Judy Joo is one of the foremost experts in Korean cuisine. The first female Iron Chef UK hosts television shows (like the Cooking Channel’s Korean Food Made Simple) and helms Seoul Bird restaurants in London. An avid traveler, Joo gives us a peek into her trip to St. Moritz, sharing her favorite hotels, restaurants and activities.
“I feel like I’m living in a Rolex commercial,” I utter blissfully between sips of vintage champagne and creamy bites of Oscietra caviar.
I glance across the white frozen St. Moritz Lake, where the famed White Turf races are just commencing. The sun glistens on the ice, and the jet-setting crowd roars enthusiastically as the vying jockeys zip across the snowy track.
Every winter, Europe’s elite congregates here en masse, and it is a posh scene, indeed. Fur is the mandatory dress code — even the men parade around in head-to-toe mink ensembles. Sunglasses are de rigueur, too, as the bejeweled clientele shines brighter than the snow’s diamond glints.
I was invited here as a guest chef for the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival, a February tradition that brings together some of the world’s most renowned culinary experts. And, lucky for me, this epicurean event falls during the winter — the best time to visit this picturesque town nestled in the Swiss Alps.
Here, luxury is the name of the game. Champagne flows faster than skiers racing down the mountains, and truffles shaved into colossal heaps as high as the Piz Nair adorn everything from scrambled eggs to pizza to hot dogs. A nod to Old World dining is also apparent, with most restaurants flaunting flamboyant, skillful tableside service.
The exclusiveness of this resort city also has to do with its geography. Unless you are privy to a private jet, you’ll have to endure a three- to-3.5-hour winding drive from the closest commercial airport. But, at the end of your journey, a lavish winter land awaits.
The Gourmet Festival
This season, Arabian flavors take center stage against the snowy backdrop January 20 to 28.
Together with the executive chefs from the partner hotels in St. Moritz, these global chefs enthrall more than 80,000 foodie enthusiasts every year. Each event is memorable, but my favorite fete is the legendary Kitchen Party at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel staged by the talented chef Stefan Gerber. Enter Badrutt’s shiny grand kitchens and enjoy a feast of exquisite signature bites from each chef. At this year’s festival, chefs from the UAE, Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and more will show off their skills.
Not only can you look forward to luxurious and indulgent gastronomic excellence, but also a vibrant, exciting itinerary with a gourmet safari, chocolate workshops, champagne tastings, cheese pairings and the always-chic closing night event at the glamorous Kulm Hotel St. Moritz.
Since Alpine winter sports emerged here in 1864, St. Moritz remains one of the most dazzling places to ski in the world — and it’s one of my favorites.
Corviglia resort hosted two Olympic Games and five Alpine Ski World Championships. Its sparkling white carpet is every skier’s dream. The dry, crisp climate and immaculately groomed slopes make for world-class runs suited for beginners and intermediates. A short distance away, Diavolezza-Lagalb resort boasts more off-piste terrain and challenging slopes for the advanced skier. St. Moritz is never too crowded, so you can enjoy wide-open runs and lifts.
Furthermore, St. Moritz’s famed culinary scene extends to the slopes. Charming chalets dot these mountains, giving tired skiers a place to lunch, après-ski and rest their weary legs. Raclette, fondue and truffle pizzas are the locals’ favored bites to indulge in while watching the sun set over the snowy peaks.
WHERE TO STAY
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel
Nothing says decadence quite like Badrutt’s Palace, a fairytale castle perched on a hillside overlooking the town’s eponymous lake. It is a transportive experience.
Open since 1896, the hotel embodies the golden age of European sophistication with its glossy pine-green shingled roof and towering Neo-Baroque architecture. Inside, Le Grand Hall boasts a dramatic entrance, with soaring ceilings, deep mahogany paneling and dripping crystal chandeliers. A giant window frames the hulking mountains and lake view. The vision is so astounding, you can’t help, but sit in one of the plush red velvet seats and gaze at nature’s magnificence. In fact, this same view inspired film director Alfred Hitchcock to create the 1963 horror classic The Birds.
A diverse range of restaurants — including the famous Chesa Veglia; IGNIV, run by chef Andreas Caminada; and La Coupole, under chef Nobu Matsuhisa — helps give this hotel the Five-Star reputation it deserves.
Even breakfast is a grand affair, featuring a live harpist plucking melodious chords while you choose from an opulent offering — the muesli became my must-have bowl every morning.
And, if après-ski is more your style, carved into the cliff, underneath the hotel lies Palace Wellness, a state-of-the-art spa. This tranquil oasis features a journey of misty steam rooms, hidden Jacuzzies, ice baths and pine-scented saunas that open onto a glass-fronted swimming pool with panoramas of the alpine wilderness.
The Five-Star hotel claimed its regal title in 1913 as the summer home for Russian emperor Nicholas II. Recent restoration by designer Carlo Rampazzi, who reduced the hotel’s 105 rooms to 60 deluxe suites, upholds its “no expense spared” vision. The décor, bursting with bold colors and lavished with antiques, takes you back to a decadent past.
Among the fine-dining restaurants, Da Vittorio serves classic Italian delicacies and Romanoff covers everything from regional classics to avant-garde culinary art. After dinner, wind down in the Carlton Bar. Roaring fires, plush armchairs and gentle piano music set the backdrop for a mellowing nightcap.
Service is discreet, yet attention to detail is remarkable. The hotel offers a 24/7 chauffeur service, where your Bentley or Mercedes is never more than 10 minutes away. Butlers assist inside the palace, and mountain guides help outside the palace. For downtime, head to Carlton’s three-story spa, featuring stunning mountain views.
Kulm Hotel St. Moritz
The oldest hotel in St. Moritz radiates innovation. Famed as the birthplace of modern winter sports, Kulm claims its title as the grande dame of alpine tourism for many reasons. Bought in 1855 by Johannes Badrutt, the first electric light in St. Moritz was switched on here a short while later. In 1928 and 1948, the Winter Olympics were held in the vast Kulm Park, and still today, the prestigious hotel is home to the legendary Tobogganing Club.
In the heart of St. Moritz, the hotel sits on top of the world with unique views of mountain summits and snow-dusted pine forests. A sense of historic wonder can be felt inside its distinguished walls. Its lobby sets the tone for grandeur, with its intricately carved wooden walls, ornate pine mantelpieces, crystal chandeliers, wrought-iron balustrades and stone staircase. An eclectic mix of patterns, textures and worldly art floods the large terracotta corridors.
There are 164 rooms of various sizes and décor, mostly dressed refined and contemporary furnishings. Kulm Hotel upholds its abiding custom of excellent and diverse culinary offerings with a repertoire that ranges from regional specialties to international haute cuisine.
Relaxation is at your fingertips with Kulm’s wellness and spa, a harmony of contemporary design, tailored pampering and high-tech resources. Despite the establishment’s formality, families are not only welcome, but celebrated. The kids club offers free ski lessons and ice skating, a complimentary laundry service, a special children’s supper and all-you-can-eat ice cream throughout the restaurants.
WHERE TO EAT
Recently taken over by Badrutt’s Palace, this exclusive club and restaurant 7,156 feet above sea level on the Corviglia slopes, is a prime spot for a mid-ski break. Nestled above the clouds, this Swiss cabin comes with a large sun-drenched deck, comfy loungers and sheep-skin-covered benches, where you can enjoy sweeping views over the valley and Badrutt’s sterling service. The après-ski scene is glorious — world-class DJs provide beats for the many fun parties and special events. It is one of the places to “see and be seen” on the Alps.
Composed of two terraces, the lower floor houses the member’s-only Paradiso Mountain Club (day passes available). The upper level hosts the High Altitude Brasserie, which serves classic brasserie dishes with a mountain twist.
It’s the perfect spot to grab a glass of champagne with a platter of oysters or the bespoke fondue, made from a secret mix of local cheeses. Decadent fondue varieties include a fragrant champagne version and one accented with truffles. Don’t forget to order the La Grande Chouquette — a delicious dessert of profiteroles generously doused with hot chocolate and caramel sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.
Conceived by the legendary Cerea family in Italy, the wintertime Da Vittorio in Carlton Hotel St. Moritz (an outpost of its internationally renowned restaurant in Bergamo, Italy) evokes the heart and soul of Lombardic cuisine. Italy’s slow-food philosophy is reflected in the restaurant’s warm, comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.
An extensive wine list from Da Vittorio’s expert sommelier features a selection of more than 12,000 bottles, including Faber Cantalupa, the signature red. Enticing premium rare and aged liquors are also on offer. The food, an anthem to Mediterranean flavors, showcases delicacies such as purple prawn risotto, cotoletta Milanese, and scallops with artichoke foam. The jewel: the unforgettable paccheri alla Vittorio is pasta prepared with a seductive sauce made from three varieties of tomatoes and finished with aged parmesan cheese and butter. The prix fixe meal is a stunning experience filled with show-stopping tableside preparations. The elegant service is precise, warm and friendly. It is a full-sensory meal that leaves you feeling satiated in every way.
This chalet is so cute you could put it in a snow globe. Originally a farmhouse dating back to 1658, run by Badrutt’s Palace since 1936, it contains three quaint restaurants and two bars. The rustic venue has a glamorous history of hosting the rich and famous; rumor has it that this was Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite spot to rendezvous.
Grill Chadafo is Chesa Veglia’s grill house. Only open in winter, the restaurant encapsulates fine French cuisine in a relaxed and elegant setting. Think foie gras, classic grilled meat and fish, accompanied by piano music.
Patrizier Stuben, the venue’s traditional Swiss restaurant, spotlights locally sourced ingredients and regional specialties such as bündner fleisch (air-dried beef) and pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta).
Popular Italian eatery Pizzeria Heuboden offers authentic pizzas and pastas. Try the pizza Dama Bianca, cooked in an original brick oven, with gooey cheese and black truffles.
The atmosphere of all three venues is fun and casual. Like me, you’ll find yourself visiting this festive farmhouse more than once.
Set in a historic Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina three miles outside St. Moritz, this elegant gourmet French restaurant is a destination for its excellent cuisine and flawless service. Kronenstübli’s blond-pine-wood-paneled walls, champagne-colored furnishings and formal table dressing (including polished silver, crystal glasses and pristinely pressed tablecloths) create an inviting and world-class ambiance. This Swiss establishment turns out creative and classic masterpieces of Italian, Mediterranean and French cuisine. The canard a la presse, or Rouen-style duck, attracts guests from far and wide. This French specialty is created by roasting duck breast and then extracting its juices via a shiny silver hand-cranked press tableside. The juices are then worked into a sauce with duck liver, butter, cognac and port. The result is a gravy so flavorful, you’ll want to sop up every drop.
Other menu items of interest include the renowned lobster soup, hand-crafted crostini and freshly baked brioche. Of course, all is paired with an expansive choice of wines from the multi-level wine cellar.