Vegetables – everything else is an accompaniment
The Lucerne-born chef has been working at "Roots" in Basel for the past year. Vegetables take pride of place in his culinary creations, with meat and fish playing second fiddle. This concept attracts guests – and success.
To succeed in life, you need good foundations. In other words, firm roots. Pascal Steffen has these roots – both literally and figuratively speaking. He has been the chef of "Roots" in Basel since December 2017. His achievements at this Basel restaurant have earned him the GaultMillau "Discovery of the year 2019" award. Despite the accolade, Steffen remains down to earth. "Of course, this means a lot to me, but we’re just doing what we enjoy. And this gives others pleasure, too. The title is the icing on the cake and testament to how much we have been able to achieve in such a short space of time", says Steffen.
Although the restaurant's name may suggest otherwise, "Roots" is neither vegetarian nor vegan. However, vegetables do take centre stage. "When I create a new dish, I make sure the vegetables take precedence and then consider what else I'm going to serve with them. Meat and fish are simply an accompaniment", adds Steffen decisively. "This approach is more exciting and gives me far more opportunities". Steffen peels long, thin strips of marinated kohlrabi, rolls them into swirls and cuts them into little rounds. Over the top he drapes black truffle and sausage, which he has mixed together to form a crumble.
During the course of Steffen's career, his mindset has changed. "I focus more on the products and ask myself, what is the luxury product?" The answer is different to what it might have been just a few years ago: "Albula mountain potatoes, for instance! I can only source a certain amount of these, whereas I can get as much caviar as I want. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it is only a luxury product because it is expensive." At "Roots", we only have fillet once a year on New Year’s Eve. "I prefer braised meat, it has more character. Fillet is like a Facebook relationship. You have it but you don't need it".
Pascal Steffen's family has its roots in Canton Lucerne – St. Urban to be more specific, between Lucerne, Berne and Aargau. After his apprenticeship at a traditional restaurant, Steffen went on to work for famous chefs such as Armin Amrein, Andreas Caminada and Nenad Mlinarevic. Steffen ended up working for Caminada entirely by chance. "I called up to book a table. Andreas answered. He didn't know whether there were any tables free, but he did have a job going if I was still interested". Steffen had previously applied to work at Schloss Schauenstein but had been too young for the position. Caminada remembered him and took him on later.
"Andreas has brought all of his protégés such a long way", remarks Steffen gratefully. Steffen was also able to further his career as a sous-chef for Nenad. "We worked together to develop the Swissness concept. I can still call on the producers and suppliers today".
Steffen has since settled in Basel. "I don't miss Lucerne particularly, I'm not all that far from my friends and family". The 32-year-old lives in Frenkendorf, just outside of Basel. "I'm certainly not a city kid, I need to be close to nature". He also has friends here. "I know Tanja Grandits and her team very well. We're like family in Basel and we even go out together from time to time". He didn't specifically plan to end up here in the city on the Rhine. "Zurich or Lucerne would have been equally as good. But Basel was calling!"
When I create a new dish, I make sure the vegetables take precedence and then consider what else I'm going to serve with them. Meat and fish are simply an accompaniment.
Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver
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