $80,000 for nutrition research.
“It was really just rewarding to see how much the public appreciated it, to me. So that was a fantastic event,” Oswald said.
Nutrition research goes more to the heart of Oswald’s current passion that he hopes to nurture in his next professional chapter in Vienna.
“What I’m truly passionate about … is heart disease reversal,” he said.
It’s a message he delivered to a full dining room at Pyramid Bistro on Thursday afternoon, packed mostly by two large groups who’d just returned from Blazing Adventures tours. Oswald addressed the crowd holding two cookbooks and explaining the difference between heart disease prevention and heart disease reversal.
He exuded confidence — the kind of confidence a chef may learn from studying under Wolfgang Puck, as Oswald did before opening his own restaurants — but he admitted later in an interview that he’s not sure if his aspirations will translate in Vienna. He is, however, optimistic.
“It’s not really clear to me yet that I can executive this there. A socialist country is so different,” he said. “I’m a strong believer [that] we feel the most elated, the most excitement in life, when we’re slightly uncomfortable,” he said. “Every time you’re uncomfortable in a way, you experience elevated emotions and heightened awareness. To me, that’s what I keep seeking in my life.”
Getting started in Vienna will require different channels than those that benefited him in the United States, he acknowledged.
“Everything goes through the government, so you’ve got to play a totally different game,” he said. “Here, all these great philanthropists, they will help you move forward your project — whatever it is. There, you have to either work with the government or with corporations or with hotels that already have sort of taken advantage of that.”
That said, Oswald is hopeful that some of his existing contacts in Vienna will prove fruitful once he returns. For instance, he talked fondly about his work with the late Willi Dungl, known as a wellness “guru,” as Oswald described him. Dungl worked with the Austrian ski jumping team but came into a more international reputation when he helped Niki Lauda recover from injuries in a Ferrari accident in 1976. Dungl’s daughters still live in Vienna.
“The great thing in Vienna is you have all the contacts you would have — and so from that perspective, I’m very very hopeful,” Oswald said. “What I really want to do is take the energy I put into my catering, restaurant, events and transfer that into what gives me meaning, which is working with people who have those dietary needs.”
He noted that Austria is a fitting place to meet people where they’re at in terms of eating habits because the traditional Austrian diet is similar to a typical American one, from a nutritional perspective.
“The life expectancy in Austria is the same as here — it’s just a couple of months or so [difference],” he said. “People are addicted to the same foods. From a nutritional, scientific nutritional perspective, it’s the same food you have here: very depleted of antioxidants.”
He’s hoping that he’ll be able to make a difference there in a truly life-saving capacity, while being able to spend more time with his family.
“Right now, I’ve worked two months straight through, every day, sometimes 16, 18 hours,” he said. “I’ve got an opportunity to start from scratch; I can reinvent myself.”
But no matter where he is in the world, there’s no forgetting Aspen, Oswald said.
By: Megan Tackett I Aspen Daily News I September 24, 2022