A taste of the Alps: head chef at Zermatt's The Omnia Hotel shares his top five Alpine ingredients

The Omnia’s location at the foot of the Matterhorn offers more than just dramatic views; for head chef Hauke Pohl, the Alpine surrounds are a constant source of inspiration — and ingredients.

Published 12 Aug 2021, 16:10 BST
The mountains around Zermatt are renowned for skiing, climbing and hiking, with cattle grazing on the Alpine ...

The mountains around Zermatt are renowned for skiing, climbing and hiking, with cattle grazing on the Alpine meadows a common sight during the summer months.

Photograph by Getty Images

The Swiss resort of Zermatt is best known for its expansive hiking and ski regions, encompassing picturesque Alpine landscapes that unfold in hundreds of miles of varied pistes and walking paths. Take to any one of these trails with the right knowledge, a master chef’s keen sensibilities and a passion for all things local, and Zermatt’s other natural treasures will reveal themselves: an abundant supply of sustainable and seasonal ingredients that are playing their part in elevating the region’s cuisine. For head chef Hauke Pohl, the creative mind behind The Omnia’s Michelin-starred restaurant, working with these unique and interesting flavours is about more than just simply using what nature has provided; it’s an opportunity to stay local, bringing Alpine ingredients to the fore and letting them shine. 

The mountain pastures surrounding Valais offer up an abundant supply of sustainable and seasonal ingredients that play their part in elevating the region’s cuisine.

Photograph by Getty Images

Hauke Pohl’s five favourite Alpine ingredients
 

1. Green juniper berries 

Juniper grows all over Zermatt. We pick the young, green berries and although using them dried is more common, we use them fresh to produce a pure green juniper paste, which we use to season various dishes. It goes well with mushrooms, apricot and game, of course, but also regional fish like Arctic char. The taste can be intense, so you have to use it carefully . The flavour reminds me of walking through a Swiss stone pine forest. I know that sounds cheesy but we normally pick it while hiking or after a good climbing session, so the taste really triggers those memories. This is the super local taste that we try to capture on the plate at The Omnia. 

2. Mountain potatoes

Back in 2017, I tried my first mountain potato from the Albula Valley in Graubünden. The texture and taste were just amazing — everyone in our kitchen who tried it got really excited. We put it on the menu straight away, working some dishes around it. The variety of potatoes is simply amazing: creamy, soft, yellow, blue, red, big, small — and every type has its own character. I really appreciate the work of Marcel and Sabina [Heinrich, of organic mountain farm Las Sorts] and Freddy [Christandl, a renowned top chef and potato connoisseur], who are utterly dedicated to this great local product. 

3. Barberries 

You can find barberries growing just about everywhere here, sometimes even at 6,560ft above sea level. We pick the ripe, red berries in autumn. The taste is sweet-sour and tart. Since the seed is quite hard, we normally squeeze the berries and then extract the juice by pressing them through a sieve. This very flavourful essence can be used to season sauces or beurre blanc. At The Omnia, we’ve served it with everything from mountain potatoes, fish and venison and even desserts. 

4. Mountain hay

In summer in Zermatt, the locals produce hay for their winter stables, where the local black-nosed sheep and cows wait for spring. One speciality here in Zermatt is to cook a creamy hay soup. We use it a bit differently, for example, to season sauces or clear soups, like our vegetarian Swiss ramen. And there really is a big difference between hay as most people might know it and this hay. Ours, supplied by local, Ruedi Julen, is from an amazing sunny wildflower meadow and is dried in late summer. It brings a smooth and round, yet intense flavour to dishes.

5. Dairy

The winters here have something to offer, too, when the local sheep and cows are in the stables waiting for spring. This is when we get the fresh cream to produce our own butter. Our breakfast yoghurts at The Omnia also come from Horu Käserei, a local producer and cheesemaker here in town. We use regional cheeses too — the younger ones for breakfast, the riper ones for dinner service or cooking, for example, in barley risotto, not to mention raclette.

The Omnia's head chef gives a classic ramen dish an Alpine twist, with a handful of fresh hay and a few sprigs of thyme.

Photograph by The Omnia

Make it at home: vegetarian Valaisian ramen soup
 

Serves: 6-8
Takes: Seven hours

INGREDIENTS

500g carrots
500g celery sticks
300g celery greens
300g leek
500g cauliflower
500g beetroot
800g brown mushrooms
1kg onions
50g ginger
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1l red wine
80g mountain hay
20 fresh green juniper berries
3 springs wild thyme
3 bay leaves
Handful lovage

Salt and pepper to serve

METHOD

1. Wash all the vegetables thoroughly. Peel away the roots of the celery, the leaves of the cauliflower, the ginger and the beetroot. Then cut all the veggies into cubes.

2. First, roast 2/3 of the vegetables in the oven at 160°C for about an hour and a half.

3. Cook the other third in a large pot until softened. Once cooked, add the tomato paste and stir in for a couple of minutes. Add the red wine and let it reduce as much as possible without burning. Then add the oven-roasted vegetables and fill up the pot with water. Bring it to a boil, add some salt and let it simmer for about four hours.

4. Strain the soup through a tea towel to remove all vegetables, leaving just the liquid. Season the broth with salt, then add the crushed green juniper berries, the wild thyme, bay leaves, black peppercorns and some lovage, before letting it simmer for another 30 minutes.

5. Now add the mountain hay and taste every five minutes. When you reach a nice, rich flavour, strain the broth through a towel. Depending on the acidity of the red wine, you might have to add a little fruity vinegar.

6. To bulk out the ramen, you now need to add finely sliced carrots, white cabbage, spring onions, brown mushrooms, romaine lettuce and cooked noodles. Top the dish with some fried onions and garlic, some freshly cut chives and a medium boiled egg. Finally, grind some fresh horseradish just before serving to add some delicate spice.

The Omnia is a beautiful, design-focused mountain lodge with easy access to the peaks around Zermatt.

Photograph by The Omnia

How to plan your trip to The Omnia
 

 At 5,250ft above sea level, The Omnia is the gateway to Zermatt and Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn, whether basking in the Alpine vistas through the Ali Tayar-designed lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows or with each mouthful of chef Hauke Pohl’s Michelin-starred regional fare. No two rooms of the 30 elegant accommodation options available (including 12 suites) are alike. 

A library and a multifunctional glass-and-steel ‘cavern’ space utilising the cliffside rocks to create a stylish underground lair offer a retreat from the elements after a day on the slopes. That is, if you can resist the pull of just a little more time outdoors in the heated whirlpool before exploring the wellness centre 

Room rates: Seasonal pricing starts at 350 CHF (£275) per night for two sharing, including transfer service, use of the spa and breakfast. 

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