St Moritz Gourmet Festival insiders’ guide

 
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 the exquisite food and wine it has to offer them. The Gourmet Festival is the 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 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; once you touch down, wheel your bag over to the train station, hop on the Swiss rail network and you’re whisked through the mountains into the centre of St Moritz town.

This year, the nine guest chefs at the gourmet festival are from Belgium, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal and the US. They have 20 Michelin stars between them (four of them head up three-Michelin-star restaurants).

You can 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 are the golden ticket, chauffering you around the five festival partner hotels to dine at exclusive chefs’ tables.

As anyone who has dined at a chef’s table knows, the experience 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 (including 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 executive chef, Mauro Taufer.

You arrive to be seated at a round table with copper pans to one side and the open kitchen to the other (it is actually 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 we had 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 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 nice counterpoint to the grandness of the hotel.

Up in the mountains you can dine like a king. At the top of the funicular at the Corviglia ski area (2,486 metres up), 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 waiting staff are dressed in Swiss outfits, and the dining area is open-plan with wide, dazzling mountain views.

If you know someone who’s 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 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).

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 ‘70s buildings in the town are rather unlovely), and might best suit intermediate skiers for a long weekend (rather than beginners or expert skiers on a week-long ski holiday). However, 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