Adrenaline is his secret ingredient
Christian Vogel rarely gets a minute to himself. If he's not cooking at «Birdy's» in Brunnen, he's foraging for herbs, skiing down a mountain in powder snow or working the turntables.
The first thing most chefs do when they enter the kitchen is turn on the coffee machine. Not Christian Vogel. The first thing he does is switch on the sound system. It's not long before deep house is booming out of the speakers. «Nothing gets done here without music», says Christian Vogel, head chef and co-owner of «Birdy's» in Brunnen, Canton Schwyz. The restaurant on the lakeside promenade opened last summer and was awarded 14 Gault Millau points from the off. All the dishes served here are designed to be shared and are vegetarian. «These are stand-alone dishes that work without fish and meat. Our guests don't miss out on anything.» Nevertheless, those who prefer not to forgo animal products can simply order meat or fish on top.
When it comes to preparing half a lettuce, Vogel blowtorches the lettuce, adds a stock made from pickled red onions and drizzles a little Caesar cream alongside. To accompany it, you can order some Hüttenspeck from Heinzer butchers in Muotathal. This bacon is succulent and has an intense, smoky note that goes perfectly with the lettuce. And Lostallo salmon makes a great addition to the smoked beetroot with wasabi nuts and apple & rocket broth. It's not essential, but it is a recommendation. The focaccia dumplings are made without meat. The mushrooms and sourdough bread alone give the dish an intense, meaty flavour.
The dishes, the interior, the philosophy – this restaurant would also fit in an urban environment. Yet Canton Schwyz is Christian Vogel's home. He grew up in Steinerberg. His father owned a mountain cheese dairy and his mother sold the cheese and Italian delicacies. Christian was eight years old when he first cooked on his own. «I wanted to make roasted almonds like my mum. She was at work and told me to get everything ready but not to start until she got back! She came home to roasted almonds.»
It's clear from this anecdote that Christian Vogel is no scaredy-cat. Adrenaline is his constant companion. He skied as a teenager and had his sights set on a professional skiing career. However, he was forced to reconsider when he ruptured his cruciate ligament. Instead of going to Engelberg Sports School, he began an apprenticeship as a chef. «I've never regretted this decision», he says. These days he spends his days off «just» freeriding. «It's better for the knees», says Vogel and laughs.
He completed his apprenticeship at the Bergsonne on the Rigi, where his first mentor was the legendary chef Dorly Camps. She taught him the basics and showed him how to season food. «Dorly's food was packed with flavour. She taught me the art of seasoning.» The young apprentice and the chef also developed a strong friendship. «The Bergsonne team became like a second family to me.» Every now and then, the teenager would travel down to Lucerne, as Vogel is also a DJ. He would spin the decks, sleep in the car for an hour and then take the first gondola back up the mountain. It was on the Rigi that Vogel learnt to look to nature for the «mise en place» of his food. Sorrel, rowan berries, wild strawberries, black walnuts and elderflowers – the chef still forages for everything himself.
Dorly's food was packed with flavour. She taught me the art of seasoning.
After completing his apprenticeship, Vogel moved to the Engadine and then to Valais. He's never far from the mountains – something that was also important to his new boss, Peter Gschwendtner, at the «Castle» in Blitzingen. The mountain guide and former chef with 16 points to his name has conquered all 4,000-metre peaks in the Alps. He has also climbed Everest. He made a deal with his protégé, Christian Vogel. «I told him I'd take the position of sous-chef, but only if he took me up the Matterhorn», says Vogel. The day came. After the lunch service, the pair travelled to Zermatt and stayed overnight at the Hörnlihütte. The next morning, they climbed to the summit in three and a half hours and were back down four hours later. That same evening, they were both back at work in the kitchen in Goms.
Vogel doesn't shy away from anything in the kitchen at «Birdy's» either. As of this year, Vogel has been serving his guests a fine dining menu at «The Nest» bar. The dishes are not designed to be shared, the plates are a little more sophisticated and Vogel uses some crazy techniques. He pours a cold glass of chilled, liquid sodium acetate over a piece of Lostallo salmon. The liquid reacts on contact with the fish and turns into a kind of salt crust that heats up to 49 degrees. «The fish cooks gently inside. It's not just for show, it alters the texture of the fish. I got the idea from the three-star Aponiente restaurant in Spain.» The accompaniments are relatively simple – a little fennel and a saffron beurre blanc. Not everything needs to be overstated.
Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver, Date: 28.04.2023
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