Swiss cuisine made with foraged herbs

Stuart Forster samples Swiss cuisine made with foraged herbs as part of an Alpine Garden menu served at Villars-sur-Ollon in the Canton of Vaud.

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Joël Quentin is the chef at four-star Eurotel Victoria Villars hotel’s Peppino restaurant. Joël and his team have won a reputation for serving regional Swiss cuisine on the restaurant’s Alpine Garden menu. Herbs and flowers foraged in and around Villars-sur-Ollon feature on the menu, which showcases regional ingredients..

With the obvious exception of the dishes featuring seafood, the Alpine Garden menu is based around local ingredients. Mountain herbs, leaves and flowers provide flavour while adorning the dishes with colour.

Dessert platter, served on a slate, part of chef Joël Quentin's Alpine Garden menu at the Eurotel Victoria Villars' Peppino restaurant in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.
Dessert platter, served on a slate, part of chef Joël Quentin’s Alpine Garden menu at the Eurotel Victoria Villars’ Peppino restaurant in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

Chef Joël Quentin’s Alpine Garden menu

Alpine flora adds taste and visual appeal to Joël’s dishes. Farmers and chalet owners around Villars-sur-Ollon have become accustomed to the sight of him foraging on their land. Over the past dozen or so years he’s built up relationships with locals, gaining their permission to go onto their properties. He heads out from Peppino most days to harvest ingredients that most people would consider mere weeds.

We meet midway through the evening. Joël explains that he picks herbs, leaves and other edible items from April until late into the autumn. The precise length of the season depends upon the first snowfall. Sometimes he stops foraging for ingredients in October. In some years his foraging for ingredients continues into November.

Villars-sur-Ollon is at an altitude of approximately 1,258 metres above sea-level. This part of Switzerland is prone to heavy snow coverage, making it a popular destination for winter sports. That also means there’s no chance of Joël picking a fresh stock of foraged ingredients during wintertime.

All of the plants, berries and flowers used by Joël and his team on the Alpine Garden menu grow at an altitude of between 500 and 2,000 metres above sea-level. As we chat in his busy restaurant, Joël explains that everything used to flavour his Alpine Garden menu has been picked from meadows and mountainsides within a 20-minute drive of the Eurotel Victoria Villars.

Sea scallops flavoured with common ivy and served as part of chef Joël Quentin's Alpine Garden menu at Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland's Lake Geneva Region.
Sea scallops flavoured with common ivy and served as part of chef Joël Quentin’s Alpine Garden menu at Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region.

Swiss cuisine with wild ingredients

I learn that Joël developed an interest in the idea of foraging for wild ingredients and subsequently attended a specialist course. He tells me that expert knowledge is important when foraging, as plants, roots, mushrooms and flowers can be toxic or carry parasites. Some, I learn, need to be boiled to make them edible by humans. Others have medicinal properties. Knowing what to pick and how to collect them, so as not to kill the plants, is also important.

“We live in a natural garden so it would be crazy not to use it. That’s why we call this kind of menu the Alpine Garden,” says Joël. “Our ancestors used to do it naturally, picking up herbs in the gardens around their chalets.”

To ensure he can serve his Alpine Garden menu during the winter Joël preserves a stock of ingredients. Some of the herbs, flowers and leaves can be frozen or dehydrated. Others need to be prepared as part of syrups or marinades.

The Eurotel Victoria Villars hotel receives a large number of Indian guests and has a chef specialising in Indian cuisines. Joël tells me he has forged a productive working partnership with the Indian chef, blending Alpine herbs with spices, to create a fusion that appeals to South Asian palettes.

Lamb with creeping thyme and a purple clover flower served as part of the Alpine Garden menu at the Eurotel Victoria Villars' Peppino restaurant in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.
Lamb with creeping thyme and a purple clover flower served as part of the Alpine Garden menu at the Eurotel Victoria Villars’ Peppino restaurant in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

Foraging in Switzerland

Joël has set his knowledge of the region’s wild edible plants down on paper and is seeking a publisher. His booklet is written in French, German and English. It includes the taxonomic names for foraged ingredients.

He lists the habitat, recommended uses and months of availability of wild Alpine ingredients. Descriptions of flavours and medicinal qualities also feature.

As you’d expect from a chef, Joël shares recipes too. He lists the likes of shin of lamb in wild garlic pastry and grated potatoes with hogweed. Salmon with cowslip bread and braised Good King Henry with potato balls aslo feature.

This evening’s meal began with sea scallops flavoured with common ivy. I found that foraged ingredient has earthy, minty tones. The main course featured loin of lamb with creeping thyme and a purple clover flower. The white from the centre of the clover proved edible and pleasantly sweet. Creatively presented, the dishes are rich in flavour.

Joël returns to the kitchen, promising to send a dessert featuring poppy, wild mint and woodruff.

As I wait for my dessert to be served I wonder what it might be possible to find within 20 minutes’ drive of my own kitchen.

Alpine scenery seen from Villars, Switzerland.
Alpine scenery seen from Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

Staying in Villars-sur-Ollon

The Eurotel Victoria Villars hotel is one of several accommodation options in the Swiss municipality. Looking for a hotel in Villars-sur-Ollon? You can find rooms via Booking.com (£):


Booking.com

Further information

You can taste chef Joël Quentin’s Alpine Garden menu at Peppino restaurant in the Eurotel Victoria Villars hotel (Route des Layeux, Villars-sur-Ollon, tel. +41 (0) 24 495 3131). Reservations are recommended.

See the Villars-Gryon, Lake Geneva Region and Switzerland websites to find out more about the Alpine region in which Joël collects ingredients and prepares traditional Swiss food.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer and food journalist. He speaks fluent German and has visited Switzerland many times. His work has been published by BBC Good Food, Food and Travel and Great British Chefs. He can be contacted regarding copywriting and editorial commissions.

Thanks for visiting Go Eat Do and reading about the Swiss cuisine made with foraged herbs by Joël Quentin’s wild Alpine garden. If you enjoy food from Switzerland you may enjoy my article about the Festival of Alpine cuisine.

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A version of this updated post was originally published on Go Eat Do on 9 February 2015.

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