St Moritz Gourmet Festival | CityAM
CityAM newspaper | 28 January 2013
The St Moritz Gourmet
Festival Insider's Guide
For the next five days, St Moritz in Switzerland will become the culinary centre of the world, says Laura Ivill.
At the heart of fine living is the art of fine dining. And both are flamboyantly showcased at the annual St Moritz Gourmet Festival this month. Every year the rich and famous flock to St Moritz for the season, and the town prides itself on its fine food and wine to offer them. The festival is a centrepiece (along with the Polo World Cup on Snow) of the winter calendar, and at 1,850 metres, visitors enjoy Michelin-star food amid a “champagne climate” - dry, sunny and snow-sure at 1,850 metres in the town, rising to above 3,000 metres on the slopes.
London City folk have the advantage of easy access by air – Swiss flies from City Airport to Zurich in 90 minutes; you wheel your bag over to the train station, hop on the Swiss rail network and are whisked through the mountains into the centre of St Moritz town. You have to change trains, but it’s all timetabled for efficiency and if you let the train take the strain you can get a bit of last-minute work done.
This year, the nine guest chefs at the gourmet festival are from Belgium, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal and the USA. They have 20 Michelin stars between them (four of them head up three-Michelin-star restaurants). You book gourmet dinners held at prestigious hotels, or buy tickets for lunches, parties, workshops and tastings in glamorous venues around the region, including mountain lodges. The Gourmet Safaris (where you meet the “big five”) promise to be a hoot, as you are chauffered around five festival partner hotels to dine at five masterchefs’ tables in their kitchens.
For anyone who has supped at a chef’s table knows, this is where the fun is. It combines the exclusivity of a private dining room with the informality and artistry of the kitchen. Badrutt’s Palace hotel on the shores of lake St Moritz is a major festival partner, with seven restaurants of its own (and Nobu@ Badrutt’s Palace for lovers of Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine). Its chef’s table can be arranged for you any time during the winter and summer seasons, overseen by the executive chef, Mauro Taufer.
You arrive to be seated around a round table with copper pans to one side and the open kitchen to the other (it is genuinely where the chefs themselves eat at other times). Hopefully when you are presented with an appetizer you won’t do what I did. Receiving a dish of dry white stuff (“cooked egg white ‘without fire’”) and caviar – I found it such an alien plate that I accidentally took a forkful of the bed of raw rice that the giant crisps were standing in, and felt very plebeian indeed.
To follow you can expect something like “steamed scallops and Savoy cabbage, goose liver and brioche bread sauce” – delicious subtle flavours of scallops wrapped in appetising leaves with the inevitable foie gras popped in there for its rich fat content. Our table loved this and, overall, the five courses, two wines, coffee and petits fours was a hit, as much for the unstuffy yet refined ambience as for the menu.
If you want formal, “Le Restaurant” is Badrutt’s Palace’s flagship French experience, but the well-heeled and well-known often prefer a more intimate meal and head to the rustic chalet restaurant, Chesa Veglia, in the centre of town. It was originally a 17th-century farmhouse, bought by the Badrutt family and converted in 1936. Its warren of rooms now house two bars and three restaurants. The wood-fired pizza oven, red-checked tablecloths and traditional alpine furniture are warm and jolly, and a good complement to the grandness of the hotel.
And up in the mountains you can dine like a king. At the top of the furnicular at the Corviglia ski area (2,486 metres), there are six restaurants owned and run by Reto Mathis, president of this year’s Gourmet Festival and the son of the festival’s founder. These include a fine-dining restaurant, La Marmite, with truffle and caviar specialities. (“On a good day, Reto can sell up to 120 bottles of champagne and 3.5kg of Iranian caviar.”) The waitresses are dressed in pretty Swiss outfits, and the dining area is open-plan with wide, dazzling mountain views, and is buzzing with diners enjoying themselves.
If you know someone who is always wincing at the price of a ham and cheese baguette in mountain cafes, it’s worth taking a photo of the caviar menu and sending it to them – it tops out with “beef carpaccio with truffles and smoked salmon with caviar” for CHF 395 (£265). Coincidently, this is exactly the price of the Gourmet Safari, so if you are planning to join world’s foodie elite here, the festival is looking not bad value at all.
Details: The St Moritz Gourmet Festival runs 28 January to 1 February, 2013 (stmoritz-gourmetfestival.ch). Doubles at Badrutt’s Palace from CHF 490 (£330), including breakfast (badruttspalace.com). SWISS offers daily flights to Zürich from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester, from £119 return, including transport of one pair of skis and boots (swiss.com). The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers one return train journey within a month between the airport and any destination in Switzerland, from £90 (myswitzerland.com).
Where to stay: Badrutt's Palace Hotel & Spa
The inception of winter tourism to the Alps is attributed to one man – Johannes Badrutt. A hotelier of the late 19th century, Johannes bet a group of English summer alpine tourists that they would love the winter sunshine of St Moritz as much as the summer meadows, and they did. He opened the grande dame of the town, Badrutt’s Palace in 1896, and it has remained in the family ever since, a fifth-generation independent hotel, with welcoming, attentive service, which brings with it a loyal following, especially among celebrities, world leaders and royalty (guests have included the Prince of Wales, George Clooney, Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton), who demand privacy and discretion - there is hardly a reception desk at all, as check-in is in-room with your butler.
Some things have changed - balconies have been added to south-facing rooms to give private views over lake St Moritz; an eco-heat-pump system uses water from the lake, and the King’s Club is a disco heaven attracting queues of young Italians with deep pockets full of Swiss francs. But the star of the show is the CHF 70 million (£47 million) Palace Wellness spa, the final phase completed in 2010.
It is a vast complex hewn from granite – 3,000 tons was excavated. Two hotel lifts descend, and you enter a grotto where a waterfall sculpture sparkles. To still the senses, soothing aromas and soft music greet you and a passageway leads you away from the everyday towards a world of relaxation and pampering.
You approach the magnificent wet zone with its majestic indoor pool. Oval and deep enough for diving, loungers are arranged around its vast floor-to-ceiling windows, giving uninterrupted views of the breathtaking mountain scenery.
The concept of blending inside and out is everywhere. Step down into a second heated pool and at the press of a button a glass panel slides up so you drift into the steaming outdoor pool with swim-up bar. In summer this overlooks the hotel’s tennis courts, which are transformed in winter to an ice-rink. It is a magical time at sunset as the hotel lights twinkle, the hot air rises into the chill of the evening, and the landscape appears grand and eternal in its covering of soft white snow.
More than ski: Winter activities and sports
]The annual gourmet festival is just one highlight of the St Moritz and Engadine Valley calendar. Switzerland has around 40 ski areas and resorts to choose from, so St Moritz has developed into a winter resort with a lot else going on. It’s not as picture-postcard alpine pretty as, say, Gstaad (some Seventies buildings in the town are rather unlovely), and might suit best intermediate skiers for a long weekend (rather than beginners or expert skiers on week-long ski holidays), but it is one of the world’s most glamorous playgrounds for the “global elite” and their families, who enjoy spending lavishly in its Bond Street-style shops, as much as in the mountain restaurants.
What to do in St Moritz: ■ Skiing: downhill, cross-country, telemark, heliskiing; freestyle park ■ Ice-skating ■ Cresta Run tobogganing ■ Bobsleigh ■ Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow ■ White Turf horseracing ■ Horseriding ■ Bobsleigh ■ Ice hockey ■ Ice climbing ■ Paragliding ■ Hiking ■ Curling ■ Cricket ■ Hot-air ballooning ■ Horse-drawn carriage rides ■ Spa