A bit of American flavor arrived in the Swiss Alps this week, as the upscale ski resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, hosts 10 celebrated chefs from the United States for its annual Gourmet Festival. The event kicked off on January 30th with the Julius Bär Opening Night at the five-star Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains and continues through February 3rd. I had the chance to attend the opening event and sampled some incredible dishes, several of which made me a bit nostalgic, to be honest, for my home country.
The St. Moritz Gourmet Festival started in 1994, giving chefs from the visiting country—last year it was Japan—the opportunity to partner with chefs from some of the luxury hotels in St. Moritz. Throughout the week, the local chef from each hotel partners with their guest chef to prepare culinary specialties—this year from the United States. Together in the kitchens of these 10 hotels, they share the space, tools and recipes, giving them the opportunity to learn from one another.
The 2017 theme for the festival is “Discover the Best from the West,” and the logo resembles a sign in bright lights that you might see along the Las Vegas strip. The Opening Night party was built around this theme, well matched with the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, as the Casino St. Moritz is connected to the hotel.
Here’s a list of the 10 American chefs selected to participate in the festival this year, along with their Swiss-based partner chefs, each of them who work at 5-star hotels, except for the Nira Alpina—a 4-star hotel that participated in the festival for the first time this year.
- Tal Ronnen – Crossroads, Los Angeles, with Michel Jost, Badrutt’s Palace Hotel
- James Kent – The NoMad, New York City, with Gero Porstein, Carlton Hotel
- Enrique Olvera – Cosme, New York City, with Fabrizio Piantanida, Grand Hotel Kronenhof
- Dean Fearing – Fearing’s, Dallas, with Markus Rose, Hotel Giardino Mountain
- Ron Silver – Bubby’s, New York City, with Christian Ott, Hotel Schweizerhof
- Rick Moonen – rm seafood, Las Vegas, with Dennis Brunner, Hotel Waldhaus Sils
- Kim Canteenwalla – Andiron Steak & Sea, Las Vegas, with Matthias Schmidberger, Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains
- Daniel Humm – Eleven Madison Park, New York City, with Mauro Taufer, Kulm Hotel St. Moritz
- Melissa Kelly – Primo, Rockland, Maine, with Florian Mainzger, Nira Alpina
- Lee Wolen – Boka, Chicago, with Fabrizio Zanetti, Suvretta House
At the opening night celebration, I started out with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne in the hotel lobby, and then moved into the Grand Hall, where I sampled small plates of food from as many of the chefs as I possibly could! As I mentioned, some of the dishes brought back memories. The lobster rolls from Chef Melissa Kelly reminded me of the year I lived in Portland, Maine—although hers was a gourmet version, with handmade potato rolls, fresh herbs and a light dressing. The mini-Reubens from Chef Ron Silver, with rye bread and layers of pastrami, reminded me of my grandfather, who loved these sandwiches and always ordered them when we went out to eat.
All the food I tried was fresh and delicious, served by the chefs themselves who created these dishes. Another particular highlight for me came from Chef Tal Ronnen, who specializes in vegan cuisine. I tried both of his canapés—Smoked Carrot Lox Blinis with Almond Crème Fraîche and Soft-Ripened Almond Cheese with Swiss Apricot Jam—a nice blend of his American-style vegan cooking with a hint of Switzerland.
In addition to Chef Silver’s Reuben sandwiches, I also liked his Diver Scallop Hush Puppies (cornmeal fritters) with Chowchow (a Southern-style vegetable relish) Tartar Sauce. From Chef Enrique Olvera, I had a small canapé made with a sweet roasted parsnip, pork jowl and a flavorful mole sauce (a Mexican sauce that’s often made with dried chilies). Yet another favorite came from Chef Kim Canteenwalla. His Nashville Hot Chicken Oyster had a kick of spice that you don’t often find in Switzerland, and the Smoked Sturgeon Potato Knish (a small dumpling) with Dill and Mustard Seed Cream was delicious. Chef Dean Fearing served up Lucian’s Crab Salad on crackers made with cheddar, a cheese that’s certainly less common in Switzerland. I also enjoyed his Smoked Chicken and Roasted Poblano Quesadillas with a dollop of cilantro cream.
In terms of the common themes from the evening, I found that the majority of American chefs served up a dishes with fish or shellfish. The dishes also reflected various parts of the country—hush puppies from the South, lobster rolls from New England, Mexican and Texan flavors from the Southwest. Alas, there weren’t any gourmet “hot dishes” representing my home state of Minnesota. But let’s face it, the United States is a large country with many different culinary styles and influences that could never be captured in one room and in one night. Either way, I found it a nice collection of contemporary American cuisine, including some old favorites with a modern twist.
Before leaving, I grabbed a slice of cheesecake from the lobby and a special brownie praline made especially for this event by Confiserie Sprüngli. With an Elvis song playing in the background, I spotted a tray of pastel-frosted donuts, but decided to pass after already indulging in so many delicious foods. With my coat on and heading toward the door, I saw two young women dressed as Las Vegas showgirls, one with a large feathered headdress, making their way into the grand hall, in keeping with the spirit of this year’s theme. Overall, I had a fun night with some great food in a beautiful space, and the unique chance to meet face-to-face with some very accomplished American chefs, right here in Switzerland.
Along with the opening night festivities of the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival, I also attended the Chocolate Cult event at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and the Gourmet Dîner prepared by Chef Melissa Kelly at the Nira Alpina. I’ll have more news about these events soon!
Please note: My tickets to the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival and my stay at the Nira Alpina were provided free of charge, but I am sharing my own independent views based on my personal experience.