C Andreas Ziep © Angela Lamprecht / Vorarlberg Tourismus
The Gault & Millau gourmet guide awarded the Naturhotel Chesa Valisa the accolade of ‘Hotel Discovery of the Year 2023’. Remarkable, considering that the four-star superior hotel is able to look back on 500 years of history. It is located in Hirschegg in the Kleinwalsertal Valley – which locals call ‘the most beautiful cul-de-sac in the world’. It is only possible to access the region from Vorarlberg by way of Germany through the Riedberg Pass. The Chesa Valisa is located in the middle of the green and largely unspoilt countryside. A refuge for those seeking to relax.
Brother and sister Magdalena and David Kessler are the 14th generation to run the Chesa Valisa. It has been certified organic, that is, from the equipment to cleaning products, bed linen and kitchen. Andreas joined the team in May 2022. The young chef already became passionate about cooking as a profession when he was still a child. “My parents and grandparents always had time to cook. And I enjoyed discovering what could be done with just a few ingredients.”He learned his trade from Jeremias Riezler at the Walserstuba restaurant in the immediate vicinity, where Andreas helped the venue achieve its first award toque. One of the dishes on the menu was a trio of pork served with Schupfnudeln and Rösti, which even Swiss guests claimed were the best they had ever had. Following other stops at top restaurants, he now stands for ‘honest natural cuisine with a French touch’ and a focus on conscious nutrition. He also cooks with organic products at home.
Each vegetable is appreciated
So off to the kitchen: Andreas reaches for the large organic beetroot in the vegetable basket, cuts off the base and almost lovingly places it on the salt-covered tray. He prepares buckwheat cookies with parsley purée, vegetable jus and beetroot. He roasts the beetroot in the oven for one and a half hours until it is firm to the bite and the flavour has fully developed. He learned to appreciate produce early on – when he had to clean lettuces as an apprentice. “There’s a lot of energy in vegetables that have been given time to grow.”If it was up to him, “There would be no need for fashion fruits like avocado. White cabbage and pumpkins also contain what they do. What we have here is our larder!”
To make the vegetable jus, Andreas chops carrots, celeriac and onions into rough cubes and slices leeks and a garlic bulb into pieces. He adds a little rosemary, bay leaf and allspice before roasting everything. The aromas make you feel slightly hungry. Andreas sees his focus on organic produce as an advantage. “You only need to learn how to use the products that are available.”Organic products sometimes vary in terms of quantity or, for example, the fat content of cream, he says. “A chef is not a pharmacist. We do use recipes but we do not weigh out every gram. A lot of the time it comes down to feeling. You need to touch and taste things. Some carrots are sweeter or softer than others. Organic celeriac is sometimes as hard as rock and needs a long time to cook.”So it’s always good to be flexible and creative – because not everything is always available either. “We plan two weeks in advance but that can sometimes be cut short to just two to four days.”
Magdalena and David introduced the ‘Green Day’ in the summer. It was initially met with surprise, but in a positive sense. “Guests appreciate that no meat is served on Thursdays. They usually expect something healthy to be dished up when they come to us. But if guests do want a schnitzel, they can have one,” says Andreas with a smile. Vegan dishes are also on the menu.
It is meal time for the staff. And they are also served organic food, of course. Fish, cereal biscuits and a wide selection of vegetables are available. Sometimes it is hardly possible to contain yourself and refrain from helping yourself at the buffet. But it is not long to go – the cooked parsley roots are at this moment being noisily blitzed into mash and the chef is sautéing finely diced root vegetables in a pot with oil. He carefully adds the buckwheat, pours in vegetable broth, lets the grain cook and then allows the mix to cool. Accurate equally sized buckwheat biscuits succeed when the chef drops a scoop of ice-cream on to the frying surface and flattens it with a ladle. You never stop learning.
The garden is the teacher
The venue’s own garden is an important source of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Everything thrives on the property that is located at an altitude of 1,200 metres. “This year, we had around one hundred kilos each of plums and apples, which is a lot for us. So we stocked up on jam, compote and apple sauce.” The team in the kitchen has also been experimenting with permaculture since summer. Organic waste is collected in a giant container and enriched with silica to produce humus. That is now being trialled to grow potatoes with. “The garden is our best teacher.”
Andreas sources his other ingredients from Vorarlberg and nearby Allgäu. Mushrooms, vinegars and oils, for instance, from Bettina Lenz in Wolfurt. Chicken, eggs and flour from the Martinshof farm; goose and duck from Irmin Bechter. Cheese, butter and curd are supplied by the Käserebellen and Vorarlberg Milch. Andreas purchases the meat – whole, of course – mainly from local organic farmers and from the butcher Walser Metzgerei in Meiningen. “It’s great to know all the people. That’s just part of village life.”
Nature lover in a nature hotel
The team of 13 cooks brings together different generations: from apprentices to someone who has reached retirement age but has chosen to continue working. “We’re well set up and are maintaining the five-day week over Christmas and New Year’s Eve too,” says Andreas, who originally hails from Ulm. Because a work-life balance is important. He finds his own when he is out in the mountains. “I’ve lived here since I was 13 years of age. The Kleinwalsertal Valley has left its mark on me. I did leave once but I was always drawn back.” The Hohe Ifen is one of his favourite mountains. “The view from up there or from the Widderstein to Lake Constance is just magnificent. That relaxes me; I simply love nature,” he says. That is why he was the ideal choice for the Naturhotel. The guests appreciate the organic approach; they are interested and provide nice feedback. Guests also like to shadow the professional for a morning and are delighted to see how easy it is to recreate such delicious dishes.