Felix Anneler

Felix Anneler

the rough diamond

The restaurant Verena is setting new culinary standards in Olten. Dave Wälti and Felix Anneler first got to know each other at the Casino in Bern. Today they work side by side, serving up contemporary seasonal cuisine. 

On the Swiss gastronomy scene, we often refer to the new generation of chefs as «young and wild». Felix Anneler is undoubtedly young. But is he wild? The 26-year-old is standing calmly in the kitchen of the restaurant Verena in Olten. His full attention is on the beer radish he's searing. He wants it to take on a nice colour, but it mustn't burn. His movements are focused and considered. In conversation, he is a man of few words. «How would you serve the beetroot steak?» he asks his colleague Dave Wälti. The two chefs – co-chefs, you could say – share the L-shaped kitchen. In offices this is a common trend, but in catering it's relatively unheard of. Yet both chefs seem satisfied with the situation. «I'd arrange the pickles on top of the dehydrated beetroot. I don't like having an even number of ingredients on the plate», comes the reply. At Verena, Wälti is manager, host, chef and dishwasher. «Wherever I'm needed, I'm there», he says. Anneler, meanwhile, is head chef, even though he hasn't even completed his chef's training – yet. «I'm working on it», he says resolutely.

«I needed this kind of pressure»

Anneler is using the beer radish in a new dish: vegan scallops in a beurre blanc. «Dave and I often invent the dishes together. I bring the raw ideas and he hones them to perfection», says Anneler. «But for this dish, we found our inspiration on Instagram», adds Wälti. The radish is not intended to imitate or replace the seafood, but rather to take diners by surprise. The chefs have succeeded at this with their carrot tartare, too; it's one of Wälti's signature dishes that he has served up time and again during his career. Wälti's cooking approach appeals to his colleague as well. The preference for regional produce is something that Anneler is familiar with from his own upbringing. «Although I grew up in the centre of Bern, we always got our vegetables from the market and our meat straight from the farmer», remembers Anneler.

Yet he wasn't a great help in the kitchen at home. «I never helped out», he says with a laugh. He came upon the idea of a cooking apprenticeship quite by chance. «I was too lazy to bother doing a trial period. Instead, I just went along to the kitchen at the retirement home where my aunt worked.» He enjoyed the work and applied for a position at the 5-star Hotel Schweizerhof in Bern. «I knew that if I wanted to be a chef, I'd do it properly.» Anneler learned the ropes working alongside Silvan Durrer at Jack’s Brasserie. «Starting out in the profession was extremely tough. But I believe that I needed this kind of pressure», he says self-critically. One thing in particular has stayed with him: the many Wiener schnitzels he cooked there. Each year, the restaurant serves some 20,000 breaded veal schnitzels. «I can cook up a pretty good schnitzel», says Anneler. «But I'm glad that at Verena we've got a different, more contemporary concept.»

This concept is based on seasonality. «We work with an organic farmer based in Brittnau, in Canton Aargau, and we take whatever he can deliver», says Anneler. He buys his meat from Simperl butcher's in Bern. Meanwhile, the fish is supplied by the company Bianchi, from the salmon trout farm in Bremgarten or from Lake Maggiore, for instance. «That was one of the main challenges for me starting out – building up my own network of producers», says Anneler. «But I'm lucky I've got Dave. He's got a wide network to fall back on and has always helped me out.» Anneler has certainly grown into his role. «Dave is on hand to give me support. He's a huge inspiration and has definitely been a massive influence for me», says Anneler.

15 GaultMillau points from the outset

Wälti and Anneler first got to know each other at the Casino in Bern. «I'd heard about Dave from others and wanted to join him at the Casino's Bistro Bar», says Anneler. «But before the interview, Florian Bettschen – now manager of the Casino – accidentally said 'welcome to the team'.» This slip-up turned out to be a stroke of luck for Anneler. He started off as a commis chef and worked his way up to the position of line cook. After Wälti left the Casino, Anneler moved to Zermatt. The two Bernese chefs then crossed paths once more. Anneler helped Wälti out at various pop-ups and on the Al Toque empanada venture. «When Dave approached me with the idea of taking on the former Zollhaus restaurant, I went to check the place out. We both agreed that we'd be mad not to give it a try.»

The place first needed to be renovated and remodelled – but only the interior, since the building is listed. Thus the Zollhaus became Verena. For those unfamiliar with Olten, Verena is the town's patron saint. Her likeness is emblazoned on the façade of this small building not far from the railway station. Regulars of the previous establishment still call it the Zollhaus, but Wälti and Anneler don't seem to mind. With their cuisine and the relaxed atmosphere, they aim to strike a fine balance that caters to all guests equally. Verena is a cosy, down-to-earth place where you can enjoy high-end cuisine. The GaultMillau guide awarded the restaurant a rating of 15 points from the outset. «I was delighted but also surprised by the news. It puts a certain amount of pressure on us, because it means we can no longer afford to make any mistakes.»

Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver, Date: 04.03.2024

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