Chefs Alps just wrapped up its 7th edition in Zürich. The event hosted eight incredible chefs for culinary presentations. The topics ranged from Swiss alpine cuisine to avant-garde Belgian chocolate to cocktail pairing in Singapore. A total of 1,300 people attended over the course of two days—Sunday, May 27 and Monday, May 28. One of the most anticipated guests, Massimo Bottura, captivated the audience with his passionate words about fighting food waste and cooking as an act of love. The impressive line-up of guest chefs who appeared on the Chef Alps stage this year included the following:
- Ryan Clift, Tippling Club – Singapore
- Titti Qvarnström – Sweden
- Nicolai Nørregaard, Kadeau – Denmark
- Dominique Persoone, The Chocolate Line – Belgium
- Sven Wassmer & Amanda Wassmer Bulgin, 7132 Silver Restaurant – Switzerland
- Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana – Italy
- Harald Irka, Saziani Stub’n – Austria
- Paco Morales, Noor – Spain
For current and aspiring chefs, cooking enthusiasts and people who are just passionate about food, Chef Alps resembles a kind of Ted Talks for a culinary-minded audience. As part of this event, a Market Hall showcased more than 30 food-related exhibitors. For example, you could meet with the producers behind Deux Frères Gin, Swiss Alpine Honey and Gents Swiss Roots Tonic Water, and many others.
I attended both days of Chef Alps 2018 and had the chance to meet with several of the guest chefs after their presentations to learn more about their styles of cooking, sources of inspiration and future plans. Here are my personal highlights from this year’s event:
Ryan Clift’s Fun Fine Dining with Gummy Bears and Cocktails
You can tell that Chef Ryan Clift and Head Bartender Joe Schofield from the Tippling Club in Singapore enjoy their work. Part of the daily tasks at this restaurant involve making around 1,200 gummy bears and creating delicious food and cocktail pairings. These two down-to-earth and personable guys presented on-stage together at Chef Alps. They discussed the philosophy behind their current “Dreams and Desires” cocktail menu.
How do you make something that tastes like a baby? – Chef Ryan Clift
Working with International Flavors and Fragrances, the Tippling Club developed 12 drinks, each with a corresponding gummy bear. One surprising flavor is “Baby”—milk, vanilla, apricot, honey, citrus and gin. Others have names like Holiday, Beauty and Revenge. You receive a bag of these bears when you arrive at the bar. Then, you try them and decide what you like best. Afterwards, the bartender prepares a special cocktail to match your flavor preference.
This restaurant has a full-blown research and development kitchen, where Clift and Schofield develop their special recipes. For example, Schofield talked about a SonicPrep machine that uses ultrasonic waves to open and collapse oxygen molecules. For his Sonic Negroni, it generates a taste as if the drink had been aged, like a fine wine.
Ryan Clift bristled when the Chef Alps moderator, Waldemar Schön, used the term “molecular” to describe his style of cooking. For guests at his restaurant, he wants the emphasis on the food, not the process used to make it. His goal is to “put the element of fun back in the restaurant,” where people can “enjoy the art of drinking and dining.” With the Tippling Club recognized as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars and Best Restaurants in 2017, Clift and Schofield combine elements of science with gastronomy, making seriously delicious food and cocktails with a playful twist.
Swiss Alpine Cuisine with Sven Wassmer and Amanda Wassmer Bulgin
One of Switzerland’s power couples in the gastronomy world, Chef Sven Wassmer and Sommelier Amanda Wassmer Bulgin, shared the stage. They recently announced their upcoming departure from the 2-Michelin starred 7132 Silver Restaurant in Graubünden at the end of summer 2018.
On stage, Sven Wassmer prepared two alpine-inspired dishes. One was char grilled with pine. The second he referred to as “Swiss Dim Sum,” dumplings filled with mountain potatoes and dried pears. He sprinkled them with freshly shaved air-dried beef from the region and served in an “alpine dashi” broth. Amanda Wassmer-Bulgin shared insight into her work on food and wine pairing. For the dumplings, she chose a Madeira, an aged fortified wine to match the umami taste—or as she described it, “yumminess”—of the dish.
While he identifies himself as a Swiss alpine chef, constantly seeking out local products and producers, he and Amanda agreed that they are not dogmatic in this approach. The most important thing for them is to know where they get their ingredients. They want to support small producers in order to promote long-term sustainability of the region, particularly in mountain villages. As a result, alongside the fresh alpine produce at their restaurant, you may also find a non-Swiss ingredient like langoustine on the menu, provided by a Scottish fisherman who they know and trust.
“Being a chef means to be a good host, creating memories and telling a story.” – Sven Wassmer
Sweden’s First Female Chef with a Michelin Star: Titti Qvarnström
Similar to the Wassmer-Bulgin team, Titti Qvarnström walked away from her restaurant in Malmö, Sweden, last year. This bold move comes after Bloom in the Park received the title of “Best Restaurant in Sweden.” In addition, Qvarnström became the first woman in Sweden to earn a Michelin star. Although, this achievement was never her primary objective. After eight years at her restaurant, she had “taken it as far as she could.” She wanted to focus more on sustainability in fine dining, reducing food waste and promoting the cuisine of southern Sweden.
“It has never been my goal to get a Michelin star.” – Titti Qvarnström
Driven by her passion for high-quality, local foods, she takes pride in the ingredients found in Sweden’s Skåne region. At this time of year, in late-May, she cooks with fresh produce like asparagus, woodruff, ramson and bird cherry. She enjoys hunting, primarily for ducks and pheasants, but said she never has enough time for it. She also forages for wild plants, like Japanese knotweed. With the young shoots of this invasive plant, she makes a marmalade or a purée that can be used in a ganache, mousse or cake.
With her husband, chef André Qvarnström, assisting her on stage, they prepared two traditional dishes from Sweden. First, a dark rye bread known as kavring slathered with homemade butter (the Chef Alps audience helped shake the jar of cream to make it). And also some hasselback potatoes with crème fraîche and löjrum (bleak roe).
Going forward, Qvarnström has several projects already underway. And, she continues her search for a new restaurant space of her own. First, she will serve as a judge for the upcoming Falafel World Cup in Sweden, scheduled for June 16, 2018. In addition, she is working on a conference center restaurant in Malmo at Folk, Mat & Möten. She also works as instructor and chef with Pure Food Camp, an experiential learning program. It takes participants into the great outdoors to find wild ingredients and cook them over open fires.
Titti Qvarnström is certainly another fascinating chef to watch, with many different interests and ambitions, and the talent to match.
Provocative Chocolate-Making with Dominique Persoone
Chocolate-making may not seem that provocative. At the same time, Dominque Persoone of The Chocolate Line has somehow created the persona of a rebellious Belgian chocolatier. With inventions like the Chocolate Lipstick and the “Chocolate Shooter,” which catapults a cocoa-herb mixture into your nose that was devised for the Rolling Stones, Persoone brings a one-of-a-kind approach to chocolate. During his presentation, he talked about projects like his cocoa bean plantation in Mexico, art installations that required him to paint nude men and women in chocolate and making chocolate that looks like mouse poop. At the same time, he has captured the eye of the fine dining world. He supplies chocolate to some of Belgium’s Michelin-starred restaurants and has even earned his own star in the Michelin Guide.
“If you don’t have the guts, you won’t change the world of food.” – Dominique Persoone
For each guest in the audience, Persoone supplied them with a box of chocolates from The Chocolate Line. Throughout his talk, he would take a moment to describe the individual chocolates. He would then instructe us to eat them, which we gladly did. Each offered an explosion of flavor, and it provided a nice accompaniment to his presentation. My personal favorite had a caramel of yuzu, with a ganache of raspberry and blueberry. It won the gold award at the Belgian National Competition in 2016.
With shops in Bruges and Antwerp, a visit to The Chocolate Line would be an experience not be missed. Persoone produces fine Belgian chocolates, but with a sense of innovation and amusement that makes them incredibly unique.
Massimo Bottura’s Impassioned Campaign to Fight Food Waste
In my opinion, the highlight of Chef Alps 2018 was the presentation given by Massimo Bottura. His restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, has three Michelin stars. It currently ranks in second place among the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The primary theme of Bottura’s dynamic talk was fighting food waste. This is also the goal of his new cookbook, Bread is Gold – Extraordinary Meals with Ordinary Ingredients. It features more than 150 recipes from 45 chefs. With all the seats filled, the audience listened attentively to his words. He is not only a creative force in the world of gastronomy, but he also has a major philanthropic role with his nonprofit organization, Food for Soul.
At Osteria Francescana, which he described as “a lab inspired by culture,” he and his team develop plates of food like works of art. On his menu you’ll find a dish named, “Tribute to Thelonious Monk.” It features a white piece of cod with a black-textured crust sitting in a shiny black squid-ink broth. This dish mimics the shape and color of a grand piano.
On stage, Bottura prepared another dish that represents his interpretation of fish en papillote. For the papillote, he drew upon the artwork of Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri. For example, Bottura’s version was an ethereal paper out of seawater. He slightly burned the paper, and then layered it delicately on a filet of sole. Overall, Bottura told the crowd that developing a recipe involves “ingredients, technique and memory.”
“Cooking is an act of love, not business.” – Massimo Bottura
Growing up in Italy, Bottura talked about hiding under the work table in the kitchen while his grandmother made pasta. Fastforward to 2016, when he made a video with the New York Times entitled, “The Sounds of Massimo Bottura’s Lasagna.” This video captures him creating a stylized version of his favorite piece of lasagna, the crunchy corner, inspired by his childhood memories. It captures all the noises involved in creating this special dish. When I asked Bottura what his grandmother would have thought of this dish, he replied, “She would have loved it!” He described his grandmother as being a bit “avant-garde.” She attended the school of economics in Turin the 1920s, at a time when few women did such a thing.
Bottura’s new project grew out of his participation in the World Expo 2015 in Milan. At this event, he opened a soup kitchen with top chefs using food that would have otherwise been wasted. While planned as a one-time pop-up restaurant, it has developed into a global movement. More specifically, his soup kitchens, known as Refettorios, are now in Milan, Rio de Janeiro, London and Paris. He has more planned for the future. What started as a way to combat food waste has also developed into a means of restoring the dignity of people being served in these communities.
Reducing Food Waste at Home
Earlier this year, you may have seen Bottura’s appearance on a popular American late-night television program, Jimmy Kimmel Live! He used what he could find in the staff writers’ kitchen and prepared an incredible meal. One of his imaginative dishes was a ripe banana toasted with caramelized sugar. Then, he topped it with Honey Nut Cheerios coated in leftover chocolate from Valentine’s Day.
In terms of an individual or family household, I asked Bottura about ways to help reduce food waste. He gave me three pieces of advice:
- Buy seasonally. Purchase food when it is in season, like asparagus in the springtime.
- Restore your relationship with producers. When you buy your food, talk to the people working at the butcher, the farmer’s market and even the big supermarkets to find out what products they might recommend or which products are most fresh.
- Shop more frequently. Like his mother and grandmother did, he recommends you shop more often during the week. This way, you get the highest quality products and buy only what you need.
At the closing of his presentation, speaking to the current and next generation of chefs, Bottura told the audience, “It’s the most amazing job you can choose.” It seemed a fitting takeaway message for this year’s Chef Alps. Have passion for what you do and share that love and creativity with others.
Updated: January 8, 2023