Armed with chef skills, a hotel management degree and three languages, his native Swiss-German, French and English, Zurich-born Stefan Welschen learned his trade in America.
‘I wanted to go somewhere that was a little bit familiar to Switzerland so I choose Colorado and the Grand Palace – probably the most expensive hotel from Chicago to Los Angeles.’
It was a hotel with a big history.
‘A guy who got so much money in the gold rush built the Grand Palace,’ he says. ‘If you remember the movie Titanic? Molly Brown? The old lady who showed the Di Caprio character how to eat correctly at the table, she owned the Grand Palace, so I worked for the Brown house, for two years.’
When he returned to Switzerland he took over the family hotel at number three Saflischstrasse in the alpine town of Brig and focused on the restaurant.
Now his Restaurant Cheminots is the talk of the town. Travellers leave sated, and promise to return.
His menu is always a looking glass into traditional Swiss food, especially that of the immediate region – the Rhone valley known as canton Valais in French, canton Wallis in Swiss-German.
When available freshwater fish from Switzerland’s numerous lakes are transformed into mouth-watering dishes. La Pôchouse, the Burgundian freshwater fish stew in a white wine-vegetable stock, takes on a Swiss twist.
Veal has been an alpine ingredient for centuries, largely because it has featured in sausage-making. By putting the St. Gallen Olma-Brätwurst on his menu he is acknowledging the autumn farm fair in St. Gallen when half a million veal-milk sausages are consumed every year, thus paying tribute to a sausage some argue is the best in Europe.
Occasionally he puts on his menu the fabulous Cordon Bleu. Like many Alpine chefs he introduces variations to the basic recipe.
By serving lamb’s lettuce salad with sautéed bacon, boiled egg and garlic croûtons, he is telling his guests, don’t leave the canton without trying the delicious nutty leaves that can be found grown across the slopes of the valley and sold in the market stalls every Saturday.
Always available are local wines, especially the large white wine called Fendant, pressed exclusively from Chasselas grapes, that goes down well with fondue and other cheese dishes.
Of his signature dishes several are typical Wallis, particularly the famous vegetable pie with apples, cheese, leeks, onions and potatoes known as cholera from the Goms valley, east of Brig.
The 1830s were difficult for the people of the hidden Swiss valleys. Cholera swept across the land, confining people to their homes, where they relied on the stable foods. Out of adversity this traditional dish emerged and survives today.
The traditional cholera recipe contained equal amounts of apple, cabbage and potato, half the amount of cheese, and was baked using a plain pastry dough.
This is Stefan Welchen’s version.
- 500 g puff pastry
- 400 g Gala apples, sliced
- 400 g Wallis potatoes, boiled whole, peeled, sliced
- 400 g raclette cheese, sliced
- 250 g Bosc pears, sliced
- 200 g Wallis leeks, halved, sliced, braised in butter until soft
- Egg for glaze
- Salt, pinch
- Pepper, pinch
- Nutmeg, grated
Preheat oven to 215°C. Cover the base and sides of a cake tin with pastry. Prick the base lightly with a fork. Layer evenly with apple followed by the potato, leeks and pears. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Lay cheese on top, then a pastry lid, press edges of pastry together, prick lightly with a fork in several places. Brush with egg and bake for an hour.