Since moving to Zurich I’ve been living in the rather luxurious shadow of the Dolder Grand. Majestically perched atop one of the local hills, it is as much a part of the local scenery as Lake Zurich. Accessed by its own gloriously old-fashioned mountain railway, it is only ten minutes from central Zurich with its throngs of designer boutiques and flurries of bankers, yet the Dolder Grand remains in a little wooded world of its own.
This five-star hotel with luxurious spa, Norman Foster-designed sweeping extensions and two-Michelin-starred restaurant is the pinnacle of luxury, so where better to celebrate the very best in haute cuisine? The second annual Epicure event will take place at the hotel between 17 and 20 August, a smorgasbord of culinary activities and demonstrations led by Heiko Neider, head chef at The Restaurant (pictured below).
The Restaurant is the highest-rated restaurant in Zurich and the food is exquisite: coral-pink lobster with melon, meltingly soft confit salmon with coconut, and the best venison I’ve ever eaten. Plating here is an art: every chef at the pass is placing small petals on to tiny daubs of sauce with military precision – and tweezers – while Chef Neider watches carefully.
I met Chef Neider in July to discuss his kitchen and the upcoming festival. Neatly turned out in his kitchen whites, he is everything you’d expect of today’s fine dining chefs: lean, informed and complete with own personal set of tweezers in his jacket pocket.
We talked about how he never wanted to become a chef – the portly nature of cooks when he was growing up put him off somewhat – but his love of ingredients (and particularly their aromas) eventually led him to the kitchen.
I struggle to find certain ingredients here in Zurich, as international as it is, since importing food is expensive, and certain spices and items simply haven’t found their way into the supermarkets. It doesn’t strike me as the most inspiring place to search for aromatics, and finding ingredients hasn’t been easy for Chef Neider either.
He tries to use Swiss ingredients as much as possible but, as he points out, you can’t meet the needs of an international clientele with produce sourced in and around the Zurichsee – trout only gets you so far. His cuisine is adventurous and mixes influences from all around the world and therefore needs ingredients from all around the world.
That sounds obvious, but the food culture here in Zurich is somewhat different to London. While there are now a few food festivals knocking about, and interest in food is certainly growing among younger residents, many are happy with the status quo. Fondue and wurst rule the streets, which is why the food at the Dolder is even more exciting. It is fresh, challenging and does not conform to the regional norms.
Epicure finds a nice compromise between the two main dining groups here, appealing to the more conservative visitor by favouring fine dining in a very civilised setting but adding sparkle by bringing in exciting international chefs.
This year Chef Neider will be joined by chefs including Quique Dacosta, Gert De Mangeleer (pictured top) and Christian Bau, all multiple Michelin-star holders. All in all, thirteen chefs will be joining the Dolder team for the event which combines champagne, chocolate, wine and rum masterclasses with special dinners and a grand finale comprising live cooking spread over eleven stations.
It promises to be an exciting – and flamboyant – affair. Chef Neider says it will be ‘something special for all our guests – but you must be quick as we sell out fast!’ (They have in fact already sold out.)
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention, though. Personally, I’m interested in the developments of any chef whose children first experienced solid food in the form of an anchovy-stuffed olive.
Even if you can’t make it to this year’s extravaganza, they are planning an even bigger event next year, and besides, you can always simply drop into the restaurant on your next business trip to Zurich. It will be a welcome change from a sausage at the lake.
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