The alchemist chef of the Emmental

"Alchemist" chef, Stefan Wiesner, forages in the forest for soup ingredients

Swiss chef Stefan Wiesner calls himself an alchemist and he literally leaves no stone unturned in his search for unusual ingredients.

This content was published on January 10, 2004 - 14:04

Stones, gold, silver, hay, moss, wood and coal are just a few of the ingredients he uses to push culinary boundaries.

The bizarre recipes, which feature in his recently published cookery book, “Gold, Wood, Stone”, are the product of weeks of experimentation in his kitchen at the Rössli Inn, in the picturesque village of Escholzmatt in Emmental.

He now has 15 GaultMillau points and is a member of the Guild of Established Cooks. The Rössli is listed in the “Passeportbleu” and has been awarded the Gourmet Bib honour in the Michelin Guide.

Dressed in his habitual black and sporting a pendant made by Moroccan nomads, Wiesner talks enthusiastically about his close ties with nature, his rambles through the forests in search of ingredients, his friendships with local organic farmers, hunters, carpenters and coal miners.

They all live and work in and around the Unesco-designated biosphere of Entlebuch, and profiles of these characters and the local ecosystem dominate the opening chapter of Wiesner’s cookbook.

Conventional beginnings

The chef took over the Rössli from his parents in 1989 and he spent years devising ways of integrating nature more closely with his cooking.

His father taught him how to make sausages, and he began to combine the meat with gold and then chocolate. It’s a bitter-sweet combination that comes as a shock with the first bite, but soon ingratiates itself with the taste buds.

Then he came up with the idea of stone soup. “This was the first dish which involved going out and finding the ingredients in the great outdoors,” he told swissinfo.

Wiesner scours the thickly wooded forest about a kilometre from his restaurant. In the stream from which the trout are caught to make the fish stock, the chef also selects algae-covered stones and washes them in the icy water. A little further on, he finds the moss.

Back in the kitchen, the stones are boiled in a bouillon made with filleted trout and cream. The mixture is left overnight to stand. Then the stones are removed, the moss is added and the liquid is boiled for another two hours, before the final addition of a splash of champagne.

The resulting soup is delicious. The finely tuned pallet may detect an underlying tang of stone and moss, but others may simply enjoy the idea of tucking into a slice of nature.

Medicinal ingredients

How does he know the ingredients are not harmful? “Instinctively I choose the correct natural ingredients without even being aware of it,” he says.

But just to be on the safe side he takes his harvest to his chemist friend Markus Zehnder for a second opinion.

With his commitment to using only locally grown produce, the chef’s six-course menus are all seasonal.

Sometimes it is the art of preparation that surprises most: apple blossom soup is made by filtering rainwater through the flowers; and noodles are topped with whole raw egg yolks injected with anchovy purée.

To give his winter dishes that smoky taste, Wiesner blows cigar smoke over them through a straw. Smoked snowflake soup is prepared in what looks like a large dustbin in the garden.

The strange coupling of ingredients also raises eyebrows: ravioli is made out of bone marrow; and carrots form the basis of his crème brulée.

Wiesner reserves his exotic creations for the weekends when the SFr99 ($80) gourmet menu attracts curious customers from far and wide in search of a novel culinary experience.

Most of the dishes appear to be well received and Wiesner takes great care to explain his methods and philosophy.

The reputation of his gold-laced risotto and sauerkraut ice cream clearly reach well beyond the boundaries of the conservative farming community of Escholzmatt.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Emmental

In Brief:

His neighbours consider him a little crazy, but Stefan Wiesner’s unusual approach to cooking has put the countryside community of Eschholzmatt on the culinary map.

swissinfo visited his Rössli restaurant, where sausages contain chocolate and soup is made out of smoked snowflakes.

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Key facts

Wiesner’s book, “Gold, Wood, Stone” contains over 170 recipes and eight six-course menus.
The book is published by AT Verlag in Aarau, and is written in German
The recipes are based on fresh products available in the Entlebuch region.
Entlebuch is one of 409 Unesco biosphere reserves in 94 countries.
The Rössli appears in the “Passeportbleu”, the “Michelin Guide”, and in a guidebook of the 100 “most attractive” restaurants in Switzerland.

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