Exclusive interview with one of Palm Springs’ top chefs
By Kevin Perry
Genius and ambition are a delectable pairing. We are defined by a quixotic blend of abilities and passions… and sometimes, by a distaste for baked potatoes.
“I got too many baked potatoes when we were children. My parents didn’t have much money, so the cheapest food for us was buttermilk, cheese, and baked potato, so I definitely had a little bit of an issue with baked potatoes. Bad childhood memory.”
These are the formative ruminations of Johannes Bacher, the world-class chef who lends his name (and voluminous talents) to Johannes. His restaurant is a gourmet adventure conveniently located squarely in the middle of Palm Springs. When asked how his style of cuisine initially melded with our hometown’s culinary landscape, Johannes recalls, “It really clashed because Palm Springs was pretty much a steak and potato town and everyone expected a baked potato and a steak, and I wasn’t that kind of a guy.”
Bacher’s tone is blunt yet deliriously friendly; his answers are as direct as they are delightful. In response to the question, What brought you to Palm Springs, he retorts, “My ex-wife.” Elaborating warmly, Johannes continues, “I used to be in San Francisco and never had intentions to move to the desert… So I came down in August of ’95, and I promised my girlfriend at that time that I’d stay a little bit and figure it out and got here in August. It was 120 degrees heat and I said ‘Two weeks and I’m out of here,’ I can’t stand the heat, it’s not for me. And now 23 years later, I’m still here. But I don’t have a wife anymore.” He punctuates his anecdote with a laugh as robust as his flavor profiles, concluding, “But I have my own restaurant, so that’s the good part.”
So, how did he brave the heat and fire up the collective Palm Springs palate? Answer: with a lifetime of experience and a global perspective to match.
“I just basically came from San Francisco and traveled the world, so I incorporated all these flavors. I rolled it over to my own place and got my own style. When I opened my restaurant I pretty much had flavors from Thailand, from Japan, Austria, pretty much from all over the world, incorporated in my menu.” And the Inland Empire’s appetite was never the same. “I give myself a little bit of credit for that, that I have changed eating in the desert, I would say, over the years.”
It’s a conversation that is more give than take. Johannes credits his guests for shaping his brilliant evolution into the premiere tastemaker he is today. “I listen to my customers and my friends, especially to my customers. We have a broad variety of customers that come to my restaurant, all the way from Europe to Canada, East Coast, West Coast, famous people, infamous people, very famous people.”
Bacher also listens intently to his celebrity ingredients, basing his menu on what he can source locally. “Well there’s always a surprise, you know, it depends on what I get,” explains Johannes. “Everything we do in the restaurant we make fresh and we make up to order, so maybe that sets us apart in a lot of ways, and the feedback from the customers is that we’re different. And even Europeans, they come here and they eat my famous Wiener Schnitzel, they say it’s so much better here. I don’t know if it’s the weather or if it’s the magic touch we put on, I’m not sure. But we’ve definitely been a different restaurant all these years and I’m proud, with my staff, that we continue that for 19 years now.”
It’s a far cry from the bland childhood potatoes he now eschews, but Johannes’ past still affects his present. “Me being from Austria, we do a lot of game in the winter. That means from kangaroo to wild boar to venison to elk, all these different things, different birds - quail, goose, duck, and stuff like that. That’s what we usually plate in the winter. A little bit richer food than in the summer. Summer is hot, we need to plate lighter.”
Pivoting from strategy to soul, Bacher grows deeply reflective. “My motto is always ‘Eat well and live better’ - that’s what my mom always instilled in me. You eat well, you live better. So, that’s how we roll here in this restaurant.”
Even as the interview draws to a close, Johannes galvanizes his commitment to hospitality. “I hope we see you at the restaurant.” His invitation is earnest and jovial. “If you’re in the area, please don’t hesitate to come in and we’re gonna take care of you… We will have a good time and great service and great food.”
It’s rare for an establishment this upscale to feel so down-home, but Johannes achieves the dichotomy effortlessly. Thanks for the invite - we will graciously accept.
196 S Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA. 92262