2 Star Chef Rolf Fliegauf speaks about what it means to be successful
2 Star Chef Rolf Fliegauf, from Ristorante ECCO, in Switzerland, speaks to us about what it means to be successful.
In 2011 at the age of 29, as the youngest Chef in Europe to be awarded 2 Michelin Guide Stars and still blazing a trail of success, how did this journey begin for you and what was the driving force to lead you to cook?
The journey started early, my parents ran a small Bed-and-Breakfast and as a boy the kitchen was fascinating. It was always clear to me, there was never a doubt I wanted to be a Chef.
In 1997, you started your apprenticeship as a chef at the Dehner Blumenhotel in Rain am Lech (Bavaria). What memories do you hold close about that time?
It was a nice introduction to the Culinary field. The work days were short (9 hours), which was good. I don’t know if I would have been willing to work 15 hours a day.
Diving immediately into Gourmet and Haute Cuisine as a starting Chef, did you have any reservations about your ability to deliver what was required of you?
I was working in the Restaurant Silberberg under Jürgen Reidt and Henry Oskar Fried, going directly after my apprenticeship to the Traube Tonbach was a big step.I had tremendous respect and definitely huge reservations if I could do it or not, not only before I
was hired there, but also during the first 6 months. It was a very hard and unbelievably educational period. I also think it laid a lot of future groundwork.
After working as a chef in the Veneto on Sylt and Gogärtchen in Kampen, came the change to Switzerland as Sous Chef under Urs Gschwend in the Hotel Lenkerhof. Was there a special reason for Switzerland?
Purley chance. I wanted to work on the ship MS Europa, but at the last minute it didn’t work out. So, I was looking for a job and called a friend I knew from the Traube. He said he was in Switzerland at a pretty cool hotel and there was a position opening up. The next day I put myself on a train and then introduced myself. It was a great fit, and I started there shortly after. It took about a good year to go from Chef de Partie to Sous Chef.
In 2007 you moved up and on as Executive Chef at the Restaurant Ecco Ascona in the Swiss Five-Star-Hotel Giardino Ascona on Lago Maggiore. What defined your culinary direction after starting there?
At the time I was still pretty young when I was offered the position. The management wanted to do something new, so we decided to explore the molecular direction. It was an exciting but also very difficult experiment. However, after just 8 months, we were able to clinch the first Michelin star, which was so good for us.
Then in 2011 came the second Michelin Guide Star. Was that what you were consciously working towards?
It’s always difficult to say what you’re consciously working towards. We had expanded our Kitchen Brigade and changed our direction. We were cooking more organically, getting back to basics… Pure flavors, good combinations. The goal of 2 stars was always there, but nobody thought we would do it so fast. I wasn’t even 30-years-old.
In the winter you moved with your whole team to Ecco St. Moritz in St. Moritz, which in 2012 you also received 2 Stars. What were the differences in culinary trend between these places?
Nothing. The Direction was exactly the same. It’s just the season that makes it different. In winter, for example, vegetables are more hearty, but our philosophy is always the same.
Your cooking style has evolved from molecular approaches to today’s Aroma Cuisine. How would you describe your culinary direction today?
Still as Aroma Cuisine. We utilize traditional, modern, and cosmopolitan foundations with Japanese influences.
You are still young and have achieved so much, do you think you can predict the evolution your cooking style? In addition to the two Guide Michelin stars, your restaurant has been awarded 17 Gault Millau points. Is a 3rd star something to actively work towards?
Well, I’m not that young anymore. 🙂 It’s like this: I cooked my way to 2 stars by 29 years old. My job is also my passion, it brings me joy and I am dedicated to it. I’m also a bit ambitious… so I can’t really say that I am satisfied and would like to continue for the next 25 years without any goals in mind. Of course, the 3rd star is a big dream. To actively pursue it, I don’t think I could do that. We want to cook for our guests, keep evolving, constantly improve ourselves, cook well, and have a great time doing it. If all that is enough for the third star, then I’ll be extremely happy.
Your dishes at Ristorante ECCO draw people with their unfamiliar, exciting tastes and unconventional plating and compositions. Aroma Cuisine is modern, but to make it work is a very difficult art in it’s own right. Do you just have a knack for it or does it take an immense amount of practice to master?
A lot of practice is a big part, regardless of what it is you do. Alain Ducasse wonderfully remarked once: “Cooking, that’s 95% hard work and 5% genius.” I think he’s right.
Critics praise your work as pure flavor-intensification with the ability to combine the unadulterated tastes of components in a way that the guests will find a culinary masterpiece on their plates. Could you share with us some examples of your Masterpieces and what makes them so special?
I try to get the optimum taste out of a product, and make it as intense as possible in a natural way. For example, at the moment, I have a red beet dish on the menu. We use organic red beets from a farmer we got to know, because they taste much better than conventional red beets. We pack the beets in a salt dough and roast them in the oven, which intensifies the flavor even more. The beets are then glazed with a heavily reduced red-beet jus, which is refined with spices and herbs … so you have an extremely rich and deep flavor of red beet. Then we add hibiscus and blackcurrant as an acid note and serve this with our goose liver. A perfect harmony of strength and earthiness by the red beet, buttery-sweetness through the liver, tart and fruity via the berries and hibiscus and the result is a very well-balanced dish.
Does the term “down-to-earth” artisan and artist apply to you and your work?
I would think so … first and foremost I am a Chef and therefore a craftsman, but on the other hand, I still think that we are making something special out of somewhat mundane food, something that can be incorporated into the artistic world.
Your menus are based on the very finest and seasonal products.
Do you have a close working-relationship with your local and specialty suppliers?
Yes, and contact and communication with your suppliers is extremely important. We are currently working together with an Organic farm on our annual plan, they grow the vegetables especially for us, so that we get the optimal quality. This requires a lot of time and planning, but you get the perfect product.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest creations / recipes?
The latest creation at the moment is a starter made of crab with goose liver, radish, and green shiso. A light, but rich entry into the menu.
Thank you for your time!