"When my grandma baked a cake she always hid it in the larder. Then I would try to open the door really quietly, but it creaked so loudly it was impossible to get in there without being discovered." This is one of Sebastian Rösch's earliest food-related memories. Nowadays the 30 year old is head chef at "Mesa" in Zurich. He has been interested in food since he was just a boy. He grew up in a small village in Bavaria, or to be precise, in Franconia, a region in northern Bavaria. His grandparents lived on a farm and his grandmother made a cooked lunch every day. The starter was often a raw egg with a sprinkle of salt – usually served warm as it had just been laid – and the butter was produced on the farm.

Sebastian Rösch is the kind of chef who gets to know his suppliers personally. "That is undoubtedly due to the fact that I grew up on a farm," he says, "and I still love spending time there."

Rösch has built up a select network of producers and suppliers. He buys the goose for his ravioli filling from Roman Clavadetscher, while Lilo Meier grows roses for him on the slopes of the Uetliberg. "People like these two, who are passionate about what they do, are exactly who I want to work with. For example Lilo grows lots of extras just for me," he enthuses, explaining that direct contact improves the entire purchasing process leaving less margin for error. "Of course it's always more expensive for me to buy from such producers," he says. But it is definitely a worthwhile investment.

In Switzerland quite by chance

Sebastian Rösch came to live and work as a chef in Switzerland completely by chance. He did his apprenticeship at Laudensacks Parkhotel in Bad Kissingen. "It was pretty full on! I racked up 300 hours of overtime in the blink of an eye. We even had to go and work in the kitchen in the evening after we had finished college, which is technically against the rules," remembers Rösch. "My apprenticeship probably wasn't quite in line with the regulations, but I learnt so much. It was brilliant. I couldn't have found a better place to train, both from a professional and a personal point of view." After his apprenticeship Rösch wanted to go to Dubai, but his plans were thwarted when he was called up for military service. "After that I just wanted to get out of Germany. So I bought the Swiss edition of the GaultMillau, opened it at A and found the Giardino in Ascona. I liked it, so I applied for a job," he says. After a season cooking with Rolf Fliegauf, Rösch came to Zurich, stayed a while with Tobias Buholzer at the St. Meinrad restaurant, then moved to the Rigiblick.

Then after five years he asked himself: Is this it? Rösch was looking for a new challenge and helped to set up the bistro Marmite in Zurich's Altstetten district. "It was a simple bistro, but it was really good. Yet I soon noticed that I was missing the precision and products I was used to." Shortly after this he was contacted by Mesa owner Linda Mühlemann. Rösch follows in the footsteps of top chefs like Marcus G. Lindner and Antonio Colaianni. Pressure to perform? "People were sceptical, including the guests, after all they were big shoes to fill," admits Rösch. The Mesa has been rejuvenated, the atmosphere is more relaxed, yet standards had to remain high. "This balancing act was what made things difficult," he continues. Some guests were irritated if I put a specific cut of meat on the menu, but now they understand and are happy to join me on my adventures. I think I was able to win back a lot of regulars."

Roast duck as made by mother

Rösch's menu is very varied, featuring Ennetbürg Short Rib, Swiss Alpine Caviar, Ravioli with Malans Goose and Breton Halibut, and on Wednesdays he serves a completely vegan menu. Rösch is not a vegan himself, but he wants to offer those who choose not to consume any animal products the opportunity to enjoy high-quality dishes. What began as an experiment has been well received, and has also benefitted the chef. "People always ask me: What's your style? What's your signature? I'm still so young I don't want to be pigeon-holed, and apart from that I can't decide. I have access to so many wonderful products, I want to try out everything." Rösch is taking his time. He believes that chefs who seek the limelight to achieve economic success yet don't deliver on their promises can damage the industry.

"Switzerland stands for quality down to the smallest detail. If you are always trying to get everything down to the last cent then someone will suffer: the animal, the producer, the chef or the guest."

Rösch stays true to himself when he cooks, so whatever is on the plate is authentic. Rösch's favourite food is roast duck made by his mother. He recreates the dish in Mesa, roasting the breast with the bone still in. "This stops the meat from shrinking and locks in the moisture. The way I serve the dish is obviously a little more polished than at home, but essentially it's the same."

Text: Kathia Baltisberger, Photos: Olivia Pulver

GaultMillau-Channel
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