Marcel Skibba

“The guests should be able to enjoy what they have on their plate.”

Marcel Skibba talks calmly and quietly – the tall, thin chef is not one to raise his voice. “When I get angry, people might notice it but I don’t go yelling around the kitchen. In the end, I prefer sorting things out through dialogue.” Since 2017, the 31-year-old from the Black Forest has been head chef during the winter months at “IGNIV by Andreas Caminada”, in the Badrutt’s Palace luxury hotel in St. Moritz.

The guests here are very demanding and for most of them, the food served at the “IGNIV” is somewhat unusual. They are not simply served a plate with the dish they ordered. Instead, waves of bowls and plates arrive one after the other: a winter salad, a little foie gras with yoghurt and physalis, a delicious fish soup with char and langoustine ravioli, a flowery, peppery-tasting steak tartare with crème fraiche and light and crispy potato chips – an almost never-ending series of high-quality dishes rolls past guests at an “IGNIV” evening.

This type of gastronomy is demanding and requires a high level of organisation and discipline, both in the kitchen and when serving. Someone like Marcel Skibba, who remains calm while displaying a high perception of quality, is the ideal man for the job. Skibba grew up in the world of haute cuisine, as his parents owned an inn in the Black Forest where, as he explains, he “earned good pocket money waiting tables and washing dishes”. He was nevertheless impressed by his brother’s best friend who ran the kitchen and made his mark through innovation. “He taught himself almost everything, reading books and trying things out,” recounts Skibba.

At the age of 16, he began an apprenticeship in a long-standing company some 300 kilometres from home, which was followed by a difficult period which placed considerable demands on the young chef while nevertheless helping him develop character. His father fell ill, his parents’ business ran into difficulties and, despite the help of 21-year-old Marcel, he realised that he would not be able to save the family business with its 15-strong staff. “I made sure that the three apprentices were able to complete their training then took out a loan to pay off the debts and end things with dignity.”

He had to pay the loan off over several years while looking for a way to break into the high-end gastronomy sector. “In the beginning, I was genuinely scared by the challenge because the restaurant I was supposed to start work in after the episode with my parents’ business had recently been awarded its second Michelin star,” explains the chef with unassuming candour. Skibba struggled through, learning not only the subtleties of award-winning cuisine but also what is required for good organisation: “We prepared a brunch for 300 people while the gourmet restaurant served its usual fare for 30 guests.”

In 2015, after spending several years in the 3-star restaurant “La Vie” in Osnabrück, Marcel Skibba and his partner at that time moved to Switzerland to start a new adventure working for Andreas Caminada at the “Schloss Schauenstein”. And with “IGNIV”, he has once again written a new chapter of his professional story. As a chef, he has a relatively simple philosophy: “It has to taste good, that’s all there is to it,” says Skibba with a smile on his face, before adding, “The guests should be able to understand and enjoy what they have on their plate.” That is relatively easy if you use good products.

At the same time, according to Skibba, a dish must nevertheless display a certain degree of difficulty. And in this respect, amid the calm and composure, he is also very precise: “If something is not cut cleanly, the chef has to do it again,” is the message. Skibba pays particular attention to sauces, which often make the difference between a good dish and a very good dish.

“One of the most important things I have learned over the years is not to reduce sauces too much, otherwise they become dull and it is impossible to distinguish the flavours of the individual ingredients,” explains the 31-year-old chef. In such cases, a ladle of good stock or bouillon is an excellent remedy to bring the taste out again.

We move into the kitchen, which is visible from the restaurant by means of a large glass partition. Marcel Skibba prepares a relatively new classic for us from the IGNIV repertoire – a Lucerne zander served in the style of a ceviche. In this kind of dish, the fish is cooked briefly in a something tart, such as lemon or lime juice. Skibba adds finely sliced red onions, a little ginger, leeks and saffron, giving the whole a delicate seasoning.

He then shows us how to chop the top off an egg cleanly in order to hollow it out before filling it again. At IGNIV, the starter is an egg with savoury filling while the dessert is the same but with a sweet filling. Skibba picks up an eggshell cracker. The open attachment is placed over the more rounded side of the egg – “not on the top,” advises the chef. He then lets the heavy ball drop twice, three times to create an even breaking point. Using a small knife, he then cuts through the seam he has just created and carefully opens the egg up.

“Ideas for new dishes come to me when I’m least expecting them, for example when I’m in the shower,” Skibba says after demonstrating his egg-opening technique. He has to write his thoughts down immediately so that he doesn’t forget them. His boss, Andreas Caminada, might call him into a creative meeting, so it’s always good to have a few ideas up his sleeve. “I can’t just come up with ideas on command,” he says.

Sometimes, however, chance throws something interesting up, like the burger filled with barbecue-style strips of brisket instead of a patty of ground meat. Skibba vacuum-sealed the meat in hay before curing it: “The result was juicier and more attractive than the variant without hay.” Over time, Skibba has discovered that cooking at an altitude of more than 1,800 metres above sea level brings with it its own rules. “Many recipes, for example for lye rolls, simply didn’t work here at first. We had to fiddle with it a bit until it was as it was supposed to be,” recounts the chef. Once again, his calm, carefully considered manner doubtless came to his aid.

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