Muesli is a typically Swiss dish, right? Well, yes and no: although the recipe was indeed created in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it is barely a hundred years old. For a typical dish that lays claim to a place in Swiss culinary heritage, that’s on the young side… and proof that food does not stay the same, that recipes evolve depending on ingredients, fashions and chance encounters.
Like most culinary specialities, muesli was born out of a journey, albeit not a very long one: during a walk in the Swiss Alps, Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939), a doctor and dietician based in Zurich, was surprised by the shepherds’ excellent health, despite their harsh living conditions and simple diet. Muesli means “purée” and it was indeed oat porridge, topped with pieces of apple, milk and honey, that a mountain peasant served to the doctor. Back in his clinic, at the start of the 20th century, he put the final touches on the recipe for the now-famous Bircher muesli, a breakfast that he declared beneficial for health – much to the amusement of his colleagues, who at the time swore by meat alone to fortify their patients.
A hundred years later, in 2012, a journey and an encounter led to the birth of Sooishi Granola, in Lausanne, again in Switzerland but this time the French-speaking part. With a Jamaican father and Swiss mother, Marcia Stanley Cuendet was happy to eat Bircher, the term French-speaking Swiss use to refer to muesli. But during her travels in North America, she succumbed to the crunchy charm of granola, cereals that are roasted at a gentle heat and served at breakfast with yoghurt or milk, accompanied by fruit, as desired. While muesli is soft, granola is crunchy.
Following in the footsteps of the eminent doctor, Marcia Stanley Cuendet decided, once back in her kitchen in Lausanne, to make her own granola – because for one thing she was unable to find any in Switzerland that she deemed “worthy of the name”, and for another she is passionate about food, has an insatiable curiosity for culinary experimentation, and loves nothing more than to share her discoveries and food pleasures. After months of trials, she fine-tuned her granola, or, to be more precise, her granolas, since she currently offers four varieties, completely handmade, and preferably with premium and organic ingredients: her classic granola with pecans, an “Asian” version with kinako (roasted soya flour), a “Japanese” version with matcha (green tea powder) and the most Swiss of the bunch, containing chunks of dark chocolate from a famous Lausanne chocolate-maker.
Whereas Doctor Bircher-Benner and his muesli had been greeted with mockery, Marcia Stanley Cuendet was soon being showered with praise. Friends, friends of friends and nowadays her customers are fans of this delicate preparation as light as it is crunchy and whose name, Sooishi, alludes to its tastiness (it means “so delicious” in Japanese). Indeed, it is so good that it is no longer confined to breakfast time: Marcia Stanley Cuendet suggests sprinkling it onto salads, apple tarts or scoops of vanilla ice cream. Doctor Bircher-Benner probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled about this – he inflicted strict diets on his patients – even if, like his muesli, Sooishi Granola considers itself a healthy food, only moderately sweetened (cane sugar), not fatty (olive oil), and enriched with various seeds.
So, are you more a Bircher or granola person?
For more information go to: www.sooishi.ch. You can also keep up to date with Marcia’s food adventures and recipes at her culinary blog that has been honoured by Glamour magazine: sooishi.blogspot.ch