Salmon fillet with Kasperskian caviar and sorrel sauce… roast pork filet mignon with potato ‘miettes’ and Genevese cardoon gratin… fricassée of root vegetables with mountain cheese sparkles and green sauce… is your mouth watering yet?
For Les Roches students, and growing numbers of local food lovers, such delights are part of the ever-rotating menu at Roots Restaurant, the fine dining ‘farm to table’ establishment that opened in 2018 within the Bluche campus.
The quality of the food on offer only tells a fraction of the Roots story, however. The restaurant’s overriding mission is to play its part in leading the Swiss restaurant industry towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future.
Achieving this, explains head chef Matteo Salas, means going local.
“The basis for Roots is respect for our local Swiss producers,” he says. “Our purpose is to showcase their produce, support their harvests and enable these amazing, unique ingredients to be sustained for future generations.”
"In doing so, we are seriously reducing our environmental footprint, eliminating the CO2 emissions and other pollutants that are generated when food is exported long distances."
A TASTE OF SWITZERLAND
Though not well-known globally for its agriculture, Switzerland offers a wealth of delicious home grown vegetables, cheeses and meats.
At last count, there were 49 different types of unique local produce enjoying the protected status that comes with the Appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) designation. An example is the Genevese cardoon (part of the artichoke family) mentioned earlier.
Switzerland also boasts 14 foods designated IGP (Protected Geographical Indication), which is an assurance of quality for items like meat or cheese that are native to a particular region.
While Swiss producers are naturally at the forefront of Roots menu creation, Les Roches’ strategic location in Valais means its 100km maximum transport distance allows French and Italian producers to also get involved.
Perhaps the only area of Roots’ offer which has – to date – proven tricky to fulfil locally is the wine list. “We want to focus on organic wines, but the process to gain certification takes around five years,” says Service Instructor Laurent Kocher.
“We’re now talking to a number of producers who are in the process of achieving certification, and as soon as more organic wines come onto the market, we’ll put them on our list.”
LETTING STUDENTS SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE
Les Roches is about hospitality education, so naturally the students have a big role to play at Roots Restaurant. A rotation into Roots is part of the curriculum, with daily workshops offering a chance to learn menu planning, the art of plating, hygiene standards, food preservation and cooking techniques.
“We change our menus every week, so there is a big opportunity for the students to get involved with that creative process,” says Matteo. “Also, the workshops really engage our students in the rationale for buying local; in particular why it’s good for all of us to eat quality food that’s grown in a proper manner.”
OUT IN THE FIELD
Not all the learning takes place in the kitchen. One of the benefits of forging close links with local suppliers is the opportunity to take students on field trips, enabling them to see first-hand where their ingredients come from.
One such trip, in late 2018, was to the globally-respected Kasperskian Caviar in Leuk. At this unique, ethical aquaculture facility, some 30,000 sturgeon fish live in conditions that are the closest possible to the wild.
“Trips like these enable our students to go and meet the producers, see the origin of their produce and learn how to work with it,” says Matteo.
"Kasperskian is a good friend to us, and in return we paid homage to them through a special dish last year that featured sturgeon fillet with caviar and a cream sauce."
LAYING DOWN ROOTS
For Laurent Kocher, the next steps for Roots are to reach out further into the local community, so more customers have the opportunity to sample its seasonal delights.
“We recently joined our regional Passeport Gourmand scheme, which is already bringing in new customers,” he says. “In the coming months we want to become even better known within the local community, so more of our students can experience serving ‘real’ guests and spreading the word about farm to table fine dining.”