The Columbus of Alpine cuisine

Dominik Flammer and his Culinarium Alpinum

Described somewhat technically as the “Centre of Competence for Regional Cuisine”, this new venture is more like a treasure trove of Alpine food culture. The treasure inside has been collected by 53-year-old Dominik Flammer from St. Gallen, an aficionado of Alpine cuisine for around 20 years now. He is also quick to point out that you should never talk about Swiss cuisine, but rather refer to regional food cultures, because the Jura, for example, shares very little common culinary ground with somewhere like the Graubünden valleys.

Culinarium Alpinum is the name of the new venue created at the former Capuchin monastery in Stans, Canton of Nidwalden, and for Flammer it’s a bit of an early crowning glory to his life’s work. “I’m definitely proud that thanks to a fantastic team we’ve achieved our goal in just five and a half years,” says the economics graduate and long-time journalist.

Dominik Flammer becoming something of an icon in the world of Alpine cuisine is actually one of life’s happy coincidences. During a trip around France in the early 2000s, Flammer became interested in French culinary history and noticed that about half of French cheese varieties were actually strongly influenced by Swiss cheeses. He wrote a high-profile article for the business magazine “Bilanz”, which led first to his award-winning book “Schweizer Käse” (Swiss Cheese) and ultimately to the books and films on the Culinary Heritage of the Alps, which started off an entire culinary movement.

Curiosity and a love of discovering new things are what Flammer is driven by, and the food scout only needs to hear a single word to spout forth with great enthusiasm about all of the cheese varieties, farmers, fishermen and chefs he has met, brought together and influenced. A little like a Columbus of Alpine cuisine, Flammer has advised dozens of top chefs such as Andreas Caminada, Norbert Niederkofler and Franck Giovannini, and sees linking people up as one of his key tasks: “chef seeks farmer, farmer seeks chef,” he says with a smile, his goal being to give fishermen, farmers and other producers a route into good kitchens.

When the self-declared “hunter-gatherer” talks about how a farmer he recently visited sent him on his way with some apples of the Doppelter Prinzenapfel variety, and how he then baked an apple tart with them that tasted at least twice as good as those he usually makes with Boskoop apples, Flammer sounds like an enthusiastic young boy marvelling at how he used his old Lego bricks to build something completely new. But ever the businessman, Dominik Flammer is always thinking about what comes next: “if instead of selling standard apple tarts at four francs each, bakeries were to sell three different tart options, each made with just one variety of apple, customers would pay seven francs for them,” he says with certainty.

This business acumen is without a doubt one of the things that has attracted a number of institutional partners to the Culinarium Alpinum, including Richemont, one of the world’s most renowned bakery training schools, and the industry associations Gastro Suisse and Hotelleriesuisse. Dominik Flammer believes there is a great deal of potential for the economy and tourism in strengthening regional culinary culture: regional breakfast buffets in hotels – with different ingredients depending on whether you’ve stayed at Lake Geneva, in the Jura or in Graubünden – are just one of many opportunities. “The Alpine region is home to extraordinary culinary diversity, and for me, uncovering that is endlessly fascinating,” says Dominik Flammer, explaining why his passion is far from over.

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