They are everywhere in the Engadin. Hidden in secluded valleys or hyped by tourists in St. Moritz. Exceptional artists, some still little known, with unique ideas, inspired by the Engadin landscape. One of them is the blacksmith Roger Rominger from Val Fex.
Usually it is quiet during the wee hours of the morning in the car-free Fex Valley near Sils. But not this morning. Toc, toc, toc – the few brave folks who ventured outside despite the very cold autumn weather hear the hammer hitting the anvil in the blacksmith’s shop at Fex Platta. In the unheated workshop, Roger Rominger folds a glowing red piece of steel. With every stroke, the pattern of the red-hot blade changes. Through the window, a morning sunbeam shines into the dark, rustic-style blacksmith’s shop and casts a mystic light on the tableau. Roger’s appearance is just as one would imagine for a blacksmith: tall stature, full-beard, strong hands and blue eyes that squint through his safety goggles. He is a blacksmith/farrier by trade, but he also creates real objets d’art – his passion: Damascus knives.
Roger squints one eye and carefully examines the fine lines of the blade. «The soft spring steel,» he explains, letting us in on the secrets of a 2000 year-old technique, “encases the hard steel and prevents breakage of the latter. Thus the knife gains flexibility.» Up to 500 layers of different kinds of steel form the characteristic pattern of the blade, comparable to a tree’s annual rings. The field of use and the way of cutting determine the quality of the steel: Is the client ordering a leisure knife or a kitchen knife? How will the client use the knife, is he/she an amateur or a professional chef? «The grip, for example, made of Makassar ebony or staghorn with brass is attuned to the form of the blade. Each knife is unique – a piece of the Val Fex’s soul.» His recent work has a grip made of snakeroot and it bears the Romansh name «L'orma nüda», “naked soul” in English. As a Val Fex native, Roger grew up speaking the Romansh dialect Puter at home as well as at school. «During forging, routine is a no-go,» says the 35-year-old, «otherwise, mistakes will slip in. Choosing the wrong temperature leads to the separation of the layers. The whole work would be for nothing.»
After our visit to the Fex Valley we know the answer to this question. The pristine Fex Valley, with its location at 1,900 metres and its wild nature, serves as a real source of inspiration. Golden larches against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains set a fairy-tale like stage for hikers and bikers. He describes himself as a couch potato. Unless it’s hunting season and then he is stalking chamois. The most beautiful locations in the Fex Valley are no secret to the passionate hunter. Among his favourite spots are the Lej Sgrischus («Spooky lake») and Piz Tremoggia. Has he ever considered moving from the Fex Valley to the city? Never. He likes the Fex Valley – a side valley, down-to-earth and fuss-free, just like himself – even if it can seem a bit remote during the snowy winters.
It has been 11 years since a broadcast about Damascus knives inspired him to make one himself. However, it took some time tinkering and refining his method before the blacksmith could hold his first Damascus knife in his hands. These days he simply would have watched a five-minute DIY-Youtube video, but back then those were still few and far between. His ideas for patterns and forms are inspired by nature.
Rominger’s wife Martine has an equally inventive mind. At the family-owned farm, the Chesa Rominger, she manages the small gastronomic business MaingaBain, “eat well” in English. The menu excites the curiosity of culinary fans who are eager to try new things. The Grison-Thursday and the Sheepburger-Friday surprise them with specialties from the Fex Valley such as the Engadin cooked sausage, the organic lamb meat from the farm, and sheep salsiz. Those who would like to get to know the wholesome side of the Fex Valley should take a break on MaingaBain’s sun terrace and stop by the Fex shop to browse the Damascus knives. Opening hours: www.fexer.de