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Between Pots and Pans

Chef Maximilian Müller loves horseradish and Japanese knives, dreams of owning a Porsche and admires Austrian chef Eckardt Witzigmann. At home, he often treats himself to a shot or two of Maggi seasoning sauce.

Swiss Deluxe Hotels Stories Winter 2022 Between Pots And Pans 02 Laurent Eperon & Maximilian Müller
Swiss Deluxe Hotels Stories Winter 2022 Between Pots And Pans 01 21 08 Pavillon Crevette Carabineros 04 Ecirgb

When asked about his childhood hero, Maxi- milian Müller barely hesitates: ‘I’ve always admired Eck-ardt Witzigmann,’ says the 30-year-old. ‘For his ability to create as straightforward as multi-faceted dishes, and for the influence he has had on generations of chefs.’ Be-sides Witzigmann, however, two other characters have influenced Müller. His father, whose cook-ing he meticulously observed as a young boy, and long-time Pavillon chef Laurent Eperon, who gave him the job of sous-chef seven years ago. ‘I was just 23 at the time, and after an exceedingly stressful job on the island of Sylt, I had taken a break from the fine-dining circus not long before Laurent presented me with this great opportunity,’ Müller re-calls. ‘He was a strict boss – but also one who always set a good exam-ple. Above all, he is a great person, smart, skilled and empathetic.’

And what will happen at Pavillon after Eperon’s departure from the Baur au Lac in November after more than a quarter of a century? ‘There will be no break. We have created the upcoming menu together,’ says Müller, who steps up as head chef of the renowned restaurant lauded with two Michelin stars and 18 Gault Millau points. Furthermore, the long-time companions speak a clear and somewhat similar culin- ary language. ‘Last but not least, Laurent and I share a soft spot for butter. So Beurre Blanc will remain one of the pillars of the kitchen at Pavillon,’ Müller adds.

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Piment d’espelette again and again

The same goes for the use of spic-es. ‘They are a culinary playground for me. I must have a few hundred of them at home. Piment d’Espelette, a fruity-sweet, slightly smoky and relatively mild chilli variety from the French Basque country, makes practically every dish a little better. I also experiment passionately with special curry mixtures. For exam-ple, Durban curry-based chilli, co-riander, curry leaves, cumin, carda-mom, Ceylon cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger and cloves. I don’t mind a lit-tle flight of fancy when it comes to spices.’ And then there’s one flavour Müller can't resist. ‘I have a bottle of Maggi seasoning sauce at home. Guilty pleasure or not, Maggi tastes good to me.’

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The power of being grounded

When Müller won the renowned marmite youngster competition five years ago with his creation Arc-tic char – footed crayfish – greaves, he described his culinary philos-ophy as follows: ‘Classic, peas-ant-like but refined, not overload-ed, reduced and simple.’ That has changed in the meantime, he says and laughs. ‘In a restaurant like Pa-villon, whose guests regularly sa-vour the most exclusive dishes at the best addresses worldwide, you can hardly serve peasant-like cuisine.’ However, Müller will undoubted-ly incorporate some of the products that lend the more grounded dishes their magic into his menus as part of Pavillon’s gentle reorientation. ‘I love horseradish very much, for example. And I am convinced that an unexpected, down-to-earth ele-ment makes guests with an exten-sive international background par-ticularly happy,’ he says. ‘A product can be a bit simpler as long as the implementation meets the demands of haute cuisine.’

Sounds a lot like Hans Haas, who was part of Eckardt Witzigmann’s brigade at Munich’s Tantris back in the 1970s, and later shaped the iconic restaurant’s cuisine for al-most three decades. ‘I like this loose-ness and focus on taste that Haas has always stood for. My intern-ship with him is one of the most im-pressive experiences I’ve had as a chef to date,’ explains Müller, for whom Tantris was ‘one of the best restaurants in the world’ during Haas’ time. ‘When I arrived in Mun- ich, apricots were in season – and the entire kitchen was covered with the sweet fruit. We were ordered to cover all surfaces with plastic foil before preparing the famous apri-cot jam Haas distributed to special guests.’

His great-grandmother was ferdinand porsche’s secretary

The longer you talk to Maximilian Müller, the more you notice: the master chef prefers to talk about others rather than himself. He for-mulated his professional goal, three Michelin stars, years ago. So why make big speeches when you can let actions speak louder than words? At the keyword ‘Porsche’, how-ever, Müller spontaneously rants and raves. ‘My own 911, that’s a big dream,’ he says. ‘I’m not only a Swa-bian but also the great-grandson of the personal secretary of the com-pany’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche.

One could say that the love for fast cars from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen runs through my veins.’ Müller re-ceived a very special gift from for-mer top chef Wolfgang Kuchler – he made the Taverne zum Schäfli in Wigoltingen a fixed star in Swiss gourmet heaven – for his 30th birth-day: a Porsche trip to the Engadine, including an accompanying culin- ary programme. ‘Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to redeem the gift yet, but I’m really looking forward to the trip with Wolfgang, who also comes from Swabia and is one of the chefs I’ve always looked up to,’ explains the sixth-generation innkeeper’s son. Until things work out with the Porsche (‘My favour-ite would be a 911 GT3 RS’), Müller will continue to indulge in his third passion. ‘I probably own over a hun-dred kitchen knives by now. Many more than can actually fit in the big-gest drawer in my kitchen,’ he says with a laugh. ‘I’m particularly fond of the forging art of Japanese cui-sine, which is craftsmanship at the very highest level, quite comparable to what ambitious chefs aspire to. I brought fifteen knives back from my trip to Tokyo, a veritable buying frenzy.’

Words Alex Kühn

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