Where does high cuisine originate from, and how is it related to Michelin stars? Sometimes it comes from exotic products brought back from distant countries and which become the basis for original dishes. But there are masters who are able to combine exotic products with unique indigenous mushrooms and berries that were known to our ancestors but which have been forgotten by contemporary cuisine.
This is the way in which Sven Wassmer operates. Wassmer is a chef at Silver Restaurant, which has recently opened at the 7132 Hotel in a mountain valley in Vals. From different flavors – bitter, salty, sweet – Sven creates unique combinations, like a composer making a new work out of individual chords. The holder of a Michelin star and 17 Gault&Millau points, he possesses secret knowledge of forest herbs, mushrooms and berries, which helps him to invent delicious dishes, both a gastronomic delight and also a natural healer.
– Sven, they say that you work a lot with wild herbs. Please share your secrets with us.
– I like to spend my time in nature, walking in the forest in Vals. It’s like my own garden. Out there you can find a lot of useful herbs, berries, and mushrooms, and it gives me great pleasure to gather them. I learn all the time: I read books about plants, and take them to the forest with me to learn right there which plants are useful and which are not.
– How do you create new dishes? Does the idea emerge when you find a new plant? Or are you looking for something special?
–It depends. Sometimes I have a clear idea about what I’d like to cook – for instance, if I need acid overtones, Alpine clover fits best. My choice depends a lot on the season. For instance, in winter, sweet scallops from Norway fit well into dishes.
I have been studying herbs for many years, and I have my own know-how. There are about 40 known species of wild herbs, but every time you want to find something new, something novel. I check in my books and study the structure of a leaf and the flowers every time, and only then do I try some combinations. Certainly, the gustatory sensations are of crucial importance. If I don’t like the sensations, I figure out that the herb will not suit my cooking.
– What is more important to you as a chef – the taste or the nutritional value of herbs?
– For sure, almost all wild herbs are rich in vitamins, dietary fiber, and minerals. Many herbs help with digestion and in ancient times they were used for medical purposes. That’s why I always bear in mind what the herb I’m using in a dish will contribute to human health.
– Do you combine herbs with berries or with mushrooms?
– I combine components by taste. Imagine that I have got a pumpkin, and I want to combine it with elder or with Alpine clover. The combination will be very bright.
– Do you use mushrooms from your locale, or do you order them from suppliers?
– I try to use local mushrooms if possible. First of all, basically I gather chanterelles and my favorite ceps. I prefer to go to the forest myself. But sometimes there are bad harvests and the restaurant needs large quantities of fungi, so one should be experienced enough to sort it out. I always manage to find new places rich in mushrooms so I learn on the job, as they say.
But even if there are not enough mushrooms, something edible is growing near your house, so I can always wing it. I’ve got quite a few suppliers who deliver Swiss mushrooms to me.
– What’s the main idea of the foraging movement, which you endorse?
– It’s about different people getting together and going out into nature to search for edible stuff, for food. In primordial times, people hunted together, after which they ate the meat they had obtained together. I think one should remember this today. I joined the foraging movement in England, where I had been living for some time, then I continued in Switzerland. Nowadays other cooks often go with me, and I am delighted to communicate my knowledge to them. I suppose this is team work.
– How would you describe your favorite taste? And how do you manage to guess what the guest will like?
– As for my favourite taste, this is rather a difficult question. A dish appeals to me if slightly bitter and with acid notes and overtones present. It’s quite interesting how the gustatory sensations of an individual change over their lifetime. Getting older, many tend to prefer a bit bitter taste… Of course, it’s impossible to satisfy everybody all the time. But I follow my instincts 100% and my guests like it.
– Could you please tell us about your favorite dish?
– There are several. For instance, I like the «family pasta» which my father used to cook. This is pasta in combination with pork fat, potatoes and creamy sauce, with added Alpine cheese and roasted onion and apple mousse at one’s discretion. A typical dish for a mountain area. As for my mother’s cooking, I always liked the classical lasagna she made. We receive a lot of guests at our house, and our family keeps a lot of recipes.
– So, can one say that you adhere to tradition?
– It’s very important to protect one’s family foundations, but it does not mean that one should confine oneself to what he or she is accustomed to, avoiding anything new. I never refuse high class products brought from some distant country. For instance, I like to buy scallops and king crab from Alaska. I’ve got an excellent supplier who delivers them fresh. I also like to combine high quality products from distant countries with some of the herbs I have gathered near my house.