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.