FOR MOST of us, Swiss cuisine is a blur between fondue and raclette, tarts and quiches, but that is highly improbable for a country with three distinct cultures and the highest number of Michelin stars awarded per capita. Each Swiss food festival effectively demolishes the popular misconception.
So does “Swiss It Up”, which is being presented at the Trident Gurgaon by Badrutt’s Palace in St Moritz, the playground of the rich and famous in the sunny Engadin valley in Graubuenden, Switzerland’s largest canton with a distinctive food identity. Graubuenden is the only Swiss canton where three languages are spoken — German, Italian and Romansh, which is unique to this part of the country and has survived since the Roman times. The speakers of each language have clearly brought their distinctive cultural influences to the table.
Swiss food is almost rustic in its simplicity — the kind food snobs politely call ‘comfort food’ — but it more than makes up for this lack of pomp with the depth of its repertoire and the diversity of its flavours. At a cooking demonstration supported by EazyDiner at Cilantro, the all-day restaurant at the Trident Gurgaon, visiting Chefs Fabrizzio Renda and Silvano Pintonello from Badrutt’s joined the hotel’s Executive Chef, Sandeep Kalra, to show this side of the Swiss table by serving up dishes that originated in Graubuenden.
The evening started with Capuns, which are Swiss chard-covered rolls of fresh salami and the dough of the soft egg noodles known as spaetzli, and these were served with polenta, cheese fondue and black truffles. The Capuns came loaded with taste, though there was nothing extraordinary about the presentation. It was as if some time during their long history the Swiss chose to celebrate taste over form.
The Capuns were followed by the canton’s famous Barley Soup with Salami. The addition of ‘Grison style’ to the soup’s description alluded both to the fact that the Canton is also known as Grisons in the Romansh language and it is famous for its dried meats, which explains the combination of barley and salami. Had there been a bottle of Tabasco, I would have reached out for one.
The dish that followed, despite its lightness on the palate, did not need any spicy life-saver. Its inclusion however was a mystery to me. Chicken Pojarski (or chicken mince cutlet) is a Russian dish said to be named after the favourite chef of Czar Nicholas I, so what was it doing at a Swiss food festival?
The recipe that is most popular for it is the one given by the late and legendary former food editor of The New York Times, Craig Claiborne, who served it with paprika sauce. At Swiss It Up, it is being served with a potato roesti (a combination that works well) and black truffles that lend the dish an enticing aroma. Giving the Pojarski company — remember, it was a cooking demo, so the portions were small but not stingy — was an Engadine speciality: pork sautéed with white wine and cream and served on a bed of neatly bunched, truffle oil-drenched taglierini (a thinner version of the tagliatelle).
Just as we were thinking it was time for dessert, we got fondue on the table. It couldn’t have come on a better day because we experienced our first seriously nippy evening on Wednesday. The fondue was served just the way it should be — in a ceramic caquelon, or fondue pot on a chafing stand, heated by a candle. Though made in the popular Neuchateloise style with Gruyere and Emmental cheeses, the fondue had a thicker consistency, which made it easier to handle, and the traditional kirsch (Morello cherry liqueur) made way for the more flavourful and full-bodied Luxardo, or Maraschino liqueur, which was clearly responsible for the lingering sweetish aftertaste.
The best always comes at the end, and without doubt, the feather-light Apple Strudel (loaded with raisins for special effect) with Vanilla Sauce along with soft and silky Swiss-style Chocolate Mousse. We did expect — and got — the best. Will the dinner stay in our memory? Yes, it will, for introducing us to the traditional table of St Moritz — and for showing how Swiss food combines taste with simplicity without making a show out of it.
The festival continues till 6th November at the Trident Gurgaon.
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Sourish Bhattacharyya, co-founder of the Delhi Gourmet Club, is a freelance writer, editorial consultant, food columnist, restaurant critic and blogger. He has contributed regularly to the Mumbai Mirror, Times Life, BBC Good Food, Travel & many more publications. Nothing is dearer to him than the joy of writing, which he blends with his passion for food.