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During the last 2 days here my work has included Küchendienst (kitchen duty), which introduced me to the super-kitted-out facilities here in Ralligen. Bruder Reto has been acting chief chef for a few days while some of the other Brothers are away, and before the new “proper” chef from Interlaken arrives at the start of November, recruited via the jobcentre. Reto worked as a medical assistent in a mission-based medical centre in Kabul for 40 years – I bet he has some extraordinary stories to tell – and now sits at Reception to field enquiries to the Monastery, as well as taking over the kitchen when need dictates. Like this week. He is a bear of a man, round and slow and kind, and when he says something in conversation it feels like it comes out of a place of calm, unhurried, patient depths; there is never any question of agitation, and never ever a need for disagreement. I have asked him a particular question about local bus travel in at least 5 different ways so far and still don’t understand the answer. My issue must be so terribly unimportant, I rationalise in my bemusement, that there is nothing else of importance but to simply stop pestering and let the world continue to turn, as it rightly and doubtlessly will, and my bus plans will all work out as they should.

Everything in its time, everything in its place. You’ll see, young lady.

As his conversation, so too his cooking. Reto lumbers round the kitchen in an apron the size of a bedsheet, pulling out pans and tools and ingredients with which to fulfill the enormous and multiple plans in his head: we make ratatouille not only for the 5 present for dinner but enough for the village for a week, and he swelters over a vegetable soup enough for an army. The boiled potatoes he had prepared yesterday (more than we use in a month at home) peeled by hand and grated by a machine the size of an outboard motor, become “Rösti”, the classic Swiss “chuck-it-all-in-a-pan” meal for hungry handworkers.

Is it perhaps difficult to imagine cooking just the right quantity for a small group when all the equipment is mega-sized? When the recipes, whether in your head or written down, cater for groups of between 10 and 100?

Apart from clearing up around Reto in his labours, which I decided would be an important contribution to the morning’s proceedings and prevent the washing up job becoming the afternoon’s task as well, my main responsibility was the Apfelkuchen, a variety of open apple tart, familiar to me since my Basel days. Once again, not only a small batch was to suffice for today, but Bruder Reto plodded to the walk-in freezer the size of my bathroom and brought out a 100m roll of ready pastry (admittedly I didn’t measure it, but it looked that big), and, once defrosted sufficiently to unroll, proceeded to prepare 2 baking trays as big as billiard tables. My task was to peel and chop enough apples, and to make the milky-egg vanilla glaze. The jug I needed to measure it all with was as big as my mop bucket at home, and the whisk with which I mixed it all up might as well have been the mop. I felt like a 10 year old, all grown up and helping Daddy with the cooking; clever enough to know where things are kept, big enough to lift the tools, but just too small to use them properly.

It all turned out perfectly, of course, and the first billard-table-tart was effectively demolished at 4o’clocksies by the few of us in house in the afternoon. Appreciative, the Brothers are, especially when they get their hands on the not-so-frequent cake on offer!

And leftovers are always good. For the weekend ahead there are only 3 of us at ‘home’, me, Luca and Marco (a helper), as the Brothers are attending an internal weekend at the Monastery in Trieffenstein, Germany.

Im not sure we will manage swim to our way through all that soup and all, but at least my apple diet is well supplied, for a few days at least.

The photo shows Luca at work in this kitchen. Chef's bliss!


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