Chef Peter Knogl – Cheval Blanc at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland
Being responsible for Cheval Blanc and the entire staff at the restaurant, Knogl’s focus is to be the “Chef of the restaurant.” He told us, “It’s too much to be an executive chef of the hotel. I know hotels and have done that. I want to focus on gastronomy. I want to cook and be responsible for my staff. It needs to be managed like an island with one concept, not five concepts.” He went on to say, “Create a good concept, get it right, and perform it well. That’s excellence. It’s not good to change the concept every year. If it’s not working after two to three years, then change. It takes time. If you make the investment, it will come back to you.”
As an incredibly focused and talented chef with a passion for creating extraordinary dishes, we wanted to know a bit about his personal life. “If you are a Michelin star chef there is no family time. I never married. I travel a lot. That’s the life.” While many chefs have chosen to get married and have children and juggle the long hours at the restaurant and stress along with a family, Knogl has decided that it’s just too hard to excel at either when you have both responsibilities. It’s more important to him to be excellent in the kitchen.
With inspiration from his world travels and a fondness for Spain, most recently, San Sebastián in the springtime, his focus is on sourcing only truly exceptional products and achieving harmony on the plate. “It’s not a picture show. The product and combination of flavors have to be in harmony; if there’s lobster in the dish, you have to taste the lobster, not ten other ingredients. You have to feel the product and taste the product. Each chef creates a different story and different taste. The effort is hard work, but it cannot just be a picture.”
“Everything (the ingredients) has a high point. You have to anticipate it. Like a sauce; it needs to go on the plate right then. You can’t wait. It’s very important to get all of the ingredients at their high point and to put them on the plate at the same time. If the picture looks fantastic, that’s good, but that is twenty-five percent of the dish. The product and taste have to be seventy-five percent. Many people are doing the reverse and it’s just for show.”
With such precision and emotion that goes into each plate that leaves Cheval Blanc’s kitchen, we asked how often the menu changes. “We change about fifty perfect of the menu each season and I change some dishes every four weeks, depending on the quality of the product. People return because they enjoyed a dish, so you can’t change everything, especially if they come two times a week. When I have an idea for a new dish, we test it in the kitchen and if it’s good, we make it for lunch and then we’ll put it on the dinner menu.”
When asked where to look for the next trend in great cuisine, Chef Knogl immediately said, “Holland. That is the future. You need to go there. The Dutch chefs are very creative and they have a great mentality about work, just like the Germans. They are highly motivated.” With a growing list of Michelin-starred restauarnts, The Netherlands is no longer known for just cheese and herring and is gaining international recognition for its innovative cuisine. And what about France and Italy, two countries who have long been known for their Michelin star fame? “It’s about the mentality of having good food; the atmosphere and the language together. It’s more about the show and experience now. It’s not like it was twenty-five or thirty years ago. They are losing a lot.”