It would seem that anyone aiming to make their mark on the world as a chef has to be an early bird. Andreas Caminada’s alarm clock went off at precisely five am this morning. The native of Graubünden, who has cooked his way to the very top at Schloss Schauenstein – a castle in the Domleschg region – has arranged to go fishing on the Walensee lake. A few hours later, the day’s catch lies in the castle kitchen: alongside some whitefish, the most common fish caught in Swiss lakes, there’s an impressively large trout. As big as a salmon, weighing 3.8 kilograms and worth just over 180 francs, this is as fresh as a fish can be. The eyes are still bright and clear, the gills bright red, as the chef can tell with his practised eye.
With deft moves, Caminada begins to cut the fish up into valuable and less valuable pieces. First, the fillet pieces and cheeks are neatly removed and de-boned. The chef then scrapes the rest of the orange-coloured flesh from the carcass using a tablespoon. He will later chop it up to make a tartare. The carcass itself can be used to prepare a fish stock.
The fillets are also made ready for later use in just a few hand moves: the method chosen is curing, a form of marinating that is often used for members of the salmon family such as salmon or trout. Gravlax, which has been a staple of the Scandinavian diet for centuries, is a classic example. The spices – in particular, salt and sugar – draw water out of the fish, preserving it from spoiling and naturally making it more aromatic.
Fish stays fresh
Caminada’s curing marinade consists of salt and sugar in equal parts (30g each), plus a mixture of dried spices (black pepper, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and a few juniper berries) ground with a mortar and pestle . The spice mixture is rubbed into the fillets of fish, which are then covered with slices of lemon, fresh dill and tarragon. Wrapped tightly in cling film, the three-star chef now places the fish in the refrigerator to cure for at least 12 hours.
While Andreas Caminada devotes his attention to the fish, elegantly blending routine and dedication, the door to the small test kitchen regularly opens as employees come in seeking a thumbs up from the chef-patron or asking him for instructions. Eleven cooks and three dishwashers work in the kitchen at Schloss Schauenstein, putting on a culinary show par excellence each lunchtime and evening. There is naturally a very fine line between finding the perfect taste and achieving technical perfection. And the man at the top is constantly having to make decisions: does this cream have the right aroma? Are there enough of the yoghurt balls frozen in liquid nitrogen? “These are my dishes, this is my world of flavours. I need to make sure it remains authentic. That’s why there’s a lot I’m not able to delegate. I have to be in the kitchen myself, but I also want to be”, says Caminada.
The flavours he likes to work with ultimately have a classical background. The filigree arrangements on the plate, often reminiscent of architecture, should not blind diners to the fact that this is a very simply form of cuisine – with an ingenious twist. While the possibilities opened up by modern cooking techniques are exploited, they are never more than a means to an end: the flavour of each individual ingredient must be good to outstanding.