Punk top chef
Spaniard Oscar de Matos is one of the best chefs on the Lucerne gastro scene. He learnt his profession at the famous "El Bulli" on the Costa Brava.
His arms are covered in tattoos: wild creatures, musical notes and even the face of Salvador Dalí adorn his skin. When he's not at work, Oscar de Matos' favourite clothes are t-shirts featuring the punk band Dead Kennedys. The days when chefs had to get all spruced up for work are long gone – serving perfect food is what counts now. And it's perfection you'll find at "Maihöfli" in Lucerne. Oscar's cuisine is influenced by his Spanish homeland, the Far East and Switzerland. And the 38-year-old has achieved something not many others have: the 2022 GaultMillau Guide has awarded him two new points in the same year, bringing his total to 16. This is down to lots of hard work. He has worked on his style, his culinary skills, and also himself as a person.
Oscar is standing in his kitchen placing a halibut fillet into a broth of water, butter, kombu algae and lemon. Once the core temperature of the fish has reached around 40°C it'll be cooked to perfection. While it poaches, he grills a few mussels on the Konro grill. Oscar de Matos grew up in Barcelona. When he was young, all he ever wanted to be was an architect. "A chef once said to me: Cooking is like architecture. We make art, too – but on a plate. And the good thing about it is you get to eat the art afterwards," remembers Oscar. "I was fascinated by those words, so I decided to give the profession a try."
He didn't just choose any restaurant to learn his trade, he chose Ferran Adrià's world-famous «El Bulli», which topped the annual «The World’s 50 Best Restaurants» ranking five times in a row. There he learnt everything there is to know about molecular gastronomy. «Ferran Adrià was really strict and stern. He often took me to task. If he said you had to chop the vegetables into 2-millimetre pieces, then he meant 2 millimetres,» says de Matos. But, «he's also a very good, friendly person.»
There's not much molecular gastronomy in Oscar de Matos' cooking now. «Of course there are techniques I still use, but I'm more interested in fermentation nowadays.» What has stayed with him, though, is the desire for perfection, which isn't always a positive attribute. He runs the «Maihöfli» with his girlfriend Nadine Baumgartner, who manages the front of house. «At the beginning in particular everything was very strict. I expected more and more from everyone. I had to work on myself and learn my place in life. Perfection is all very well, but you also have to learn to be satisfied,» he says self-analytically. «I'm glad Nadine is so patient with me.»
Oscar de Matos became a chef in Switzerland completely by chance. "After my apprenticeship there was a suggestion I should go and work abroad. I applied for jobs in France, the UK and Switzerland and said to myself I'd go and work at the first restaurant that got in touch." The first to respond was a hotel in Braunwald in the canton of Glarus. So de Matos spent a season cooking traditional Swiss food and sledged home each day. «I really liked Switzerland, so I stayed.»
«I really liked Switzerland, so I stayed
At the «Maihöfli» guests have a set menu, there are no à la carte options. Oscar's signature dish, mushroom paté, almost always features on it, but in a different guise depending on the season. The current version is made with quince (gel, cream and reduction), topped with brik pastry and shiso leaves. As a child Oscar loved hearty food. «Arros del Senyoret, a rice dish with carabinero prawns. I loved that. And also escudella. That's a stew with pigs' ears, potatoes, chickpeas and blood sausage.»
Nowadays the chef creates more delicate dishes, carefully preparing each product to develop its flavour even further. He serves Luma Spanish Morucha beef entrecôte with a sauce that he calls «totally crazy». It's made of fermented koji mushrooms and butter. «It tastes like blue cheese. You put a little bit of it on the meat and it completely changes the flavour.» He serves it with beurre noisette and kale. «My food is actually quite simple. But the flavours are really intense.»
Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver
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