By Nancy Santeusanio
Special to the Islander
Week of August 8 – 14, 2003,
If Andreas Bieri hasn’t disliked reaping and harvesting on the family farm, and if Hans Peter and Walter, his brothers, hadn’t worked outdoors with the farmhands, his father might never have given him a chance to work in the kitchen under his mother’s tutelage.
“I had known that I wanted to become a chef since I was a little kid,” says Bieri, “and my mother was my first teacher. During harvest time we served three meals a day to as many as fourteen people all sitting around the big kitchen table. That was the challenge I loved.”
At breakfast the menu always included hash brown potatoes, for the big meal at noon he learned to make a ragout with potatoes, fresh vegetables and sometimes pork. Supper was a lighter meal sometimes with a dish called “mueslie” made from oats, fresh fruit, nuts and yogurt. This was nonstop culinary preparation, seven days a week and always thinking ‘big’ from the very beginning. “I loved the challenge and excitement of it all.”
After his formal academic training (Bieri graduated from one of the finest culinary schools in Bern) he apprenticed with the great chefs at The Palace in St. Moritz and Gstaad and, in 1972, emigrated to Montreal, Canada.
With the great demand for internationally trained chefs, Bieri was immediately recruited by Sea Pines in Hilton Head, South Carolina. In 1974, the new owners of South Seas Plantation enticed Bieri to become their executive chef at The Crown. “That brought me to paradise and I couldn’t refuse.”
In the 1960s, Americans were developing a heightened interest in the culinary arts, and chefs like Graham Kerr, the “Galloping Gourmet”, and world-famous Julia Child were introducing the continental cuisine and making cooking fun.
Bieri talks about the popularity of lobster thermidor or sole veronique which are seldom seen on a menu today. On the other hand, beer-battered shrimp has increased in popularity and is always a menu favorite.
This was becoming the heyday for elegant presentations, continental cuisine and decorative ice sculptures, and Bieri thrived on the individuality and distinction The Crown was earning.
What attracted Bieri to the islands in the 1970s was the friendly neighborly attitude. “When you drove down to Bailey’s Store, everyone said ‘Hi’ and was so personable. We all felt like one big family.”
He remembers his friends from Europe were always amazed that Captiva had such wonderful, huge beaches – but they were empty. Quickly, they explained how that would never happen on the Riviera. In those days, Bieri was in his twenties and he called Captiva a “party town” with its celebrations, bonfires on the beach and pretty girls to meet.
One of Captiva’s focal points then was The Island Store on Andy Rosse Lane. That was ‘downtown’ with its many quaint shops selling shells and souvenirs. There was even one shop called The Green Flash for which Bieri had a particular fondness. Years later that became the name of his Captiva restaurant.
In 1980, Bieri left The Crown to join The Mucky Duck. For Bieri, the greatest appeal was “the Duck’s” family atmosphere, and in the 1970s, he and Victor Mayeron had great fun cruising the streets of Captiva in Mayeron’s yellow Camaro.
Bieri regrets that those little cottages on Andy Rosse are now gone. “We are losing that touch about what Captiva once was. People come for the landmarks and so many are gone.”
He has always believed that competition is great for business because it breeds success and brings people here. Bieri points to where Bellini’s once stood on Andy Rosse Lane and recalls its different owners and names from the ‘Uptowner’ in the early 1980s to ‘No Name’ because the Jensen brothers couldn’t decide on a name, to ‘The Oyster Bay Company’, ‘LaVendæ’ and ‘Bellini’s’.
In the 1970s, the quaint little post office, with its small town feeling, was located at the corner of Wiles and Captiva Drive. Ethel, the postmistress, knew everyone by name and remembered all her patrons on holidays with little gifts in their mailboxes. There were candy canes for Christmas and a hard-boiled egg for Easter. One time, Bieri put the egg in the glove compartment of his car and forgot about it. With the stench from a rotten egg, he never repeated that mistake again.
Bieri has always had a passion for active sports and cycles 3,000 miles every year, riding from The Dunes in Sanibel to the Green Flash on Captiva. “I go through phases. When I want to do something, I do it, whether it’s boating or flying. Then I’m done with it, and move on to something else.”
Since he was a kid, Bieri has been a ‘car nut’ from his first mini Cooper to his Ferrari F355. That passion never changes. He adds, “I love to eat, but it has to be very good, and that never changes either.”
Once or twice a year, Bieri returns to his homeland. “I like to go home, even though home is here now.” He visits his mother in Bern and spends time skiing and hiking at Interlaken. “One thing I like about Switzerland is its very high standard of living, and that affects everything else.”
Reflecting on his own success as a chef and restaurateur, Bieri says, “Use your common sense. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you like being on the other side?”
» Click here for Photos from Andreas' Homeland