A visit to Walter Klose

A hilltop idyll

The adventure begins at an altitude of exactly 1083 metres above sea level. As you cautiously drive up the steep, narrow road from Rehetobel in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, northeastern Switzerland, the sense of anticipation at the prospect of a visit to the ‘Gupf’ just keeps growing. The legendary hotel and restaurant with ten guest bedrooms and space for fifty diners in three cosy rooms is managed by Walter and Manuela Klose who have been guaranteeing outstanding food and charming hospitality for many years.

It’s a combination that has proved irresistibly popular, and if you plan to visit at the weekend, you might need to be patient: from Friday to Sunday, beds in the hotel rooms and seats in the restaurant are booked up far in advance. The reason, or rather the reasons, soon become obvious: the location, the hosts, the food.

Walter Klose first ventured into the Appenzell hills in 1998 to work on a short contract for the restaurant’s owner. The arrangement came to an end when the owner engaged a young chef called Daniel Humm. Klose had to leave but returned in 2003 when Humm decided to continue his career in the United States. It signalled the start of a blossoming period of success for the ‘Gupf’, which has lasted to this day. The restaurant has gained an excellent reputation for its flavoursome classic cooking and its exceptional wine cellar – more about this later.

Stories and attractions
Klose knew from the outset that he didn’t simply want to be a chef in this relatively remote location. “I’m a chef, an entrepreneur, a host,” says the boss of 21 employees. For him, the question was from the outset: “What can you do to make people come to the middle of nowhere for you?”

The ‘Gupf’ has a rich history and offers numerous attractions. There’s the glass cube in front of the main building where guests can relax with an aperitif and a cigar in front of a crackling fire. There’s the newly laid-out garden with enough seclusion to give each guest a sense of privacy. And then there’s the farm just across the road. As well as being the home of the Klose family, it also has room to land a helicopter in the yard, while in the barn stand the beef cattle destined to be served in the restaurant’s cosy rooms. Finally, there is the wine cellar – one of the most impressive ones of its kind in Switzerland.

The main cellar with various side rooms was built in 1998 and is equipped with the same kind of system as a high-bay warehouse. On the computer in the middle of the room you type in the four-digit number for the bottle you are interested in. All the required information, including the wine’s exact storage location, then pops up on the screen. A total of 3000 storage locations containing 30 000 bottles lie deep inside the hill at the ‘Gupf’. The wine cellar isn’t just impressive to look at: it’s also one of the main reasons why guests keep coming back to this exceptional hilltop restaurant.

In 2005, a large bottle cellar was added to the complex, which houses the world’s biggest bottle of wine according to the Guinness Book of Records. Finally, 2014 saw the addition of the ‘treasury’. As if by magic, a sliding door slowly opens to reveal two huge walnut tabletops, a hand-carved mural of Appenzell motifs and illuminated recesses set into the floor where bottles of wine are stunningly presented under glass.

Bottled treasures
The treasures housed here include many crates of prestigious wines, including many vintages of Pétrus, one of the most prestigious red wines in the world. “It’s my life insurance,” says Klose. A 2004 bottle of Pétrus, for example, will fetch a market value of between 1600 and 1800 francs. “We sell maybe three bottles a year, but it also provides a degree of security for the business. If things were to go wrong I could always sell or drink the bottles,” laughs Klose.

From the cellar, we move up to the ground floor, where two preparations are underway in the kitchen. Sous chef Tobias is deep-frying breaded schnitzel in butter for the staff lunch – “A classic,” he says. Mise en place is also being completed for the lunchtime service: petit fours bases are being arranged and a Combi-Steam XSL is being preheated to 180 °C on the ‘hot air with steaming’ setting to finish baking the meat patties for the amuse-bouche. Lobster claws lie perfectly lined up on a baking tray – according to the menu, the sought-after crustacean can be enjoyed either as an open raviolo with scallops, leaf spinach, blood orange and vanilla or as a salad with mango, chilli and lemongrass foam.

The kitchen at the ‘Gupf’ is a blend of the classic and the down-to-earth. Klose is as popular with experienced fine diners as with the neighbours who stop by every few months to enjoy three courses or one of the chef’s classics. “Tradition is important here,” says the host with his typical Bavarian-Swiss charm. According to Klose, one of his classics is a pork cutlet from his own farm, “seared, seven minutes in the oven and then briefly basted with butter”. Another one is veal cheeks with mashed potato. Klose has been cooking these ‘home-style’ dishes, or ‘mother’s cooking’, as he calls it, since his days as an apprentice near Munich. Nowadays, they are the reason why many guests make the trip to Rehetobel.

On a first visit you should order the ‘Schlemmermenü’ (gourmet menu), which gives you a broad introduction to Klose’s art over several courses. For the main course, there are two meat dishes to choose from, for example veal and lamb. If you can’t make up your mind, simply order both – and you’ll get a smaller portion of each dish.

Walter Klose and his wife Manuela are born hosts. While Manuela – who also makes the preserves served at breakfast – examines the weighty reservations book and tries to find room for the many enquiries with charm and aplomb, her husband hurries through the restaurant in long strides. In the various preparation areas on the basement floor, he greets the staff who wash the dishes, then pauses in the patisserie area just around the corner to sample a chocolate-coated raspberry jelly and a white chocolate praline with coconut filling. Then he heads straight up to his narrow office, where he will only find time late in the evening to take care of the paperwork.

Short distance from pan to guest
When the weather is fine, guests can look out on the shimmering expanse of water from the Lake Constance room. Overcast skies make the pale outlines of hills, forests and clouds blend together like a watercolour painting. Even rain showers are more beautiful here than elsewhere. And the feelgood sensation continues on the plate: a steak tartare of young beef, a perfectly sautéed scampo or a beautifully tender braised veal cheek with parsley root and a duo of sauces. “The thing that makes my plain, home-style cooking different from other people’s is the fact that there is such a short distance from pan to guest. Things move quickly,” says Klose, whisk in hand, as he stirs a hollandaise in the sauteuse pan.

Just then, the telephone rings – in fact it has barely stopped ringing. It’s the vegetable supplier enquiring about the chef’s requirements. Klose takes the call while continuing to stir the hollandaise. “Cooking is still my thing,” he says happily. It’s a statement that rings true; just as when Manuela Klose, quizzed about her professional demeanour, says that a smile costs nothing. These words stay in your mind as you prepare to leave this hilltop idyll and head back down the hill to return to normality.

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