Earlier this week, nine master chefs attracted about 1,400 visitors to Chef Alps 2017, an international cooking summit held annually in Zürich, Switzerland. The 6th edition of this 2-day event showcased the incredible talent of these chefs, who cooked live on stage and shared some of their culinary secrets. For people working in the fine dining industry, gastronomy enthusiasts or amateur cooks, Chef Alps gives a firsthand look at the tools, ingredients and techniques of world-renowned chefs, this year from Europe and the United States.
Here are the nine guest chefs that participated in Chef Alps 2017:
- Nick Bril – The Jane, Antwerpen, BELGIUM
- Oriol Castro – Disfrutar, Barcelona, SPAIN
- Dominique Crenn – Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, USA
- Antonia Klugmann – L’Argine a Vencò, Dolegna del Collio, Gorizia, ITALY
- Peter Knogl – Cheval Blanc, Basel, SWITZERLAND
- Eric Menchon – Le Moissonnier, Cologne, GERMANY
- Even Ramsvik – Lava Oslo, Oslo, NORWAY
- Heinz Reitbauer – Steirereck, Wein, AUSTRIA
- Ana Roš – Hiša Franko, Kobarid, SLOVENIA
Master Chefs Live On Stage
Each of the nine guest chefs presented some of their favorite dishes at Chef Alps 2017. They prepared each one, step by step, as the eager audience watched and listened to their commentary. Imagine fine dining reinvented as a spectator sport, and that’s a bit like the atmosphere at this event, but minus the competitive spirit. Six of the chefs gave their talks in English, with the remaining three opting for German.
Nearly all the chefs had help on stage, bringing one or two cooks from their restaurant to assist in the preparation of their complex dishes. In comparison, Ana Roš — a self-taught chef at Hiša Franko in Slovenia, did it all by herself. In 2017, she was named the World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s Best 50 Restaurants. Chef Alps also hosted the 2016 award winner of this title, Dominque Crenn — the French-born chef at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, California. Along with Anontia Klugmann from Italy, women made up of one-third of the guest chefs at Chef Alps 2017 — a ratio not often achieved at culinary events like this. (I had the chance to sit down and talk with both of these exceptional women during the conference and will be sharing more from these conversations soon).
The chefs were all very engaging, and it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of them cooking and preparing such beautiful plates of food with some fascinating ingredients. Dominque Crenn prepared a shot glass of swordfish bone marrow with passion fruit alongside a bouquet of fried potato strands seasoned with mulled vinegar and seaweed, for a stylized version of fish and chips. Ana Roš cooked tripe in duck jus and topped it with cheese and wild nettle chips.
Anotonia Klugmann roasted white asparagus in elderflower syrup, sprinkled with fresh thyme and elderflowers, and served in a broth of homemade almond milk. She also prepared spaghetti cooked in a strawberry stock with a sauce made of strawberries, onions and tomatoes that I really wanted to try. The flavor combination seemed highly unusual, but she convinced us that the sweet, red fruit helps to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
When the chefs finished cooking on stage, the audience was not able to sample their dishes, as they only prepared one plate of each dish for their demonstration. Although, Even Ramsvik passed around some of his ingredients for the audience to taste or smell. Also, Eric Menchon threw out some popcorn balls for the crowd to try, made from a small ear of dried corn with deep red kernels. I think that not having the opportunity to sample these dishes is surely a tactic to build anticipation to visit the individual chefs’ restaurants. It worked — this event has already started to inspire my future travel plans…
Meet and Greet with Guest Chefs
Following their cooking demonstrations on stage, the guest chefs participated in a “Meet and Greet” session, where audience members could stop by and say hello, have their book signed or pose for a photo. It was a nice way to connect with the chefs and ask a question or two, after watching them prepare some of their amazing dishes and share some of their culinary secrets.
I stopped by and said hello to Chef Even Ramsvik of Norway, who talked about Norwegian cooking traditions on stage — a topic I particularly enjoyed because my grandfather’s family immigrated from Norway to the United States. As in Switzerland, boiled potatoes are quite common in his home country. His version of boiled potatoes, however, had the deluxe treatment — decorated with roasted yeast and Swiss caviar and served with a butter sauce made seasoned with fermented celery root alongside a perfumed oil infused with black currant leaves.
Chef Alps 2017 Exhibitors – Food and Products for Fine Dining
In addition to the nine cooking demonstrations, Chef Alps 2017 also hosted more than 30 exhibitors representing food products and other tools for the fine dining industry. I sampled some delicious Swiss caviar from Oona and talked with the owner of Dr. Schier’s Swiss Premium Honey, a former pediatric surgeon. The founder of Gents Swiss Root Tonic Water, gave me a cold Ginger Brew — pungent and satisfying — to sample during lunch. I always enjoy finding new food products from Switzerland, and there were many to discover during the time between the cooking demonstrations.
Overall, my two days at Chef Alps felt a bit like going back to school, with master classes from some of the most celebrated chefs in the world. I picked up some tricks that I’ve already put into practice back in my home kitchen, like my pared-down version Antonia Klugmann’s white asparagus with elderflower syrup. I loved hearing about what inspired these chefs to create their dishes, as well as the path that eventually led them to becoming a chef. As I mentioned, the event can also inspire some travel plans — perhaps an upcoming trip to Norway or Slovenia? Or, it can remind you to take advantage of the wonderful restaurants we have right here in Switzerland, like Guest Chef Peter Knogl’s Cheval Blanc in Basel.