Fine British cuisine is conquering the Alps. Mark Hedges and Rupert Uloth witness culinary revolutions in Courmayeur and St Moritz
The world’s biggest food fight is being waged in the Alps, Courmayeur to be exact, and next January, as for the past two years, the culinary warriors will be dripping with Michelin stars. Heston Blumenthal, Sat Bains and Marcus Wareing will be returning, this time, joined by Clare Smyth—the first female chef to be awarded a 10 by The Good Food Guide and the first and only woman to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars (Gordon Ramsay).
On this year’s trip, the tone was set before we even took off with a slap-up breakfast at Heston’s Perfectionist’s Café in Heathrow’s new Terminal 2. In resort, there was après ski, certainly, but also avant ski and even pendant ski.
The skis became the method of travelling from one feast to the next and, when even that proved too much, ski bikes were brought into play. Mr Blumenthal has re-christened the resort ‘Gourmayer’ and with good reason. All three chefs love it because of its deserved reputation for great mountain food. Fontina cheese melted into cabbage, chestnuts wrapped in lardo and spit-roasted suckling pig were all on the menu.
In a spectacular evening at La Chaumiere, a sympathetically renovated mountain hut with views of Mont Blanc, the chefs served the food prepared by their teams to the tables themselves, with hilarious asides and running commentaries.
At the Maison Vieille on the last night, the tables worked hard—they groaned under the weight of rustic dinners and were then danced on by the chefs into the early hours. The three-day festival concluded with one of Heston’s trademark hot chocolates that tastes of brown bread, a smoking alchemy of irresistible allure. RU
To join next year’s Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience (January 8–11, 2016), email email@example.com
In the mid 19th century, British aristocrats came to St Moritz during the summer to climb the mountains and take the air, but, in 1864, a local landlord, Johannes Badrutt, fed up with waving goodbye to his clientele each autumn, begged them to come back at Christmas, saying: ‘If you don’t enjoy winter as much as summer, I will put you up and pay your fares.’ St Moritz has never looked back.
The British soon invented downhill skiing and, as thanks for putting St Moritz on the map 150 years ago, a Gourmet Festival was held in the Swiss resort to showcase British cooking. No less than nine chefs, boasting 11 Michelin stars between them, turned up, including such luminaries as Angela Hartnett, Nathan Outlaw, Claude Bosi and Jason Atherton. The festival began with a showcase of their cooking at the Kempinski Grand Hotel, each master chef producing bite-size delicacies for us to try as an appetiser to the week.
I was staying at the impeccable Carlton Hotel with breathtaking views of the frozen lake, which plays host to horseracing and polo matches, and, happily for me, the resident chef for the week was Angela Hartnett, whose Murano restaurant in Mayfair is among London’s finest. Her food was as impeccable as the immaculately prepared ski slopes. British food has conquered another part of the globe. MH
Carlton Hotel, St Moritz (00 41 81 836 7000; http://carlton-stmoritz.ch)
Other high-altitude foodie heavens
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Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
In a resort groaning with fine-dining opportunities, Rifugio Averau in the Cinque Torri ski area is one of the true delights. Order the three types of homemade pasta on one plate
The mountain restaurants in Zermatt manage to be both charming and efficient. Zum See is one of the stars: a little wooden hut containing a delightfully cosy restaurant
The peak of hedonism, 1850 has prices to match, but the best all-rounder for well-prepared food and good value is the Bel-Air above Courchevel 1650
Baqueira Beret, Spain
This modern resort is surrounded by ancient valley villages with excellent restaurants. Era Caseta des Deth Mestre, in the hamlet of Tredos just over a mile away, serves wholesome dishes at good prices.