Bernadette’s Take #39

King of the Westcoast Cuisine

Marcel Kauer from Saltspring Island B.C.

MarcelKauer - CopyMarcel, where is the chef’s white hat?
We want to see you in action! (Photo Hastings House)

I will ask you a silly question. Real silly. Here we go:
Would you want a job where you have 4 months of holidays every year?

Like Marcel Kauer (53), a Swiss born chef at the award winning Hastings House on Saltspring Island. He really has it good. When the luxurious restaurant is closed in winter, he can take off.

He has it good? Yes and no. “I’ve never had a summer holiday in 23 years”, he says. Because of course, he works hard in the summer.

HastingsHouse10 - CopyWhy does this Swiss chef need holidays at all? Look, he works in paradise! (Photo Hastings House)

Come on, Marcel, you can’t have it all. He knows this. Essentially, it is all about timing.

Marcel, originally from Uster in the Swiss canton Zurich, came to Canada in the heydays for Swiss chefs. He arrived in Vancouver in 1981 and worked for two years for a Swiss owner called Werner Allen in the restaurant “La Raclette” (it does not exist anymore).

“I spoke no English whatsoever, except Yes and No”, Marcel recalls. ”But there were a lot of Swiss chefs and waiters in the restaurant I could talk to.”

When he came to Vancouver more than 30 years ago, it was much easier for Swiss chefs to emigrate to Canada. There was a lack of chefs in those days.

HastingsHouse8 - CopyIt is like a fairytale at Hastings House on Saltspring Island. At any moment, Snow White will appear and pick some flowers (or Little Red Riding Hood, what do I know). Photo Hastings House

Today, the Canadian cooks have to complete a 3-year-apprenticeship like cooks in Switzerland. “Most teachers come from Europe”, Marcel says.
For young cooks, it is hard. “When I started as a chef in Vancouver, I was paid an hourly wage of 11.64 dollars. Today, a young cook gets paid 12 dollars.”

So much for all these glamorous reality shows enticing young people to become chefs…

But compared to Switzerland, there are also perks. “In Canada, you work either on the morning shift or the night shift”, Marcel says. “In Switzerland, you are in the kitchen the entire day, with only a break in the afternoon.”
(In Swiss, it is called Zimmerstunde.)
There is no question what Marcel prefers. It is one of the reasons why he is still in Canada.

HastingsHouse5 - CopyI never sat at this table and never ate from this plate and never drank from this glass and I am not Snow White. (Photo Hastings House)

After “La Raclette”, Marcel started at the Vancouver restaurant “William Tell”, famous for its Swiss cuisine (it later closed down, too). Then Marcel was lured to Hastings House on Saltspring Island. The hotel of the same name has also 18 rooms. They cost between 700 and 800 dollars a night.

HstingsHouse9 - CopyI’d be rather wining and dining but I have to write these captions. Stop whining, Bernadette. (Photo Hastings House)

I can assure you that no poor writers stay there.

But fortunately, I have the option of making an

UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Marcel Kauer

Marcel, who on earth can afford to wine and dine at Hastings House?

There are a lot of rich people on Saltspring Island. We have Americans, we also have Swiss guests, Germans, British people, Austrians. Many come on their yachts.

HastingsHouse Scallop - CopyCan I eat at least the flowers, Marcel? The rich Americans can have the scallops. (Photo Hastings House)

What does a meal cost at your restaurant?

The Chef’s Menu is 85 dollars, we also have a 3-course-meal for 70 dollars.

These are prices like in Switzerland!

We are a high-end restaurant. But Switzerland is still more expensive. When I was in Zurich this year, we paid 28 dollars for 3 coffees at the Café Sprüngli.

Do you specialise in Swiss cuisine?

No, I do West coast style. Saltspring Island is well-known for its lamb and seafood. Everything is fresh. We fish the crabs ourselves. We bake bread every day. We also have organic gardens here on the estate of 20 acres. But I make gratin potatoes à la Gruyère.

Marcel_Kauerwith_cook-book - CopyMarcel with his cook book, but he must have left the chef`s hat in the kitchen. (Photo Hastings House)

Does Hastings House employ other Swiss chefs?

No. It is too difficult to get a working visa for them. We would be asked to employ a Canadian chef. And it is expensive to live on Saltspring Island. The young chefs would have to rent a house which is difficult and very expensive. There are many rich people on our island and not enough rental houses. As a young person, you cannot live here on a cook`s salary.

Do you like island life?

Yes, I love it, I am married to a woman from Vancouver, we have cats and a dog. My house is paid off. I like splitting wood, fishing and traveling.

Hastingshouse6 - CopyMarcel catches his own crabs, he is a hybrid fisherman/chef (Photo Hastings House)

You went to Switzerland just recently. What was the most common question you were asked?

Whether I’ll come back to Switzerland again to live there. My answer was no, of course.

What kind of Swiss food do you miss?

Bread, Rivella, Schoggistängeli (chocolate sticks) from Migros, Stängeli filled with Kirsch and Williams, Bündner Fleisch (air-dried meat from the Swiss canton Graubünden), Salsiz and Landjäger sausage, Swiss cheese and Swiss yoghurts.

Wow – that’s a lot!

And I also miss the asparagus season, the game season and the Bauern-Metzgete (meat and sausages from freshly slaughtered farm animals).

HastingsHouse11 - CopyNo, don’t eat these, please, they are so cute! (Photo Hastings House)

What would entice me to come to your restaurant?

I would give you an appetizer made from goat cheese and beet roots, followed by smoked tuna with an onion-capers marmalade, leg of lamb with honey-and-grainy mustard and a blackberry mousse for dessert.

Yummy, yummy! When did you say yummy when you stayed in Switzerland?

At the beginning of March, I was in the town of Rapperswil. My brother said: “Let`s get some grilled Bratwurst and bread.” We found some, and it was actually as good as it was 30 years ago!

P.S. If you have an interesting story to tell or if you know an interesting person, please let us know:

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