MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND, May 1, 2017 — This is a story about the human spirit. It’s about perseverance and dedication. It is about humility. It is a story about a Swiss chef who rarely left his beloved hills overlooking Lake Geneva outside Montreux, Switzerland, and it is a story about the determination to do something with your life that brings pleasure to others through your own talents and gifts.
His name was Hans Odermatt, and he was one of those people you never forget.
It wasn’t so much his hand-knitted woolen socks that made him distinctive. Nor was it his home-made wooden sandals with broad leather straps. It wasn’t even his Santa Claus beard that grew down to his chest. Rather it was his indefinable and intangible spirit; an aura that touched nearly everyone who walked into his little restaurant in Vallon de Villard (Villard Valley), the mountains that overlook Montreux, Switzerland.
Hans Odermatt was a simple man. In his youth, he was a carpenter by trade. When the armies of the world surrounded Switzerland in the 1940s, Hans left his beloved mountains and traveled to Australia where he learned to speak English.
Later, when the war was over, he returned to Zurich where he enrolled in culinary school before moving back to the hills of Lake Geneva.
Using his life’s savings, Odermatt purchased a 17th-century farm in the 1960s. Recalling the carpentry skills of his earlier life, Hans went to work on the stable and transformed in into a restaurant. Working with his own hands by day, Hans gradually and methodically built his dream. In the evening, in order to earn enough money to pay his bills, Odermatt prepared fondue and raclette for the villagers who lived in the countryside.
The restaurant was rustically appointed with wall paintings by Alexandre Guhl and decorated throughout with a large collection of old farm implements. Even today, visitors are captivated by the depictions of traditional Swiss country life that permeate the restaurant.
When the restaurant was completed, Hans Odermatt continued refining his culinary techniques by expanding his menu and perfecting his craft. Soon, Le Montagnard Restaurant became well-known throughout the region. So popular did his establishment become that the rich and famous quickly discovered Odermatt’s kitchen. William Holden. Richard Nixon. Richard Burton. David Niven. Even Charlie Chaplin and Charles Lindbergh were visitors at Le Montagnard.
Each night, when his cooking chores were finished, it was Odermatt’s routine to sit in a corner booth of his restaurant with a glass of red wine and proudly observe his domain. Elegant cuisine, its preparation and the pure enjoyment of his customers savoring each delicious morsel became a passion for the little Swiss chef.
For many, the thought of personally preparing meals for some of the most celebrated people in the world might have been a powerful aphrodisiac for their ego, but not for Hans Odermatt.
When asked about his famous clientele, Odermatt answered humbly, “It’s the villagers who are most important to me. They come every night, and the rich and famous don’t spend any more than the peasants do.”
Indeed, Hans Odermatt was a simple man, for he understood the blessings of life. He had a sixth sense about what made life worth living; what true quality of life was all about and a love of the natural order of things he saw daily in his beloved hills of Switzerland.
As Hans would express to others, he had no need of a calendar because he could tell what day it was in the spring by where the flowers bloomed on the hillside outside his window.
Hans Odermatt is gone now. He died doing what he loved most, cooking in the place he built with his own hands. Today Le Montagnard still operates with limited service, much as it did during the early days when Hans Odermatt served his traditional Swiss specialties to his neighbors on the hillside.
It is true that Hans probably never heard of Thanksgiving, but he was a man who lived each day of his life with thanksgiving in his heart.
Le Montagnard means “The Mountain Man.” It’s easy to find. Just take a taxi from Montreux about 4 miles up into the hills.
And somewhere from a corner of heaven Hans Odermatt will be watching with a glass of red wine in his hand.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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