Dave Wälti

Dave Wälti

Bern, Bolivia, Bistrobar

Dave Wälti runs the Bistrobar at Casino Bern. He creates South American-inspired dishes using locally sourced products

The Swiss are not particularly comfortable with the concept of eating at a bar. Until now, that is. Dave Wälti has given this idea something of a make-over. He became the chef of the "Bistrobar" at Casino Bern last year. He serves up a quick lunch at midday, snacks for an aperitif, and dinner in a relaxed atmosphere in the evening. Guests can see into Dave's kitchen from all angles. It's not easy to concentrate on your work when you're constantly being watched.

"The guests chat to you. That can be a bit of a distraction. My team first had to learn to work in this way", explains Dave. If the guest happens to be a politician, federal councillor or footballer, then it's even more distracting. However, being in direct contact with the guests also has its advantages. The chefs are able to give personal recommendations or explain more about the products and where they come from. "This is also appreciated."

Whole animals for the whole Casino

Guests don't just eat at the bar, however. There are also tables. The transition to the "Restaurant" managed by Dave's colleague, Adrian Bürki, is seamless. Just like the cooperation between the two. The Casino has four gastro concepts. In addition to the Bistrobar and Restaurant, there is also the Salon d'Or and a Japanese chef's table.

"To begin with, we didn't know each other that well and had to get accustomed to each other", says Wälti. Nowadays we enjoy healthy competition, while at the same time striving for optimal use of resources. "We buy whole animals – for example cattle from St. Peter's Island. We then share the animals between us." They are able to place large collective orders for the whole house with vegetable farmer Stefan Brunner.

At first I thought it would be easy being a chef. The structure of our team was very hierarchical and I was very strict. But this didn't work for me.

Dave Wälti

This is the 32-year-old's first appointment as head chef. He has spent the last few years working as a sous-chef for Simon Apothéloz at the 17-point restaurant "Eisblume" in Worb until it closed. "At first I thought it would be easy being a chef. The structure of our team was very hierarchical and I was very strict. But this didn't work for me."

As a result, Dave decided to do away with the hierarchy. "Since then the vibe has been completely different. I'm still responsible and have the final say, but I receive more input from the team. My employees have worked in some of the best restaurants. We have to take advantage of this kind of experience."

From a Bernese farm to a top Bolivian restaurant

Wälti also has a wealth of experience under his belt. He gets his appreciation of local produce and his flair for cooking from his grandmother. Instead of going to nursery, Dave spent his younger years with his grandparents on the farm. "In the kitchen, I was responsible for making the salad dressing", he remembers. After completing his apprenticeship at Landgasthof Thalgut – a wholesome fish restaurant – he went on to work at "Schweizerhof" in Bern and "Gustu" in La Paz, Bolivia.

The dishes he serves in the "Bistrobar" often have South American influences. Dave Wälti himself has Bolivian roots and visited Peru and Bolivia just last year for fresh inspiration. You'll find "tiradito" on the menu, for example. Wälti uses local products in this Peruvian-inspired dish, including Rubiger salmon trout and Mexican mini cucumbers from Brunner Eichhof. To go with it, he makes a creamy sauce using sweet potatoes, raw fish, celeriac, garlic, onions and coriander. His desserts will take you half way around the world, too.

"Cinnamon sorbet is a typical street food. The indigenous Aymara women, known as "cholitas", make the sorbet in old washing machines. My version is not quite as sweet as the original. And instead of using red food colouring, I use hibiscus kombucha".

Dave also offers more familiar flavours, too, such as roasted cauliflower with Seeland truffle and fermented buckwheat. Meat also features on the menu – lamb shank with chicory and quince. The meat is cooked sous-vide and grilled until crispy on the konro – a Japanese grill. It's clear, however, that there are significantly fewer meat dishes on the Bistrobar menu than elsewhere. "I believe that eating meat is justified. However, meat consumption is definitely too high. For this reason, we are very conscious of how we use it".

Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver

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