Eating, today, is often a social event. New food festivals have transferred the act of enjoying a meal from the privacy of dining rooms and from closed circles to the streets. A novel event format, they draw and delight countless people. Switzerland, where an unparalleled number of award-winning celebrity chefs seem to push each other to new heights, is a food festival mecca.
Spring rolls were perhaps the one exotic treat you could find at Switzerland’s funfairs back in the eighties. Since new street food festivals have started to pop up everywhere in the country, however, locals have readily traded Tibetan momos, Argentinian empanadas, and Vietnamese noodle soups instead for the traditional bratwurst. Pad Thai, satay sticks, phở, and other treats from Asian and African cookshops are now part of a new, successful food concept here in Switzerland. The cheerful events all include colourful food trucks, artfully decorated stands, little flags, lights, and of course various kids’ activities and live music. The “Original Street Food Festival Tour” alone drew more than 350 000 visitors in 14 Swiss cities and towns last year.
Tessin celebrity chef Dario Ranza feels that the success of food festivals is a result of increasing expectations and of a new culture when it comes to leisure activities and going out: “Standard food will no longer do,” he says. According to him, food now has to do more than just appease people’s hunger: “A fancy dish, a lovely terrace, a spectacular view” are part of the experience. Street food festivals are just one format of the trend. The idea of staging festivals has been part of gourmet gastronomy for quite a while. St. Moritz, for instance, organised its first “Gourmet Festival” 25 years ago. The stars of this and similar events, including «Taste of Zermatt» or «Excellence Gourmetfestival», are master chefs who celebrate the high art of haute cuisine.
The annual «Taste of Zermatt» festival has celebrated high-level cuisine and Swiss quality since 2011. Inspired by similar events in Gstaad, Lucerne, and St. Moritz, Kevin Kunz initiated the Valais festival that combines an exclusive mix of food concepts. He managed to commit local key players who helped him create this new fixture in the calendar of events at the foot of the Matterhorn. In summer, Zermatt’s celebrity chefs, who hold a combined 242 Gault Millau points, line up to showcase their skill during the traditional Mont Cervin Palace and Grand Hotel Zermatterhof kitchen parties.
The festival includes several restaurants and hotels who all let a series of top chefs take over their kitchens during various festival events. “Rufibach & Friends”, for instance, drew several stars to Zermatt in 2019: Heinz Rufibach, head chef at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, shared his kitchen and restaurant with internationally renowned representatives of five-star gastronomy. In January, Irma Dütsch, Switzerland’s grand dame of haute cuisine, was a guest at the Prato Borni restaurant. In February, gourmets were tasting treats offered by Alsace cheese whisperer Bernard Antony. And in March, things turned royal, when Anton Mosimann graced the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof with a visit.
Over the course of the year, the «Crans-Montana Guest Tables» offer four gastronomic events: The best local chefs, including LeCrans’ Michelin star chef Pierre Crepaud, present their creations. The venue of each of the unique dinners remain secret until the eve of the events. Gourmets might be served a culinary delight on the top of a mountain, a river bank, a golf course, or in a vineyard. All locations add a fitting context to each event and help create a surprising, memorable experiences.
In winter, ski food safaris take guests through Crans-Montana’s beautiful local ski area. The ski and snow shoe tours include several gourmet stops.
Urs Heller invites a particularly star-studded team for the “Gault Millau Garden Party” at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz Garden Party. This year’s edition will be held on Sunday, 18 August. “It’s not a festival. We are letting an old dream become true,” he explains. “Gourmets gather in the park on a Sunday to celebrate the work of the country’s leading chefs. They take a stroll through the garden, taste the food, enjoy some drinks, and chill.” The picnic in the park and at the outdoor pool of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz was an instant success. “And the star chefs were all for a relaxed get-together without dress codes and formal seating arrangements,” Hotel Director Marco R. Zanolari adds.
Zurich’s food festival will be held for the fourth time this year. In May 2019, the Zurich region once again became a culinary arena. More than 100 events were celebrating fine food, slow food, and street food in tastings, in workshops, and during food tours. In the “Wurst Battle”, one of the festival’s highlights, the chefs of the city’s five-star hotels are competing for the best sausage recipe. In addition, the Hotel Baur au Lac holds its “Fresh Caviar Night”: Starred chef Laurent Eperon invites top chefs and gourmets to participate in a great gold rush at the Baur au Lac pavilion, paying tribute to the “black gold” in seven courses that prove the versatility of caviar.
The Dolder Grand hosts his very own food festival every year. “The Epicure”, directed by Chef Fine Dining Heiko Nieder (two Guide Michelin stars and 19 Gault Millau points; 2019 chef of the year), has become a fixture of Zurich’s gourmet calendar of events. This year, “The Epicure” will be held from 4 to 8 September.
The Widder Hotel, located in Zurich’s historic part of town, is a creative and surprisingly youthful food festival host. An official hotel partner of venue of the after party of the “Menu 1 to 6” festival, the Widder Hotel supports the rising stars of the global chef community. Nine guest stars travel to Zurich to cook with local heroes. Six Zurich chefs turn their kitchens into festival stages and share their stoves with one of six international teams for two nights. The composition of each team will not be disclosed in advance. “Guests find out where they will dine about two weeks ahead of the event. And they discover who will be cooking for them on the night itself,” Patrick Schindler, event organiser and Bauernschänke co-owner, explains.
Gourmets and foodies get to meet up with creative producers during delightful expeditions hosted by Ascona’s Hotel Eden Roc. The best restaurateurs and winemakers of the region introduce their work at twelve stands on the generous premises of the Tessin five-star hotel. After a welcome drink at the Eden Bar, rangers will guide small groups of guests on an exciting tour, which grants some glances behind the scenes of the prestigious Hotel Eden Roc. Producers will share their secrets with regard to their specialties and to wine growing. The “Safari del Gusto” festival is held in May each year.
Whenever Lausanne gathers for the city’s «Lausanne à table” festival, three-star chef Anne-Sophie Pic is giving her all. And she invites a number of local producers to present their products at a summer market in the garden of the Beau-Rivage Palace. Last year, Anne-Sophie Pic also celebrated 40 years of three Guide Michelin stars awarded to three generations of chefs in her family. A special occasion calling for special culinary delights.
The undisputed highlight of the 2019 gourmet and festival year of the Vevey region on Lake Geneva is the «Fête des Vignerons». The vintage festival, held only every 20 to 25 years, is a tribute to winemakers of the region, a celebration that features spectacular performances and award ceremonies for winemakers and vineyard workers. The “Fête des Vignerons” is an important part of local cultural heritage and a tradition that has been passed on from one generation to the next ever since the 18th century. The unique and unusual festival spans the entire Lausanne and Chablais region. It was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage on 1 December 2016. The “couronnement des vignerons-tâcherons” – the crowning of the winemakers – had prompted the “Fête” in 1797, and is still its most important element today. The 2019 edition will be held between 18 July and 11 August. Organisers expect 400 000 spectators in the arena and 1 000 000 visitors overall.