Europe’s Top Chefs in Zürich for ChefAlps 2019

Big names in the world of European gastronomy came together in Zürich recently for the 8th edition of ChefAlps. These exciting chefs talked about their cooking philosophy and management styles, as well as fermentation, food waste and much more. This two-day conference, held in conjunction with FOOD ZURICH, gave approximately 1,100 spectators a glimpse into the lives of talented chefs working at the top of their industry.

Gucci Osteria’s Chef Karime Lopez at ChefAlps 2019. Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

What is ChefAlps?

For current and aspiring chefs, gastronomy enthusiasts and journalists, ChefAlps resembles a kind of TED Talks for a culinary-minded audience. Guest chefs from around the world are invited to present live onstage at this international cooking summit. While the chefs often cook on stage, and you can to watch them, you don’t get to try their food. Although, some chefs deliver small samples to the audience (tip: you have a better chance of getting one, if you sit in the front rows).

Kicking off ChefAlps 2019… Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

Along with the guest chef presentations, a Market Hall showcases exhibitors from the food industry, such as AlpenPionier and Gents. You can also sign up to meet briefly with Swiss food experts as part of the “speed-dating” rounds. In recent years, ChefAlps has also hosted special master classes on various topics, such as wine, coffee, cocktails and chocolate.

ChefAlps 2019 Market Hall. Photo credit: ChefAlps/Witwinkel/David Hubacher.

The official language of this event is German. For the five guest chefs who did not speak German, simultaneous translation was available this year via your mobile phone.

“The reason why ChefAlps is so interesting for me is that you can see how colleagues from around the world work with techniques that you yourself also use, but perhaps you have never seen them used in this particular way before.”

Fabian Spiquel, Chef at Maison Manesse in Zürich

ChefAlps 2019 Guest Chefs

The line-up of speakers for ChefAlps 2019 included the following guest chefs:

Highlights from ChefAlps 2019

Here are some of my personal highlights from ChefAlps 2019:

Heiko Antoniewicz and Adrian Hurnungee demonstrated how to use ash as an ingredient.

These two chefs and business partners cooked up a fascinating array of dishes — like a dessert made with a celery root ash powder — using a blend of culinary and scientific techniques. Their presentation described ash as having the capacity to absorb water (hygroscopic) and to destroy bacteria and other microorganisms (antimicrobial). In addition, they said ash is alkaline — the theory being that it helps maintain an optimal pH-level for your blood.

Fascinating dishes presented on broken plates from Heiko Antoniewicz & Adrian Hurnungee.

Josep Roca discussed how a psychologist visits his restaurant once a week.

A world-renowned wine sommelier at the second-best restaurant in the world for 2018, Josep Roca famously works with his two brothers — Joan Roca (Chef de Cuisine) and Jordi Roca (Pastry chef). Responsible for food and wine pairing at their three-Michelin starred restaurant in Girona, he spoke about the importance of his staff members. A 2017 article in The New York Times, “Stressed by Success, a Top Restaurant Turns to Therapy,” discusses the Rocas’ decision to hire a psychologist to help staff better manage their mental health.

Josep Roca presenting at ChefAlps 2019. Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

René Frank talked about his unique, high-end dessert restaurant in Berlin.

At CODA, which has one Michelin star, he creates “bean-to-plate” chocolate and desserts made without refined sugar. His 7-course dessert menu, paired with drinks, delivers complex flavors that challenges the conventional concept of what makes a dessert. On his current tasting menu, you will find dishes like rhubarb, tarragon and tofu with buckwheat honey. Or, perhaps you might enjoy the combination of raclette, yogurt and corn?

Banana, cocoa, tapioca and pear balsamic vinegar. Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

The morning after his presentation at ChefAlps, I met with César Troisgros from the French culinary dynasty.

The Troisgros family, currently in its fourth generation of restaurateurs, has maintained 3 Michelin stars in France for 50 years. In the last few years, the family left their signature restaurant in Roane for the countryside. There, they have opened the new Maison Troisgros, a hotel and restaurant with the Relais & Châteaux association. (To learn more about the Troisgros family, I recommend watching episode 4 of the first season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table: France).

For his presentation, César Troisgros shared the stage with his former colleague, Giuseppe D’Errico, who currently leads the kitchen at Zürich’s Ristorante Ornellaia.

César Troisgros and Giuseppe D’Errico cooking together at ChefAlps 2019.
Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

The two friends cooked together on stage and produced some delicate dishes with beautiful colors, like a nest of white asparagus in a pink rhubarb bouillon. Another dish resembled a crisp butterfly comprised of thin layers of vegetables, such as turnip and kohlrabi. He also prepared a surprising salad made of carrot peels, something that many restaurants would likely send to the compost pile. After frying them, he artfully arranged them with watercress, Vietnamese coriander, dried fish eggs, capers and a light dressing made of carrot and lemon juices.

Light, elegant vegetable dishes from César Troisgros.

Cutting down on food waste is an important topic for Troisgros, something he wished he had spoken more about on stage. He believes that you should respect the peel of a carrot as much as you would respect caviar. “The price is different, but it’s the same. It’s something you can eat. It’s something nature has given you.” Whether using these carrot peels for a staff meal or to make consommé, he said you have other options — even to create a fine dining course.

Prior to joining his parents, Michel and Marie-Pierre Troisgros at the family restaurant, César Troisgros held positions in several other acclaimed establishments, like The French Laundry in California. He spent over a year working there with celebrity chef Thomas Keller. With the menu changing daily and the team taking part in developing the dishes based on what’s available in the garden next door, it was a unique experience for him. Cooking techniques and styles included a blend of different cultures — Asian, Italian and Mexican, for example. He said his time there had a strong influence on his career.

Today, Troisgros strives to find a balance between his work and his personal life. Every day, he has the chance to work with his parents, and his wife, Fanny — who manages public relations and other administrative tasks, on making improvements at the restaurant. I asked him about his future plans. He replied, “I see myself going forward in the footsteps of my family — always trying to make it better, make it a new way, but always with the respect of the history and the respect of what I am.” 

I tasted the “Charley Marley,” a special layered chocolate dessert created by Karime Lopez.

Named after Massimo Bottura’s son and dusted in gold, this elegant ice cream sandwich appears on the menu at Gucci Osteria in Florence.

“Charley Marley” dessert sandwiches from Karime Lopez.
Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

Among other topics, Lopez spoke onstage about the backlash she received after Bottura selected her to head up his restaurant at the Gucci Garden. People wondered why a Mexican woman would lead the kitchen at an establishment honoring one of Italy’s most iconic fashion houses. With dishes like a purple corn tostada with marinated bonito and the Taka Bun — an Asian-inspired pork belly sandwich, this talented chef is not letting any of this silly criticism slow her down.

The only woman among the chefs invited to present on stage this year, she also mentioned that 50% of the staff members at Gucci Osteria are women. “It’s something that just happened,” she said, that wasn’t planned. Recognizing the challenges women can face in this industry, she told the audience that we’ve got to embrace the fact that “there must be balance.” She said there’s beauty in forming diverse teams in kitchens around the world, not only related to gender, but also to race.

Søren Selin, and his assistant head chef, Kate Fausten, prepared six dishes from Restaurant AOC in Copenhagen.

I spoke with them both right after finishing their presentation at ChefAlps. AOC has earned two Michelin stars, and Selin’s cooking style exemplifies the new Nordic cuisine. His restaurant was recently included in a new book, Nordic by Nature, featuring “30 of the most original Danish chefs.”

Kate Fausten and Søren Selin of Restaurant AOC in Copenhagen.

On stage, the two chefs prepared two cold dishes, two hot dishes and two sweet dishes. One of the cold starters had carefully layered scallops with fermented asparagus and pickled daikon in a sauce made with cream and mussels. A trout dish with vendace roe had a carefully-arranged flower made with thinly-sliced butternut squash petals.

Trout with vendace roe and butternut squash. Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

When Selin cooks, he has three overarching goals: 1) choose the best products possible, 2) treat them with respect and 3) combine these ingredients with creativity. I really like what he said about wanting his food to have “approachable flavors.” He said you shouldn’t have to think about whether you like a dish or not. 

I asked Selin about which ingredients he found most exciting at the moment, and he mentioned the Scotch pine cones cooked in a sugar syrup that he had prepared onstage. These candied pine cones take on a texture like toffee or fudge. Selin said he first tried it at Noma and thought it was another ingredient shaped like a pine cone — until he learned it was the real thing. He also talked about kombu from northern Japan, which they have been using to create a fragrant broth. When he develops a menu, he seeks out “the newness factor,” trying to find something you may have never seen before. When this happens, he told the audience that it may cause you to “sharpen your senses” and possibly even makes it taste a little bit better.

At this point in his career, Selin thinks he’s reached “a good place.” He’s still trying to improve and “stay hungry,” as he described it. As part of his presentation, he talked about creativity, which he considers to be very important — to still want to think deeply about food. In his opinion, this ability to remain creative should not be taken for granted, as it can disappear. For now, managing Restaurant AOC and two others also in Copenhagen — the No. 2 Restaurant and Restaurant Trio – with his business partner Christian Aarø, seems to be keeping him busy and continuing to fuel his desire to keep cooking.

Waldemar Schön, moderator, with César Troisgros and Giuseppe D’Errico.
Photo credit: © ChefAlps / Nadine Kägi.

Once again, I left this international cooking summit feeling full of ideas from all the chefs. With eight presentations spread over two days, you can start to draw some comparisons between the chefs in terms of their philosophy and how they get inspired, as well as their approach to working with others in the kitchen. A few chefs appeared a bit uncomfortable on stage, while many seemed like they were really having fun. Some led a bit by chaos, while others presented a more calm and controlled style in the kitchen. In my opinion, ChefAlps continues to be one of the most important events for gastronomy in Switzerland.

Save the date: Chef Alps 2021 – Sunday, May 30 and Monday, May 31

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