Silvio Germann

"Achieving exceptional taste requires time and patience."

It is 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and in IGNIV there is an air of calm – for now. The tables in the dining room have not yet been laid, and in the kitchen there is not a soul in sight. All that remains is the monotonous humming of the refrigerators. Glass plates, tiered stands and other receptacles stand neatly to attention on the squeaky-clean work surfaces, even though they won’t be filled for another few hours yet.

The composed scene around him means Silvio Germann is calm and collected too. The likeable Lucerne native is the mastermind behind the culinary delights served up by the first IGNIV restaurant, which Andreas Caminada opened at the end of 2015 in the luxurious and expansive Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. Its dining concept, in which dishes are shared among all the guests at a table, has made waves throughout the world of Swiss foodies.

The Switzerland edition of Gault&Millau named Germann «Discovery of the Year», while his colleague and restaurant manager Francesco Benvenuto received the title of «Sommelier of the Year». In fact, IGNIV’s distinctive qualities have resulted in the influential restaurant guide awarding it an outstanding 17 points. The accolades sent Germann on an amazing whirlwind journey – but now that the initial euphoria has somewhat worn off, he is setting his sights on showing what IGNIV can do next. The chef believes it is an excellent position to be in: «We can only grow and learn; we’ve got nothing to lose», he says.

His kitchen has naturally evolved since its beginnings. Chef patron Andreas Caminada allows him plenty of creative leeway for developing the concept, and at the same time he has learned what works well on a sharing menu – and what doesn’t. «It’s important to ensure that each component of a dish tastes equally fantastic», he explains. In a situation where everyone is taking something from the same plate, it’s essential that the right amount of sauce is provided, for example, to ensure that the flavours are distributed evenly. And of course, not everything is designed for sharing. Germann would perhaps shy away from serving confit egg yolk, for instance, as it could burst and leak while it was being taken from its dish.

He states that his cooking has become lighter: a 3-course meal at IGNIV involves around 20 different dishes dotting the table, and this means that the individual elements must not add up to something that is too heavy. Various acidic ingredients such as lime and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar also assist Germann in creating freshness and lightness. «I run a simple kitchen where dishes don’t need to contain more than three components», he says. He also subscribes to the Caminada school of thought, something that is clear for two reasons: his use of ingredients that are often simple and familiar, but handled with sophistication, and above all, the tastes he creates.

But how exactly do you create those great tastes in a kitchen? «First of all, it’s about allowing yourself the time and being patient – one example of that is the process of developing a sauce», replies Germann. The next crucial factor is the quantities of the individual ingredients that are added: sometimes it might take a precise amount of sweetness, other times something sour. And in some cases, butter holds the key. «It’s all about experience», says the chef. He explains that the more a chef works on a dish, the more refined their feel for it becomes.

As he admits, however, patience is not always a virtue that comes naturally to him. He recently had an idea that involved barley, but the grains need to be soaked in water for some time in order to swell up. «The problem is that as soon as an idea has popped into my head, I want to know how it will taste in reality», says Germann. Despite his calm and patient demeanour in a one-to-one conversation, he finds that things simply never move quickly enough for him when it comes to putting his ideas into practice. This is something he is working on, however, and he reports optimistically that things are improving. Recently, he has been playing a few rounds of golf in his free time. «Perhaps that’s helping me practice the art of patience too», he laughs. He believes that the sport is just like creating a good dish: time is key, and a round can’t be played in less than two to three hours. Out in Switzerland’s natural surroundings, he also treasures those moments that force him to clear his mind for a while. He has quickly come to learn that golf is a mental game above all else.

Germann goes on to explain more about the point at which patience meets exceptional taste. If he is preparing a char sandwich, for example, the freshwater fish are first neatly filleted before being coated with a spinach mixture. They are then rolled in cling film and cooked in something acidic, in the same way as an escabeche dish. Germann’s Swiss ceviche is rounded off with a potato vinaigrette, gherkins and radishes.

Since our conversation began, Germann’s kitchen has sprung to life: his two pastry chefs are making preparations for the evening ahead and «Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)» by the Eurythmics is rather befittingly playing on the radio. The head chef explains how the IGNIV kitchen works: due to the sharing concept, it requires different processes than the ones that take place in a conventional restaurant kitchen. The starter might consist of four or five different dishes, for example, all of which arrive at the table at the same time. To stop individual chefs from becoming overloaded, three or four colleagues are always involved simultaneously in getting dishes ready. In conventional kitchen situations, individual dishes are sent from a single work station (handling cold dishes, sides and vegetables, meat and fish, desserts, and so on).

Distributing the dishes to the tables also has its implications for the service staff, who have to work seamlessly in order to ensure that guests receive their food promptly. The ten-strong IGNIV team is by now very well-rehearsed: each member knows not only their own role, but what everyone else is doing too. In response, feedback from guests has been ecstatic – and the head chef is quick to share this with his team. «It’s vital that my crew is able to develop a sense of what the guests are looking for», he believes.

That’s not to say that the experience has been wall-to-wall sunshine: recently, Germann had to endure a lecture from a critical guest who expressed his disappointment at the vegetarian menu. «At the beginning of my career, I used to lose a week of sleep if I was criticised about anything», explains Germann. These days, however, he is able to take situations like this on the chin and turn them into a learning opportunity. «Once service is complete, the team gets together for a little while and we discuss how the evening has gone. We throw new ideas into the mix and think about feedback from guests.»

Germann is currently working on expanding the restaurant – something that he will also be reflecting in his culinary offerings. During the world-renowned Bad RagARTz sculpture exhibition due to take place in the summer, an enormous artist-designed nest will stand in the garden – fitting in with the Rhaeto-Romanic word «igniv», which means «bird’s nest» in English. Designed as a walk-through sculpture, it will be equipped with a mobile kitchen from V-ZUG serving small delicacies at lunchtime.

Germann is among those involved: in his dish, he is filling a smoked lettuce leaf with red cabbage that has been marinated in apple balsamic vinegar, and then covering this with braised chicken thighs and barbecue sauce. Zander with peas, a herb soup, fresh wild garlic and spare ribs are some of the other little dishes that the chef has developed for this special occasion. As he explains, he has one simple guiding principle for the kitchen: «If I cook something, I have to enjoy eating it myself».

Silvio Germann’s passion for cooking is unquestionable. He states that the possibilities are endless in the art of cooking – but it is clear that this talented head chef is very careful in the possibilities he chooses to pursue, so that he is always serving up this same sense of passion in the dishes his guests receive.

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