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The gracious king

Franz Faeh is fluent in seven languages and can cook hundreds of dishes off the cuff. His most outstanding qualities, however, must be his warmth and dry humour.

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It’s almost impossible to catch Franz Faeh off his feet. ‘I need the challenge and the adrenaline even; otherwise, I quickly get bored,’ says the Culinary Director of the legendary Gstaad Palace, heading a 55-strong brigade in this Bernese Oberland fairytale castle which has been hosting discerning patrons since 1913.

Even at his busiest, you’d be hard-pressed to witness a raised eyebrow – briefly at most – as he ensures that every plate makes it to the pass on time through precise instructions and skilful handling of the kitchen. A staggering 136 dishes comprise the offer of the Palace’s menu, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. ‘Around three-quarters of our regulars don’t order from the menu, letting us know what they feel like eating instead. Often they have their favourite dishes specially made to their taste,’ Faeh explains.

Keeping notes on guests’ preferences in a folder as thick as three fingers, the boss notes who opts for their Zürcher  Geschnetzeltes without onions. However, he knows most special wishes by heart, along with countless recipes ranging from classic French and rustic Swiss to authentic Thai.

Faeh’s repertoire reflects the many important stages of his career, which began as an apprentice at the Gstaad Palace between 1978 and 1981, leading to several years spent in Asia, where he even cooked for the Thai royal family. The Gstaad native passes on his love of Thai cuisine to his guests in the form of a papaya salad with Norway lobster and tom yam foam or sole with red curry, peas and broccoli, to highlight but a few delicacies. His handling of spices and herbs is exquisite, while his nuanced play with fiery chillies is fascinating, tickling the palate without ever overwhelming it! Furthermore, he impeccably masters culinary excursions to Japan: few places in Switzerland serve ramen of this quality. Those who love classic Western cuisine dishes should try the salt-crusted sea bass, the soufflé with Grand Marnier, and what can safely be described as the best club sandwich in the country. ‘Even the simple things deserve the greatest care and attention,’ says Faeh. ‘Instead of smoked turkey breast, we use Alpine chicken breast in our club sandwich. It’s much more aromatic and juicy.’

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As international as the range of products and the clientele at the Gstaad Palace may be, Faeh favours seasonal, locally sourced produce as long as his quality stan-dards are met. So he gets most of his porcini mushrooms from former schoolmates who know the best places to pick them in the forests of the Bernese Oberland. Likewise, his veal and beef - apart from Wagyu and Kobe beef – are sourced from the Saane Valley. Faeh enjoys his jaunts to master butcher Martin Hauswirth’s Buure Metzg in Schönried, where he inspects the carefully matured Simmental beef sides destined to be served as massive tomahawk steaks at the Palace Grill.

If the hotel’s own Audi is available for these culinary escapades, all the better. Personally, Faeh drives a BMW, but that doesn’t stop him from taking the wheel of a Ferrari from time to time. ‘Some of my colleagues certainly have more media presence than I do. Nevertheless, Ferrari has invited me to travel to Italy with my sous-chefs for a test drive,’ admits the self-confessed car lover with a twinkle in his eye.

“Even the simple things deserve the greatest care and attention.”

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Faeh’s fire for the cooking profession was ignited as a seventh grader. Back then, while helping out in the kitchen of the Wasserngrat Mountain Restaurant, he knew immediately: this is it! He has never regretted his decision, even though sparks would often fly during his apprenticeship. A brief stint into experimenting with the running of a delicatessen was quickly abandoned, prompting a swift return to the kitchen. His childhood dream of becoming head chef at the Gstaad Palace was finally realised in 2016, entering an agreement with hotel director Andrea Scherz to shadow the previous chefs for a season before taking charge himself. After taking up his post, however, Faeh had the distinct urge to run away. ‘My predecessors made it anything but easy for me to get started,’ proclaims the man who otherwise never has a bad word to say about any-one, treating the members of his brigade with the utmost respect. As fate would have it, he did stay, and today it is inconceivable to imagine the Palace kitchen without him. Faeh even played a decisive role in the design of the new cooker, which was installed in the winter of 2020/21. ‘A wonderful appliance, a veritable Rolls-Royce,’ he gushes with satisfaction about the apparatus which bears his name alongside that of sous-chef Luca Gatti. Faeh and Gatti have been a well established team for over 15 years. ‘We understand each other implicitly,’ says the Culinary Director of the Gstaad Palace.

Faeh has been friends with the owners, the Scherz family, for de-cades. As a child, he amused himself at the hotel’s bowlingalley, the former premises of which now house the Restaurant Fromagerie. His father went to school with the sister of the legendary patron, Ernst Andrea Scherz, whose grandfather was the Palace’s official photographer and was always on the scene with his camera at the Palace’s glittering parties. Many photographs he captured back then now adorn the hotel’s walls. However, Franz Faeh keeps his most precious mementoes in his office behind the kitchen in the form of two folders gleaned during his apprenticeship. ‘Some recipes we still cook today are also written down there. For example, the one for the French salad dressing and the one for the foie gras.’ Faeh once typed the latter on a typewriter – and it is top secret. Outside the innermost circle of the Palace kitchen, only the village pharmacist of Gstaad knows the particulars and dosage of the 22 spices used to prepare the liver. And why does one of the two folders bear the name Frans Faeh instead of Franz Faeh? ‘That’s the Norwegian spelling of my first name,’ he explains. ‘My mother comes from Norway.’ It explains why Faeh speaks seven languages: Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, in addition to German, French, Italian, and English.

Words Alex Kühn

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