21 Apr 2013

Restaurants: Roland Schmid: Switzerland’s Michelin Maestro

Swiss chef harnessing thermal water (for Vertu)
BENEATH the barrelled ceiling of an eighteenth century Abbots palace is ‘Äbtestube’, the leading restaurant of eight within spa destination, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. Supplied by the healthy warm waters of nearby Tamina Gorge - as neutral in taste as Switzerland is politically according to the on-site water sommelier - the resort also includes a medical facility catering to the national Olympic team and regular check-in, Roger Federer.

Freshly Michelin-starred, head chef Roland Schmid, recognised as Switzerland’s chef of the year in 2011, cooks local ingredients like ceps foraged from his hikes up the looming Pizol mountain, lightly and precisely in a largely gadget-free kitchen.
Born to a furniture maker father and nurse mother, Schmid learnt his craft under fellow Swiss, Anton Mossimann OBE, whom he describes as ‘the master of risotto’. However, one taste of Schmid’s own aromatic risotto, prepared with acquerello grains swelled by the gorge’s water, with local strawberries, green peppercorns, pak-choi and cream revealed a mastery to rival his mentor.
I joined Schmid and his six-strong brigade one busy Saturday evening to observe, from a linen wrapped poser table, how the sections came together to build beautiful dishes on previously blank plates. Around me, chefs near silently selected red chopping boards for raw meat, and blue for raw fish. Morsels were quickly seasoned, while used pans were urgently cooled in deep sinks with a sizzle. Waiters in crimson ties polished cloches which were then cupped over plates on the pass.
As well as the risotto, highlights included Schmid’s own recipe bison sausage, combined with Himalayan salt and mountain-dried, thinly sliced on the gleaming Berkel beside me. Tomato parfait, bound in aubergine, provided acidity and moisture to a delicately seared fillet of young red mullet. Veal tartare followed, micro-chopped, with fennel, goose foie gras and perky chutney.
The door to the kitchen continuously swished electronically. Schmid cleaned the corners of a square plate before sending it to the thickly carpeted dining room. Kitchen towel unravelled. Products were cherished, including fillet of beef, matured for seven weeks under protective bloom, gently unwrapped, weighed, a portion cut, then the remainder re-wrapped. It was cooked then rested, and served, luxuriously, with truffled rosti and a broad Riedel bowl of Schmid’s own wine from his home, Balgach.
From winning 2009, which yielded fewer than 200 bottles, the Pinot Noir, poured from a bottle featuring a black chefs’ toque on shocking pink, was muscular but balanced, with a tempting fragrance of raspberry and cocoa.
When service eventually calmed it was time for clean-down; one chef used a toothbrush on fridge seals. A little reluctantly, I was transferred to the dining room. Beside clipped bonsais and a commanding stone fireplace I savoured an ensemble of chocolate mousse, cake and shot...
For Vertu