Few chefs have enjoyed such a celebrated career as André Jaeger. From a very early age he knew he would follow in the footsteps of his father, a chef at the family-owned farm restaurant.
His chosen career took him to London’s The Dorchester and Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, before he returned to Switzerland with an enduring passion for Asian produce, spices and cooking methods. Jaeger’s Asian-inspired ‘nouvelle cuisine’ at the Rheinhotel Fischerzunft in Schaffhausen became world famous, and he went on to become President of Les Grandes Tables De Suisse.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Jaeger closed his restaurant last year in order to explore exciting new opportunities and challenges – one of which will be as a mentor for Anne-Sophie Taurines, the winner for Switzerland region in the search for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016.
FineDiningLovers spoke to chef Jaeger ahead of the competition.
Tell us what you’ve been up to since the closure of the Fischerzunft.
The few months since our last day have passed very quickly. There was a lot to be organised to close the business after 40 years. At the same time there where many demands for various engagements, such as cooking on the Princess Queen, coaching the kitchen staff at Park Weggis Hotel and appearing for five days at the Kempinski in St. Moritz.
You grew up on a farm - how did that experience inspire you to become a chef?
Since it was right after the war, we were very sheltered and led a happy, but simple life. Combined with the farm, there was a wonderful farm restaurant. Our father cooked and our mother took care of the many guests, who came from far to experience a kitchen and service of exquisite quality – even if it was simple, we gave the best the farm had to offer. I loved being around and that’s where I developed my love for our trade.
Who was your biggest influence as a young chef? It can never be a single person for someone like me. It was rather the many wonderful experiences I was exposed to that influenced me. My upbringing was another very important point. We lived a very humble life, I had to help in the restaurant and around the farm, but we lacked of nothing and I was exposed to many successful people already very early in life.
How important is travel in firing the imagination of a young chef?
It is certainly very important. However, I emphasise the importance of starting a career with a sound and solid professional foundation, before roaming around collecting influences from others.
What did your experiences working in places like The Dorchester in London and the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong teach you about handling pressure?
Pressure is like a drug! I loved it, and to this day pressure helps my creativity and makes me excel. I had the privilege to go through a Swiss army formation (up to first lieutenant) in times when the army still had a highly regarded status. That helped a lot in terms of coping with pressure, but also with standing up, leading and being a role model.
What’s your cooking philosophy?
It took me many years of searching, experimenting and readjusting until I found my actual philosophy. It is affirmatively nature, product and respect for all creatures that is the most important component. Keep it simple; treat everything you touch with respect. Dare to be yourself and avoid copying others. With modern media there is a total transparency and no secrets anymore. So to be oneself is probably the most important pathway to success.
Tell us about your favourite Swiss ingredients - what are they and how would you like to see them used in this competition?
The unexpected ingredient is probably veal. Switzerland has to this day an excellent quality of veal. It could be very interesting to see what young chefs come up with, if the task is to present a recipe that respects the use of “head-to-tail”.
As a senior and eminent figure in Swiss cuisine, do you feel any responsibility for nurturing the next generation of young Swiss chefs?
I have been given so much during my life and I have been so lucky myself, that it goes without saying that I make myself available to share and encourage any young chef who is open for it.
Nouvelle cuisine was a revolution in cooking when you were a younger chef; what will be the next revolution in cooking for the next generation of chefs?
Nature, health and wellbeing are becoming more and more important. In the days of nouvelle cuisine, no one thought about these points because there was no demand for it. The world has changed. Wild, natural and good produce is no longer so easily available. Health consciousness has become fashionable. I strongly believe that this will influence the next generation’s cooking, combined with modern technologies and possibilities.