Young Swiss chef Gilles Patrice Ambuehl is in town for the Swiss National Day celebrations on August 1 as well as the Swiss food festival at Cafe Swiss, Swissotel, which will serve a buffet for dinner from August 2-8. t2 caught up with Gilles on his favourites from the land of milk, cheese and chocolates…
What would you say is the one quality of Swiss food that stands out?
I would say it’s ‘heavy’. Most of the ingredients come from the mountains. It’s a cold country and winters can be harsh and unforgiving. And the winters involve a lot of physical labour. You need food with power. So potatoes, spaetzle, gnocchi... it’s all very nourishing.
What do you say when people call Swiss food bland?
It is true that unlike Asian cuisine, there isn’t much use of spices. But Swiss food is often about using one component and highlighting that with a few add-ons. Like on the menu, there’s Swiss Sausage with Onion Gravy, Red Cabbage and Potato Puree. Now the red cabbage preparation just has the cabbage, red wine, salt and sugar. I would say there’s a purity of taste, instead of an amalgamation. It gives you an intense taste of the main ingredient.... And it’s challenging too. Because the food is so rustic, it’s difficult to present it in a fine manner. You don’t have the colours of Asian food to play with. It’s quite plain. So dressing it up makes it all the more challenging.
Swiss food has a lot of influences — Italian, German and French. Which is your favourite?
I like the German part. The Spaetzle with Zurichoise Chicken is my favourite. It’s a very simple homemade pasta with fresh pasta dough. My mother used to make it for me when I was young. It’s something I still go back to. When I go back home from here, for instance, I will ask my mum to make it.
Name your three favourite Swiss ingredients...
Buenderfleisch. It’s a really salty dried beef. It’s lovely as a cold cut and very nice when put in the Capun, a dish with flour dough, blanched cabbage, sour cream and Gruyere cheese. The saltiness of the beef is very nice with the cabbage. Potatoes are another favourite because you can do so much with them. From soup to Roesti to gnocchi to even having it plain, it can be used in many ways. And the third is Gruyere cheese.
Your comfort food?
Pizza (laughs), with spicy salami.
|Chef Gilles Patrice Ambuehl whips up a Swiss dish.
Pictures by Pabitra Das
What would you ask people to try if all they knew was fondue and chocolates?
There are so many different dishes — beef roulades; spaetzle, which is simple yet delicious; Roesti with cheese; carrot cake; even chocolate mousse.
What was the first Swiss dish you made?
I made a Roesti. It didn’t come out a perfect circle, but my grandmother helped. So the circle was a wonder (laughs).
The best drink to have with Swiss food?
I’d say Swiss white wine but it’s not easily available. So any good white wine will do.