The stories

Turning Emotions Into Dishes

Franck Reynaud is the culinary superstar of Crans-Montana. His concept: taking feelings to the plate.

With his New Balance sneakers, casual jeans and T-shirt, Franck Reynaud looks like a surfer from Santa Barbara at first glance. He wears his hair a little longer, and has the complexion of someone who spends his days in the sun; nothing gives away the fact that he spends most of his time in the kitchen of the Hostellerie du Pas de l'Ours. But he does, and he did for more than the last 20 years. He was 24 when he and the woman he had fallen in love with took over her father's hotel and he became the kitchen manager. "At the time I thought I knew it all and could do it all better," he remembers. Yet life taught him otherwise. Years of tough training with renowned chefs were to follow; reliable relationships with fishermen, farmers, wine growers and other producers in the region had to be established, his own kitchen style developed. But he saw it all through, blazed his own trail with the ambition and tenacity of the athlete you'd consider him to be if you saw him without knowing him.

But everyone knows him, here, in Crans-Montana, and far beyond. He has earned himself a Michelin star and 18 of the 20 possible Gault Millau points. Guests come to the restaurant to experience his cuisine and not just to eat. Franck Reynaud also runs a bistro in the same place with a more down-to-earth vibe. The bistro is for "awakening childhood memories with traditional dishes," he says. Moreover, the native Frenchman and his partner, mountain guide Olivier Bagnoud, also run the Cabane des Violettes at over 2,200 metres, where he also focuses on the traditional dishes of the region. This guy clearly knows how to seize the day.

In search for pleasure

It's not complex creations that Franck Reynaud is after. He much rather looks for the essential in simplicity. He seeks and searches. And is therefore more of a driven person than someone who is easily satisfied. "The most important thing in life for me is joy. And joy comes from overcoming obstacles, from pulling through and working hard, and not from taking the easiest path." He likes to talk about joy. Because joy is connected to all kinds of feelings, and that is what life is all about - feeling, sensing, experiencing. "I basically try to convey and share my emotions through my dishes," says Franck Reynaud. After all, food is something very personal, something deeply intimate. To describe his approach, he uses the term sublimation, i.e. transformation. "If my guests feel the same pleasure in eating my food as I did in preparing, well, what more could I ask for?" It takes a lot of effort, though; there are 10 people in the kitchen for 30 seats in the restaurant. Quite clearly, this business is not about making money.

To Franck Reynaud, there is nothing more satisfying than bringing a dish to complete perfection. Working on it until all is right: the taste, the texture, the smell, the appearance. Once it is done, he will already have his eyes on the next challenge. No desire for a well-deserved rest after accomplishing the perfect dish. No pride but rather disappointment that the process is now over. But fortunately, it ain't over 'til it's over. There's always a next dish that waits to be created and no room for idle time or boredom. Both Franck Reynaud's origins in the Provence and his love for his adopted region, the Valais, are reflected in his dishes, and you might even find Japanese, Spanish, Italian and Lebanese influences.

The pinnacle of taste

At the moment, the menu offers delicacies such as Perche du Valais, caviar, chou-fleur et verjus  (perch from Valais with caviar, cauliflower and verjus) or Mignon de veau du pays rôti, ail noir, courge butternut et salsifis ; Mousseline de pommes de terre aux truffes noires Melanospurum (veal medallions with black garlic, butternut squash and black salsify, accompanied by mashed potatoes made from black Perigord truffles). The menu is just like life itself: in constant change. There is no signature dish. Franck Reynaud prefers to focus on local produce that is in season. "We use fish and meat from Switzerland, France, Austria and Finland only," it says in the menu. Also, vegetables are more than a side dish to Franck Reynaud, they can also stand for themselves. Here of course, the right time is key. Ingredients need to be harvested when they are at the peak of their tastiness, often leaving only a narrow time frame for chef Reynaud. This sure also helps to keep his adrenaline levels high.

And it is obvious that this guys needs a certain amount of adrenaline to find joy in what he does, and this is probably also the reason why he loves sports. At the moment, backcountry skiing is his favourite, following snowboarding and kitesurfing. And in the bistro you can see, like a monument, an old, well-kept Harley Davidson. "You can still drive her, but better make sure you have no scheduled appointment you have to get to in time. She sometimes also hands out jolts of electricity when you ride her," Franck says and runs his hand over the leather seat with an engraved skull on it. "El Caballero De La Muerte" it says, "Death Knight". On the floor underneath the motorbike, however, there is a small cloth - to catch the occasional drop of oil dripping from the old Harley. "This has to stay there or my wife will kill me," Franck laughs. Death Knight, one of the region's top chefs and husband and father of three. It's probably also this versatility that makes Franck Reynaud's dishes what they are: extraordinary.

Text: Martha Miklin // friendship.is
Photos: Heiko Mandl // friendship.is

April 4, 2018