Saturday, 12 October 2013

Swiss Gastronomy Week at Hyatt Regency New Delhi & Then La Piazza’s 20th Birthday

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Heinz Rufibach, Zermatt's Alpenhof Hotel, will steer the
Swiss Gastronomy Week at the Hyatt Regency New Delhi
ZERMATT is a little village in south-western Switzerland that owes its big reputation to four neighbours — the four tallest peaks of Europe, including the majestic Matterhorn. In this village resides a culinary star with a warm-hearted smile and his name is Heinz Rufibach. He presides over the restaurant Le Gourmet at the popular Alpenhof Hotel at Zermatt and the eatery, which has notched up 15 out of a maximum of 20 GaultMillau points, the equivalent of a Michelin star. And Rufibach is no stranger to those who have flown first or business class on SWISS, the airline that we knew as Swissair, for he has designed the menu served to them at 35,000+ feet above sea level.
Why am I going on and on about Rufibach? It is because the gifted chef is on his way to New Delhi to steer the Swiss Gastronomy Week starting from October 14 at the Café, Hyatt Regency, Bhikaji Cama Place. The chef, who describes his style of cooking as “creative, honest, market-oriented and Alpine-Mediterranean”, will team up with the hotel’s Executive Chef (who’s also Swiss), Marin Leuthard, to present popular items such as raclette, fondue and bratwurst as well as Swiss classics. The Swiss buffet has been priced at Rs 1,550 plus taxes (quite reasonable by five-star standards!) and the Sunday brunch with free-flowing champagne on October 20 will be yours for Rs 2,100 plus taxes per person.
Rufibach comes from a part of Switzerland (Canton Valais) where French, German and northern Italian gastronomical influences coalesce seamlessly to produce wholesome fare. Canton Valais is also Switzerland’s most important wine-producing regions and critics rate some of its wines to be as good as the best of neighbouring France (Rhone Valley, to be precise). Its pear brandy, Williamine, which comes with an entire fruit in the bottle is also the stuff of modern legends.
What I like about the chef’s culinary philosophy is that it is rooted in the market reality. People are increasingly moving away from the complications of traditional French gastronomy. Modern European cuisine is all about taste — extracting the most, and best, of it from fresh, locally sourced produce. To his Le Gourmet guests, Rufibach gives a peek into his cooking philosophy when he says, “Through regional and Mediterranean cuisine, we want to pass on our pleasure to you, and to bring a holiday mood onto your plate. Enjoy the moment, and the wide range of delicious food and excellent wines.”
The critical words are: “Enjoy the moment.” A great proponent of simplicity, the chefs says, “Genius lies in simplicity, and, in cooking, everything starts very simply. An idea, a top motivated team, and food of the very best quality.” His philosophy will now be put to test at the Hyatt Regency.
Talking about the Hyatt Regency, which I saw coming up in the months leading up to the 1982 Asian Games, the hotel is gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of La Piazza, one of the country’s most successful and profitable restaurants (I have named it the “Bukhara of Italian restaurants”) with a reunion of all those who worked there in all these years.
The other day I met Sreenivasan G, Executive Chef of the Radisson Blu Plaza, NH-8, New Delhi, and Vikas Kapoor, General Manager of the Radisson Shimla, who started their careers as commis and steward respectively at La Piazza. Sreenivasan was remembering the restaurant’s first chef, an Austrian (who’s being located for the reunion), who had banned Tabasco and chilli flakes from the restaurant. The stewards therefore had to surreptitiously carry bottles of each items in their pockets and offer them the banned items as if they were peddling drugs!
Those were the days when Sreenivasan would start cleaning the pizza oven, square inch by square inch, from 5 in the morning. “I have known every brick of that restaurant — literally,” he said, “and I am so happy to see very little has changed in all these years.” The restaurant then would produce 400 pizzas a day, Sreenivasan recalled, and ten chefs would work in a relay to ensure that the guests did not have to wait for too long for their order to materialise. Remember, that was a time when pizzas were a genuine novelty. And the closest we came to one was the Pepperoni Pizza that Nirula’s dished out with amazing consistency of quality.
We’ll hear more about La Piazza in the weeks to come. Till then, enjoy the flavours of Canton Valais.