A day at the castle

In the kitchen with Andreas Caminada

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.

A beetroot is a beetroot

Above all, things should taste as they are supposed to taste. The beetroot that Caminada combines with the cured trout, now chopped up into a tartare, has been steamed in the usual fashion before being baked on a bed of salt in the oven, which results in a variety of textures and nuances of flavour. The sweet, earthy vegetable and fresh lettuce leaves are then marinated in nothing more than a drop of fruity olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. “I don’t want to overdo the seasoning and marinades”, says Caminada. “After all, I’m a mountain lad at heart and like to keep things relatively simply”, continues the 38-year-old from Sagogn, before adding a scoop of beetroot ice cream with a hint of oriental spices to the composition. And the beetroot still tastes like beetroot – but maybe even a tiny bit more delicious.

Meantime, the various kitchens here at Schauenstein (main kitchen, patisserie, production, test kitchen) have become noticeably busier. Black-jacketed cooks bustle around, German and English is spoken, but the tone remains calm despite the amount of work to be done. The restaurant has started serving lunch and those who come to dine at Fürstenau have high expectations.

Desserts should be sweet

And while the diners are no doubt enjoying their main course, Andreas Caminada shows us how to make a perfect soufflé. The Combi-Steam is set to 190 degrees (convection) and allowed to pre-heat properly. A deep tray is filled with two to three finger breadth’s of water and placed in the oven. The quark soufflé is a permanent fixture on the Schauenstein dessert menu: a classic sweet course with a high feel-good factor. Caminada tells us that he has nothing against the current trend for integrating vegetables and herbs into desserts elsewhere. “But my desserts are intended to be sweet – with just a hint of tartness”, he says.

Small ramekins are now greased with very soft butter for the soufflé. Caminada applies the butter in precise brush strokes from bottom to top – i.e. in the same direction in which the airy mixture will later rise. The ramekins are also sprinkled with sugar. 150g quark, 40g fresh egg yolk, the grated peel of an organic lemon and the scraped-out pulp of a vanilla pod are now combined and mixed together thoroughly. By the way, the rest of the pod is washed and air dried. That way, you can always use it to add flavour to a liquid, says Caminada. Or you can simply put it in a jar of sugar and let the sugar take on the sweet smell and flavour of the vanilla.

60g fresh egg white are beaten using a mixer. Caminada adds the 40g sugar and 7g corn flour right from the start. That’s important to ensure the mixture rises nice and evenly during baking, he says. The egg yolk is folded evenly into the egg white mixture and that mixture is then poured into the ramekins, right up to the top. Bang the ramekins down gently once or twice on the worktop to make sure the soufflé mixture is evenly distributed, then pop the dessert in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Bake in the oven for 15 to 18 minutes. You should always keep an eye on it, advises Andreas Caminada, but it goes without saying that you should never open the oven door, otherwise the soufflé will collapse. Once the surface has turned a nice, caramel-brown colour and the egg mixture has risen to resemble a top hat, it should be removed from the oven and served immediately. In Caminada’s case, this creates a fresh, springlike dessert with green rhubarb and sorrel prepared in a number of ways.

The chef as gardener

The last diners leave the castle of good taste in the late afternoon and Andreas Caminada leads us across a meadow to the small garden in which tomatoes, bay, strawberries and Fellenberg plums are ripening. The garden belongs to a neighbour, who has been tending it for many years. Herbs grow in simple greenhouses. These are lovingly used by Caminada’s team on a daily basis – to add a touch of green to a plate of trout and beetroot, for example.

But Caminada’s day, which began on the lake in the cool, early hours of the morning, is not yet over. Two interior designers are coming to visit. They have ideas of how to turn the storage room in the Remisa next to the castle into an aesthetically pleasing shop, where visitors will one day be able to buy Caminada sauces, aprons or knives. The Remisa – La Tavlanda is an elegant variation of the informal farm pub where visitors can eat simple dishes at a long table – Tavlanda is the Romansh expression for sitting down together to share a meal. Coffee and cake are served here on Saturdays and Sundays, alongside meat and cheese platters. For lunch there is the best “Hörnli mit Ghackets”, minced beef and pasta served with apple sauce, you will ever taste outside of your mother’s own kitchen.

Andreas Caminada eats a plateful of Hörnli, now and again jumping up to take care of something. The first dinner guests will soon be arriving. Today, I suspect there will be fresh trout on the menu, and most definitely a soufflé for dessert.

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