«The team player»
OX'n in Schenkon, canton of Lucerne, is anything but an ordinary country inn. Sebastian Rensing and his team are dedicated to comfort food and innovative working conditions
«OX'n is not a one-man show,» Sebastian Rensing, 32, is keen to point out. He has been running OX'n in the municipality of Schenkon, Lucerne since 2017, along with his wife Katharina (34), and his brother Samuel (29 at heart). Everything that is created here is the product of teamwork. Occupying a rust-red new building, OX'n is not your average restaurant, in either appearance or the food it serves. Rensing's fine dining concept has proved popular in the region. «We had a lot of respect for Schenkon from the outset,» he recounts. Sursee district is a large and fast-growing region, and Schenkon a prosperous municipality. «We realized that people were looking for something exclusive. Something different from the norm.»
The surprise menu consists of four to seven courses, starting with a tartare. At first sight, it looks like beef. «We make it from aubergines and okara, a by-product from the manufacture of tofu,» Sebastian explains. He doesn't tell the guests – at least not at the moment of serving. «Very few of them twig that the ingredients are vegetarian. In a rural area, of course, vegetarian dishes are controversial. If the guests had the choice, they probably wouldn't order the dish,» Rensing believes. As a course on the surprise menu, however, they are all impressed. The chef with 14 Gault Millau points to his name doesn't take the credit for himself. «The tartare was created by my sous-chef John.»
OX'n is also innovative in the way it is organized. «We've introduced the four-day week,» says Rensing. He and his wife Katharina are parents to two young children. «People have often said to us, you have to choose between kids or a restaurant. But we think both should be possible. You just have to adjust your way of life,» says Rensing. «I'm not the sort of chef who goes out into the woods foraging wild herbs at six in the morning. At that time, I'm changing nappies. And my sous-chefs Tino Scodeller and John Richter enjoy experimenting, so I don't have to write the new menu in my time off.» – «It's not always plain sailing, but it works,» adds Katharina. «We want to show that it is possible, even in the catering business.»
Sebastian Rensing grew up in Mauensee, just a few miles away from OX'n. A stroke of fate brought him to cooking. «My mother, a very keen cook, suffered a serious foot injury. While she was recuperating, somebody had to cook lunches and dinners for the family,» Sebastian relates. This was how, aged 14, he ended up preparing meals every day for his father and his three siblings. Naturally enough, the teenager thought about training as a chef. «I did a one-day trial, at the end of which I was pretty certain I'd never take it up! It was noisy and hectic in the kitchen. I just couldn't get my head around it, at the time.» Sebastian decided he would much rather go into selling sports gear. The only problem was: «The trial placement was so dull I could hardly keep my eyes open.»
The trial placement was so dull I could hardly keep my eyes open.
So after all that, he found himself back in the kitchen. He completed his training at the Palace in Lucerne under Ulrich Baumann. «A living legend,» Sebastian enthuses. «It was there that I developed my passion for the profession and learned how to handle produce.» After his training, the young chef moved to Hotel Julen in Zermatt. «I thought it would be a doddle, because I'd come from the Palace!» Today, he is amused by his slightly arrogant attitude. He quickly realized that every restaurant is challenging in its own way. Another challenge was talking to women who didn't speak any German. «So I went to London to learn English. While I was there, I sent applications left and right.» Rensing ended up at Barbecoa, a steak restaurant owned by popular chef Jamie Oliver. «There, I learned what it takes to send out 200 plates in two hours. We worked hard for not much money. But it made us even stronger as a team.» He only has good things to say about Jamie Oliver too. «He's very humble and constantly stressing how lucky he was to be where he is.»
Luck was also on Sebastian Rensing's side: in Zermatt, for instance, where he was hired at Cervo and very quickly promoted by Dani and Seraina Lauber. It was there that he also met his future wife Katharina. And the biggest stroke of luck of all was when Sebastian and Katharina received the offer for OX'n. Ochsen in Schenkon was a cult destination, but the building was to be demolished and rebuilt. «By pure chance, one evening we were eating in the same restaurant in Sursee as the investors.» The restaurant's chef pointed out the young chef to the entrepreneurs – and the rest is history. Today, Sebastian and Katharina also run Theo's Gastropub in Sursee, which serves simple sharing plates and cocktails. Last year, together with a business partner, the OX'n crew opened the bar Kweer, which is mainly fronted by Samuel, in Zurich's Niederdorf district.
Almost six years after opening, Sebastian and his team have found their style. «We cook our dishes the way we would like them. And we hope that our guests will enjoy them too.» They certainly enjoy the belly of pork. This has become the signature dish and, at the moment, comes on a salad of pointed cabbage with a tzatziki foam. «The dish was inspired by Fabian Fuchs at the Magdalena Kitchen Party,» says Rensing, who makes no secret of this fact. «I like to find inspiration in what others are doing and put our own spin on things at OX'n.» Every now and then, however, Rensing does look somewhat wistfully towards Zurich and the restaurant scene there. The mood, the network, the vibe – neither Schenkon nor Sursee can offer that. You also enjoy a much higher profile in the city. «Obviously I'm envious sometimes!» he openly admits – and that's precisely what makes Sebastian Rensing so likeable and relatable.
Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver, Date: 07.07.2023
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